Maryland Matters is proud to announce that Bennett Leckrone and Elizabeth Shwe will join its staff in June as part of Report for America, a national program to expand state and local news coverage.
Leckrone is a December 2019 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. He has interned at The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Columbus Dispatch, PennLive.com, The Dayton Daily News and The Troy Daily News.
Shwe covered California state politics during her internship at The Sacramento Bee. She will graduate from Princeton University with a political science degree in June. At Princeton, she was a producer for WPRB 103.3 FM News & Culture section, the station’s only long form podcast-type program. Shwe also wrote for The Daily Princetonian, and tutored with the Petey Greene Program, which offers free tutoring to incarcerated people.
Leckrone and Shwe were among 225 journalists selected for RFA’s 2020 reporting corps. This year’s RFA corps was chosen after a highly selective national competition that drew more than 1,800 applications.
“We interviewed many top-flight applicants, and these two are terrific,” said Josh Kurtz, co-founder and editor of Maryland Matters. “We’re thrilled to have Bennett and Elizabeth join us at our independent nonprofit newsroom.”
Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities through its reporting corps.
“These reporting positions come at a time when local journalism is already reeling from years of newsroom cuts and unforeseen challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the organization said in a statement.
This is the second year that RFA has placed reporters in local newsrooms. This year, RFA reporters will work in 162 newsrooms in 45 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Nearly half of the positions are in nonprofit media organizations.
Under Report for America’s funding model, RFA pays half of a corps member’s salary in the first year and one-third in the second year. Each newsroom pays the rest.
The RFA goal is for the reporters to become a permanent part of expanded newsrooms. Of last year’s class of 59 reporters, more than 90% are returning for a second year.
Report for America announced in December that Maryland Matters was selected from nearly 1,000 applicants to host RFA journalists.
“Our judges were supremely impressed with the quality of your news organization, your commitment to local journalism and your proposal for how to deploy Report for America journalists,” said Steven Waldman, RFA’s co-founder and president, and Kim Kleman, its national director.
Initially, Leckrone and Shwe will join the Maryland Matters staff in its comprehensive coverage of the pandemic in Maryland. Like other staffers, they will work remotely as long as necessary. They later will work on longer reporting projects on politics, the influence of money in the State House and in campaigns, and on broad health care issues.
Kurtz said he was honored that Maryland Matters was recognized for its comprehensive coverage of state and local coverage.
“Most of what people know about COVID-19 is through journalists,” Kurtz said. “We’re delighted to have these Report for America reporters work with us to provide Marylanders the facts they need in this challenging time.”
RFA’s Waldman also noted the new reporting climate.
“It’s now crystal clear that the need for trustworthy, accurate, and local information can be a matter of life and death,” said Waldman. “This surge of RFA reporters should help meet this moment.”
In addition to their reporting duties, RFA corps members are required to engage in a service project, typically related to youth media. This helps connect the corps members to the community in a different way and inspires the next generation of journalists.
Other Maryland news outlets that will host RFA reporters this year are: The Capital Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, WYPR 88.1 FM and Technical.ly, a Baltimore-based tech publication.
Report for America also announced a new round of support from the Facebook Journalism Project.
“Local journalists are providing us with an extraordinary public service 24 hours a day,” said Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president for Global News Partnerships. “We all need to understand how the virus is impacting the communities where we live — it’s vital information that’s helping keep our friends and families safe, and we’re proud to support Report for America in this effort.”
Report for America said it aims to increase the size of its reporter corps each year — with a goal of 1,000 journalists by 2024. It credited the Facebook Journalism Project, the Knight Foundation, and the Democracy Fund for its ability to expand.
Report for America is an initiative of the nonprofit news organization, The GroundTruth Project, whose stated goal is to create a sustainable system to provide Americans with the information they need to improve their communities, hold powerful institutions accountable and rebuild trust in media.
Report for America co-founder Charles Sennott, CEO of GroundTruth, said, “We’re grateful to all of our funders who are allowing us to answer a great need across the country for trusted local news and to restore journalism from the ground up in communities across the country.”
Please click here to support the Report for America corps members at Maryland Matters. Thank you!