The Colorado Sun, an online news agency created by renegade Denver Post journalists, has only been live since September 10, but it's already expanding. The Sun is announcing a search for a new education reporter to serve as its eleventh full-time staffer, with resources for the position supplied by way of a grant that will involve both a funding organization and a nonprofit through which the donation will be passed.
The enterprises involved are Wend Ventures, which Colorado Sun editor Larry Ryckman describes as "a newly constituted social-impact fund that is trying to use financial resources to remove, in their words, 'the barriers to good work,'" and the Poynter Institute, based in St. Petersburg, Florida, identified by its mission statement as "the world’s leading instructor, innovator, convener and resource for anyone who aspires to engage and inform citizens in 21st Century democracies."
Ryckman explains that the Wend Ventures grant "is being funded through the Poynter Institute, which is a nonprofit. We are still a for-profit. Someday, we may become a nonprofit, but for now, we are for-profit — and there are some groups or individuals that will only donate to a nonprofit. So we worked with Poynter to allow Poynter to serve as a fiscal agent to manage this contribution. Wend Ventures is technically donating the money to Poynter, which is turning around and funding this position for at least the next two years. During that time, Poynter will act as an administrator of these funds to ensure that the money is being used for the purpose for which it was intended."
This mechanism has other advantages, too, Ryckman points out. "This will also allow groups that want to donate to us to get a tax deduction, a tax write-off, if that's what they're looking for. It's a way for groups that maybe have foundations set up to donate to nonprofits to support the work we're doing."
Funding reporting positions via grants has become a trend in recent years. Back in February 2011, for example, Colorado Public Radio announced that it had "received a grant from the Colorado Health Foundation to continue funding a health reporter position and grants from the Gates Family Foundation and the Piton Foundation to add a new education beat reporter to its staff." And more recently, Denverite added a new housing and hunger reporter, Donna Bryson, thanks to a grant from the The Colorado Trust with the agreement and approval of eighteen nonprofits The Trust is supporting through its "Health Equity Advocacy" strategy.
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"There's a growing number of people — not just in Colorado, but around the country — who are recognizing that journalism is in peril and it's worthy of support," Ryckman notes. "There are a number of groups stepping forward that aren't trying to influence coverage" — he includes Wend Ventures in that number — "but want to make sure there's coverage of important issues in our communities. And we can all agree that education is worthy of coverage and support."
Of course, Denver has an entire website concentrated on education coverage: Chalkbeat. "They do a great job of covering education," Ryckman emphasizes. "But their focus is primarily urban, and we think there are a lot of education stories out there of statewide interest, as well as rural stories. That's not to say we won't from time to time do urban stories. But we're not trying to replicate the work of Chalkbeat. We'd like to complement their work, as we do with others."
The Sun was launched with the backing of Civil, an ambitious media company whose recent sale of CVL tokens, a cryptocurrency intended to support additional news operations, was a flat-out disaster. But Ryckman has been stressing for weeks that this failure had no impact on Sun financing, and he sees the Wend Ventures grant as "a vote of confidence" in the site's long-term future. The same is true, in his view, about "our membership in the Associated Press. There aren't any other AP members that are news startups. There are subscribers that are news startups, but not members. And we've added hundreds of subscribers just in the last week. We're on a great trajectory, and I'm very positive about our future."
Right now, Ryckman divulges, Civil is setting up its own nonprofit — so using Poynter as a conduit for the Wend Ventures cash "may be a sort of stopgap for us. We hope that over the next year, groups, individuals, companies and foundations that would like to donate to us and get a write-off can do that through Civil."
Until then, Ryckman is focused on the new education reporter gig. "We want to get the right person," he says, "so we're going to advertise nationally for this. We're going to reach out to some minority journalism groups; we're probably going to advertise on JournalismJobs.com. We're going to be as inclusive as we can and work as hard as we can to find a candidate for this position. The salary is going to be very competitive, and we think it's a great opportunity for someone to be part of this exciting experiment we're engaged in."
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