With the exception of major outlets like the New York Times and NPR, most newsrooms lack sufficient resources to do sustained reporting on complicated issues. The internet has upended traditional publishing revenue models; advertisers don’t rely on the news media to sell their products anymore. With less support from advertisers, news outlets produce fewer stories on complex topics in the public interest.
The Arkansas Nonprofit News Network seeks to fill that gap in Arkansas. ANNN is an independent, nonpartisan news project dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans. With funding from grants and donations, it will hire writers, editors, fact-checkers, photographers, videographers and audio producers on a contract basis to cover a story or topic. Their reporting will then be distributed among statewide partners — likely including radio, TV, newspapers and websites — which will publish all, or localized parts, of it.
Impact will be ANNN’s chief measure of success. We will only pursue stories that have the potential to bring about change. Since it will exist outside the bounds of a news product that has to maintain a regular publication cycle, ANNN contract employees will be able to proceed methodically, affording each project a rare depth of reporting and rigor in editing and fact-checking.
The Arkansas Times, where ANNN founder Lindsey Millar is the editor, has employed a similar model in recent years, often with the help of a nonprofit partner. After the 2013 Mayflower oil spill, it joined with the environmental nonprofit InsideClimate News to raise almost $36,000 through crowdfunding and a grant. The team of reporters hired with that money, including Pulitzer winner Elizabeth McGowan, filed more than a dozen major stories that ran in the Times and on InsideClimate News’ website. One focused on residents who lived near the spill and had complained to authorities for months of adverse health effects related to fumes to no avail. Within weeks of the article being published, the governor announced free health screenings for the affected residents.
In 2015, the Times reported on the “rehoming” of two young girls adopted by state Rep. Justin Harris with another family, where one of the children was abused. In the wake of that story, the Times raised about $23,000 through crowdfunding and a grant to further investigate the state’s child welfare system. That money has gone to pay Kathryn Joyce, an award-winning reporter based in New York City, who has twice traveled to Arkansas for extended periods. So far, she’s written five in-depth articles for the Times in a special series titled “Children in Crisis."
In November, the state Department of Human Services released a report outlining ways to stabilize the child welfare system, including ambitious goals to hire more caseworkers, increase placement of children with relatives, streamline the foster parent application process and eliminate reliance on behavioral health institutions for foster children. All were topics on which Joyce has extensively reported for the Arkansas Times.
ANNN will also function as an incubator for emerging writers, editors and producers, particularly for journalists of color. Editorially, it will also prioritize reporting that affects groups that are often ignored in Arkansas media, including rural, immigrant, LGBTQ, Latino and African-American communities.
Transparency will be a core value for ANNN. Donors will have no say in editorial direction and other operations. ANNN will disclose all contributors who give $500 or more on our website, and will disclose any instance in which donors’ work or business figures into ANNN reporting. All ANNN work will be tagged with our mission statement and any relevant disclosures.
ANNN is a registered nonprofit in the state of Arkansas that, in its startup year, will operate under the fiscal sponsorship of the Fred Darragh Foundation. Millar and other local editors will volunteer their time to manage ANNN until funds become available to support a full-time editor-in-chief. Aside from minimal travel, housing and web hosting expenses, ANNN will have no overhead; 95 percent of money raised will directly underwrite meaningful journalism.