It’s been a year since we first announced that The Compass Experiment would be starting our first site in Youngstown, and a few months later, Mahoning Matters was born.
We got started with our small local team of five – with Mark Sweetwood, Jeremy Harper, Justin Dennis, Jess Hardin, and Mark Eckert all hailing from Youngstown's departed Vindicator. Even before we launched, Mark and I had the dream of growing this site and this team into an even more formidable force for independent local reporting. One of the ways we decided to do that was to apply to add a third reporter to our team through Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.
We were fortunate to be selected with the 2020 newsroom cohort and our reporter, Ellen Wagner, joined the team at the beginning of June.
In this arrangement, Report for America picks up half the cost of the reporter and the local newsroom is encouraged to supplement its share with local fundraising.
Today we are pleased to announce the Thomases Family Endowment of the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation has become the first local funder for this effort, granting $5,000 to Mahoning Matters for its Report for America work over the next year.
In a virtual presentation with Mahoning Matters and Report for America, Andi Baroff spoke on the behalf of the Thomases Family Endowment, which was created by her stepfather, Irwin Thomases. She was joined by Distribution Committee Member Myra Benedikt, and the Federation’s Financial Resource Development Director, Lisa Long.
“The closing of our local paper, The Vindicator, left a hole in our community and deeply concerned members of the committee,” Baroff said. “We wanted to help ensure that local news still has a strong and supported voice, especially in these uncertain times. The idea of community funded journalism is exciting to us and we are proud to be amongst the first funders of Report for America’s work here in the Valley.”
We are grateful to the Thomases Family Endowment for pioneering the movement for donor-funded journalism in the Mahoning Valley. We hope their example will inspire others to contribute to secure a future for local news in Northeast Ohio.
Our reporting focus
Before we even started publishing at Mahoning Matters, we had community forums to get a sense of what was missing from local news and what readers wanted. Out of those early forums, we found an interest in holding local government accountable and a better understanding of the availability of community services.
It was that feedback that led us to develop Mahoning Matters’ mission: "To tell the stories that matter in Mahoning County and empower citizens to engage in their community with a focus on solutions."
In applying for the partial grant from Report for America, we sought to expand our brand of solutions-oriented local reporting with a focus on the dire financial situation facing the city of Youngstown. A 2018 financial review of the city projected a $16 million budget deficit by 2023, with multiple shortfalls expected by 2020.
With this new position from RFA, we have an opportunity to analyze and explain the difficult choices facing the city of Youngstown and the potential effects of those choices on its residents.
This is a project made even more critical as the Mahoning Valley transitions into reopening and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Those who are interested in giving a tax-deductible donation to Mahoning Matters’ reporting fund via our fiscal sponsor, The GroundTruth Project, can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a 501(c)3 nonprofit news organization.