Newsroom FAQ

Why cover the ag & water beat?

Ag & Water Desk Executive Director Sara Shipley-Hiles speaks with St. Louis Post-Dispatch energy and environment reporter Bryce Gray about his experience reporting along the Mississippi River.

What newsrooms are eligible?

All newsrooms should be located within the Mississippi River Basin or routinely cover the Mississippi River Basin. The basin includes all of part of 31 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming and Wisconsin. Please consult a map to see if your newsroom is within the basin.

To host a Report for America Corps Member, newsrooms must be committed to providing objective, civically important local journalism.  That could include public radio stations, newspapers, digital narrative sites, commercial TV stations, community media centers, or journalism schools providing direct journalism.  The organization can be nonprofit or commercial.

To host an Expert Journalist, newsrooms need to have a journalist who already provides excellent coverage of ag and water issues or who possesses other skills critical to the success of the project, such as data editing.

How will newsrooms benefit from participating in this program?

Newsrooms hosting a Report for America Corps Member will receive the usual benefits of that program and plus many extras as an Ag & Water Desk participant:

  • Salary support: Report for America pays half of the reporter’s salary in the first year, up to $25,000. In the second year, Report for America pays for a third of the salary. Learn more about how Report for America works.
  • Sustainability and fundraising support: Report for America pairs newsrooms with Local Sustainability coaches dedicated to supporting their strategy and implementation of local fundraising campaigns to raise the other half of the salary through grassroots giving, major gifts, and small grants.
  • Reporter placement: Report for America pre-screens talented emerging journalists who meet your needs.  Report for America gives each newsroom a slate of three to five prospective candidates for each position; the newsroom makes the final selection.
  • Training: Report for America provides basic training and mentorship through a network of experienced journalists.
  • Subject matter expertise: The Ag & Water Desk conducts specialized training sessions for its reporters annually. This includes free membership in the Society of Environmental Journalists and a free trip to SEJ’s annual conference, where training will be provided.
  • Editorial support: Professional editors at the Ag & Water Desk will provide editing resources as needed for stories that fit the Desk’s mission.
  • Financial support: The Desk will provide grants up to $1,000 per outlet to support deeper reporting on ag and water issues.
  • Project management and technical support: The Desk will work with reporters throughout the region to create, edit and distribute collaborative and investigative projects. The Desk also provides support in the form of data editing, data visualization, and related assistance.
What is the relationship between newsrooms and the Ag & Water Desk?

Written agreements between the Desk and newsrooms will provide clear expectations for the nature of their participation, the stories expected, and the benefits provided. Report for America Corps Members will report primarily to their home newsrooms. We anticipate them spending about 20% of their time working with the Desk on stories suitable for sharing to the wider distribution network. 

The role of Expert Journalists will be primarily advising, training and leading collaborative projects. 

Team members will participate in weekly planning meetings, to which their local newsroom managers will be invited. Journalists will receive bylines on all stories distributed through the network. 

What does collaborative journalism look like?

The Ag & Water Desk took inspiration from existing collaborations like Harvest Public Media, where individual member outlets coordinate and share content with each other. Our collaboration won’t be limited to one medium – newspapers, radio, TV and online outlets are all welcome. In addition, we’ll work together to create ambitious collaborative projects, in the vein of the partnership between The New York Times and The Times-Picayune to cover coastal erosion and climate change. This multi-level collaboration ensures local outlets get better local coverage and participate in bigger stories they couldn’t do alone. Our distribution network will expand the reach of local reporting to the regional and national levels.

What topics will the Desk cover?

The focus of the Desk is agriculture, water and related issues, which includes farming, water quality and quantity, land use and climate change. As part of the agriculture and environment beat, we could see coverage touching on rural issues, environmental justice, public health or business – as long as there is a strong ag and water component.

Newsrooms will compete for the 10 positions through Report for America’s selection process. We invite newsrooms to pitch us what ag and water-focused coverage would look like in your community. To be competitive, newsrooms should show there is an important need for coverage and explain how the reporter would help fill that gap.

How will this program maintain editorial independence?

The Ag & Water Desk and its collaborators will operate with editorial independence, both from funders and from the University of Missouri or any other parent entity.

Editorial decision-making will be in the complete control of the directors of the Desk and journalists and editors at the partner newsrooms. In the event that our coverage or sources included in a story present a potential conflict of interest because of financial support, that relationship will be disclosed in our coverage. We will abide by the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.