Eileen O’Grady is a Report for America fellow and the education reporter at the Concord Monitor. She spoke with the Foundation’s Lois Shea.
LS: In the “Report for America” model, journalism is akin to national service. Talk a little bit about that philosophy and how it works.
EO: Report for America is a nationwide team of 225 reporters stationed at local news outlets helping to boost local coverage. It’s a model that has given a great boost to local news at a time when local outlets are facing funding issues and staff cuts. Having local news is important for communities because without it, residents can’t understand critical issues to make decisions for their families and hold officials accountable.
LS: Recent studies have shown that local news has a profound effect on communities — including increasing community satisfaction, decreasing polarization and increasing and voter turnout…
EO: I’m always hyperaware of the impact that local reporting has on a community. I have seen civic engagement increase as a result of reporting done by news outlets I’ve worked for, whether it’s people organizing politically around an issue they read about or showing up in high numbers to vote when a contentious topic they read about is on the ballot. That makes me approach my work seriously and carefully, knowing the impact it can have, but it also shows the value of being informed — when people are informed, they can take that knowledge and use it to make their own choices in their own lives. It shows the direct correlation between an independent press and the democratic process.
LS: You cover education. There’s a lot to it, and you’ve had a lot of news happen on your watch. What has surprised you about that beat in New Hampshire?
EO: Education has been reinvented like never before this year. It has been fascinating as a reporter to follow it and see school leaders make some tough and unprecedented decisions. One thing that has struck me about New Hampshire is the fact that everything is very locally controlled and each school district makes very independent decisions.
LS: U.S. newsrooms employ about half the number of people they did in 2008. You certainly knew that and went into journalism anyway. Why?
EO: I’ve always been interested in local news and telling community stories and helping people share their stories about issues that matter to them.
There are a lot of organizations like Report For America and a lot of cool new models that are looking to turn that around and boost local journalism in really interesting ways.
LS: What are some of those models, for an industry reinventing itself?
EO: The Poynter Institute does a similar thing to Report for America, and locally, the Granite State News Collaborative is really innovative and it has been cool to see VT Digger grow and be so successful. [Note: The Foundation also funds the News Collaborative.]
LS: How can people help save local news?
EO: Subscribe to your local newspaper! Sign up for your local newspapers’ newsletters! And generally just don’t be afraid to engage with us. I am always encouraging people to tell me the things they would like to see covered.