New Regional Journalism Centers will feed national public media news programs

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CPB will fund three or four Regional Journalism Centers (RJCs) to provide a “stronger local news service” to audiences in several areas and to increase the number of locally produced segments airing on public media’s national programs, according to a new request for proposals.

The centers also should aim to expand the diversity of public media’s journalism workforce, according to the Feb. 5 RFP.

The RJCs will differ from the existing seven Local Journalism Collaborations, which launched in 2010. The LJCs produce multimedia coverage of particular topics such as energy, the environment, food and education. The new centers will focus on issues of interest in their regions.

Initial grants for the RJCs will be for two years. Stations that team up to apply for funding must have a combined news staff of at least eight full-time journalists, and each center will need to hire or select a full-time editorial leader. CPB is striving to create “more original and enterprise journalism and more ‘news of distinction’ in identified topic areas” developed and decided on by the stations.

“Creating these RJCs will require commitment from station leadership to manage organizational change, both internally and externally,” the RFP noted.

In addition, each center must have a lead station, community engagement strategy, promotional plans and diversity hiring plan. The RJCs must also distribute their content via the Public Media Platform, an interface that provides access to digital content produced within public media.

The deadline for application is March 27.

UPDATE (3:15 p.m.): The idea for the RJCs was sparked in part by the recent spinoff of New York’s Innovation Trail LJC into Upstate Insight, a five-station regional newsroom, said Bruce Theriault, CPB’s s.v.p., journalism and radio.

“This concept follows what happened in upstate New York,” he said in an interview. “They took the next step, they wanted to go further.” CPB backed that project with $375,000 and realized that regional collaborations were a good idea for stations in other areas as well.

The RJCs will allow journalists “to step back from the very large picture” that the LJCs handle to concentrate on more specific regional issues. For instance, Theriault said, stations in upper New England could examine forestry, tourism or the region’s relationship with Canada. “It’s hard for a single station to do that,” he said, “but collectively, stations can cover those stories with more enterprise and original reporting.”

CPB is “trying lots of different ways to encourage capacity building through collaborative models,” Theriault said. Another project, Diverse Perspectives, supports 13 public radio stations in four topic-centered partnerships and was also announced by CPB Tuesday.

For the RJCs, a lead station for each will apply for the grant. “That signals an established level of collaboration and trust,” Theriault said. “That’s important.”

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