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May 28, 2022

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From the Newsroom: CFJ helps regain what was lost

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

By now, you’ve probably read the big news about The Columbian: We’ve launched a Community Funded Journalism initiative in order to boost our metro reporting staff.

Already we’ve received pledges of $1.1 million from the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund; David, Patricia and Jacob Nierenberg; and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. (If you don’t recognize the late Mason Nolan’s name, he was The Columbian’s chief financial officer; for many years, local students have benefitted from his charitable fund.) A crowd-sourced funding campaign that launched on April 20, the day we announced the CFJ initiative, has already raised more than $25,000.

Let’s talk about what we plan to do with the donated money, why we think it is a great investment in our community — and also what we won’t be doing with it.

We’re going to invest the money directly into local journalism. The first donations will go to endow three reporting positions on our metro news team, bringing the total from six reporters to nine. Two of the reporters will cover topics related to homelessness and affordable housing. The third reporter will cover transportation issues, including the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project. We’re currently taking applications for all three positions and hope to hire as soon as we can find great candidates.

Most of the donated money will go directly toward paying these reporters’ salaries and benefits, such as health insurance, for up to six years. There will also be some money available for training and travel, and for photography, video production and graphic design. Finally, there will be money to organize and present community events centered around these stories. We last did this just before the pandemic, when state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and local panelists reacted to a series we did called “Bridging the Border,” which chronicled the struggle of a local family after the father was deported to Mexico. A standing-room-only crowd packed the community room at the Vancouver Community Library!

Journalism and these public service programs are vital to a successful community. We can all see our community’s problems when we pass makeshift camps or get stopped by traffic on the freeway. To understand and solve the problems, we need to investigate the causes, report the facts and discuss solutions. That’s what Community Funded Journalism will do.

Here’s what Community Funded Journalism won’t do: It won’t increase The Columbian’s profits or pay overhead costs, such as my salary. It won’t fund general reporting. It’s possible, even likely, that on occasion our community funded reporters will be asked to do stories outside their beat. We’ll account for those hours separately and pay them from Columbian newsroom funds, not from CFJ funds.

In the interest of transparency, community-funded stories will be labeled, and we have put up a web page, www.columbian.com/cfj, that explains our initiative.

Donors will not receive any special access to reporters or stories. Large donors will receive periodic reports showing how their money was spent, but they won’t know in advance what stories or events we are working on.

This is an important distinction, because for several years, The Columbian’s advertising division has offered a product called Sponsored Content. These stories, which are clearly labeled, are produced on behalf of an advertiser. Advertisers control the content, and pay a fee to run it on our website or in our newspaper. The newsroom is not involved in Sponsored Content products.

Before the internet captured the majority of print advertising dollars, newsrooms like ours had many more millions of dollars to spend on gathering and presenting local news. Efforts such as Community Funded Journalism will help regain some of what has been lost.

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Support local journalism

Your tax-deductible donation to The Columbian’s Community Funded Journalism program will contribute to better local reporting on key issues, including homelessness, housing, transportation and the environment. Reporters will focus on narrative, investigative and data-driven storytelling.

Local journalism needs your help. It’s an essential part of a healthy community and a healthy democracy.

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