October has been a good month at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting: The non-profit grant foundation saw reporters it sent to China and Iraq publish extensive reporting projects that gained attention across the United States. It also won an honourable mention from the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovation in Journalism.
The Pulitzer Center not only addresses the dearth of foreign reporting in American media with its travel stipend program for reporters. It is also trying to create more demand for quality international coverage with its Global Gateway initiative.
The Center awards travel stipends to experienced freelance or staff reporters so they can report from around the world on stories which have been under-reported or inaccurately reported in the American press. The Centre is funded primarily by the Pulitzer family, former owners of the St. Louis Post Dispatch - for which the Center's director, Jon Sawyer, used to report from Washington, D.C., and around the world.
It fields about 20-30 project proposals each month. Reporters must publish their pieces in at least one North American media outlet, but are encouraged to publish in as many places and in as many mediums as possible.
Working with experienced, well-connected journalists means stories are apt to be sold to more outlets, associate director Nathalie Applewhite says. For example, Loretta Tofani, who spent a year in China visiting factories to report about workers losing their health and sometimes their lives making products for export to the West, won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting she did in the early 1980s while working for The Washington Post.
If there's a local Liberian reporter who has a good relationship with, say, the New York Times, then we'd consider it, Applewhite says. Most of the time local reporters based in those countries to which we're sending journalists are not seeking funding. They're either already working for the New York Times or they don't have relationships in the American media.
They Center's grant recipients are encouraged to blog during the reporting process. The Center has aggregated its reporters' blogs into its Untold Stories section - and update Wikipedia entries related to the topics about which they're reporting.
Once the reporters finish their stories, they're published on the Center's website as well as in independent media outlets. The Crisis Center's site presently gets about 800 hits per day, Applewhite said in a phone interview with the EJC. Its blog site gets about 200. But the Center also has a YouTube channel and a Wikipedia entry.
The reach of the Center is hard to measure, in part because its reporters are publishing stories in many print, radio and online publications: The Washington Times, Smithsonian Magazine and on C-SPAN, for example.
One YouTube video, about Iraq, garnered a quarter of a million hits over three days.
YouTube, though, doesn't create much traffic back to the Center's site, Applewhite says, links from Wikipedia have generated substantial traffic.
Unlike on YouTube, people from Wikipedia are going there because they want to learn. They're going to travel out and take advantage, she said.
The Center wants to use its content to teach American high school students how many stories are under-reported or inaccurately reported in the American press. So far, it has used its Global Gateway program to put reporters like David Enders, a freelance journalist who has spent about four years in Iraq into high schools in suburban St. Louis to speak to students there.
Eventually, Applewhite says, the Center wants to hire someone to turn stories into classroom materials.
It's not enough just to subsidize the journalism, she says. You want to create a demand for it. ... We have a generation of youth who are growing up in a more globalized world and want this information.
Although foreign reporting has never been profitable for American media outlets hence the closing of news bureaux around the world over the past few decades it does have tremendous civil benefits, Applewhite says.
There are ways to make global local, she says. There are ways that you can make that tie for a lot of these things. If there are U.S. foreign policies involved, then U.S. tax dollars are involved. It's not a stretch to frame policy perspective and economic perspective that way. And it's how you tell the story, too. If you start out with statistics and history, readers won't be interested. You have to put a human faces on these stories and provide something that's more about creating ties with the other group of people. That's why we like to work cross-platform.