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An Experiment in Funding: The L.A. Toxic Tour

An Experiment in Funding: The L.A. Toxic Tour

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Newsdesk and Spot.us are organizations intent on giving journalists financial support for in-depth reporting as mainstream media continues to shrink. They are seeking proposals for their "Los Angeles Toxic Tour," stories that will be told in text and multimedia to highlight environmental concerns in this sprawling city.

This week in Career GPS, I'm talking to Newsdesk editor Josh Wilson about the Tour and what journalists can do to both cover underserved communities and make a living. You can find new jobs, awards and fellowships at the end of this post. Have career questions you want answered in future posts? Log in and let me know. Keep up with Career GPS by signing up for weekly newsletters or via RSS.

The L.A. Toxic Tour is the Southern California version of the Bay Area Toxic Tour, published by Newsdesk and funded by individuals via Spot.us' crowdsourcing model. Last spring, online editor Kwan Booth and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Kim Komenich produced 13 posts -- including text, video and audio pieces -- to illustrate life in West Oakland, "pinned between the Bay Area's largest, busiest port and two major commuter freeways, and is home to decades of legacy pollution."

The project was not a model for sustainable freelancing, though. Originally proposed as a single slideshow, Wilson says Booth and Komenich went above and beyond what they were actually paid for. The story proposal drew in $1,800, $100 of which went to Wilson and the rest to the reporting team.

In Los Angeles, ports, trucks and freight trains affect air and water quality. Asthma and lung disease are pervasive in the neighborhoods surrounding the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. With the L.A. Toxic Tour, Wilson wants to tell these kinds of underreported stories while strengthening the crowdfunding process. His goal is to raise enough money from individual donors so that reporters can expect a living wage from their work. The L.A. Toxic Tour has been given $1,000 in seed money from The California Endowment (which also funds Center for Health Journalism Digital) and while reporters are expected to use their networks to help raise money, Wilson says NewsDesk and Spot.us will do the heavy lifting.

"It's kind of a 'by any means necessary' approach to getting it out there," Wilson says.

A Spot.us investigation into the UC Regents‘ investments raised $10,000 from individuals and organizations, so Wilson says that the proposal maximum budget of $6,000 is "ambitious but well within the realm of the possible." While the goal is to draw high-quality proposals from journalists who want to do more than scrape by, interested journalists should also be willing to be part of a funding experiment.

Wilson's own career trajectory involved a lot of experimentation. He left a position with SFGate in 2002 to raise money for Newsdesk; nonprofit fundraising, he bluntly admits, "sucks." Many large nonprofits are focusing on "new news models and gadgets," rather than on-the-ground funding for actual coverage. He had been pursuing the Bay Area Toxic Tour for ten years and it only became a reality with Spot.us' crowdfunding model.

"I would not recommend the path I took," Wilson says. "The only way I could do it was to live in a bohemian style, with low rent and no car." But he does recommend that journalists continue to find ways to go after stories that they have not been able to do in traditional newsrooms.

Jobs, Awards and Fellowships

Reporters (covering health, environment, politics), Yakima Herald-Republic (via JournalismJobs)
Location: Yakima, Washington
Status: Full Time
Medium: Newspaper

Health Blogger/Reporter, Boston.com (via JournalismJobs)
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Status: Full Time
Medium: Online

Health Care Reporter, Bloomberg
Location: New York, New York
Status: Full Time
Medium: Wire Service

Senior Editor/Writer, UnitedHealth Group
Location: Horsham, Pennsylvania
Status: Full Time
Medium: Marketing

Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism, Association of Health Care Journalists
Eligibility: Work published in 2010 on a wide range of health topics including public health, consumer health, medical research, the business of health care and health ethics, entry fee $30-$75
Award: Cash prize of $500 for first place winners in five categories, a framed certificate and complimentary lodging for two nights and registration for the annual AHCJ conference,
Deadline: Dec. 28, 2010 (discounted rates), Jan. 28, 2011
From the Website: "he contest was created by journalists for journalists and is not influenced or funded by commercial or special-interest groups."

REMINDER: Philip Meyer Journalism Award
Eligibility: Work published between Oct. 1, 2009 and Sept. 30, 2010 reported using social science research methods, entry fee $25-$115
Award: Cash prizes of $200-$500
Deadline: Nov. 1, 2010
From the Website: "The awards are in honor of Philip Meyer, professor emeritus and former Knight Chair of Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Meyer is the author of Precision Journalism, the seminal 1972 book (and subsequent editions) that focused growing numbers of journalists on the idea of using social science methods to do better journalism. He pioneered in using survey research as a reporter for Knight Ridder newspapers to explore the causes of race riots in the 1960s."

REMINDER: Interactive Census Workshop (Dec 12-17, 2010)
Eligibility: Journalists with interest in multimedia
Included: Lodging and meals at UC Berkeley, but not travel
Deadline: Nov. 6, 2010
From the Website: "The KDMC at UC Berkeley is offering a customized visual storytelling workshop to train journalists on new ways to process data from the 2010 Census. Fellows will illustrate the information using visualization and mapping tools to create a clearer, more meaningful picture of the complex statistics gathered in the national survey."

REMINDER: Request for Proposal for the Los Angeles Toxic Tour, Newsdesk.org and Spot.us
Eligibility: Short-term projects using text and multimedia to document pollution and communities in greater Los Angeles
Included: Maximum proposed budget of $6,000 with funding mostly from individual donors; work will bepublished and promoted by Newsdesk and Spot.Us, and shared with regional and national media partners, including the Investigative News Network
Deadline: Nov. 12, 2010
From the Website: "Would you like to bring the award-winning "Toxic Tour" reporting project to Los Angeles? Newsdesk.org and Spot.Us welcome proposals from journalists interested in developing new coverage of pollution and environmental health in Los Angeles communities."

REMINDER: Kaiser Media Internships Program
Eligibility: New journalists who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with experience reporting on health issues of diverse and immigrant communities, typically graduating from college and/or journalism school
Included: 12-week summer program with stipend, travel, training, and some accommodations, and 10 weeks residency with a news organization
Deadline: Dec. 1, 2010 for print, Jan. 6, 2011 for broadcast
From the Website: "The Media Internships Program provides an initial week-long briefing on health issues and health reporting in Washington, D.C. Interns are then based for ten weeks at their newspaper, online, or radio/TV station, typically under the direction of the Health or Metro Editor/News Director, where they report on health issues. The program ends with a 3-day meeting in Boston to hear critiques from senior journalists and to go on final site visits. The aim is to provide young journalists or journalism college graduates with an in-depth introduction to and practical experience on the specialist health beat, with a particular focus on diverse and immigrant communities."

REMINDER: Nieman Fellowships in Global Health Reporting
Eligibility: Full-time journalists with at least five years experience
Included: One academic year of of study at Harvard's School of Public Health, access to faculty and courses across the university, three to four months of fieldwork in a developing country
Deadline: January 31, 2011
From the Website: "Nieman Fellows represent the changing face of journalism. They come to Harvard from locations as different as Bangor, Maine, and Younde, Cameroon. They work for national and local print publications, broadcast news outlets, news Web sites, and documentary film ventures. Some are making their mark as freelance journalists. Some have practiced their craft under repressive governments or on far-flung fields of conflict. Together, each year they form a Nieman class that is rich in diversity, experience and aspirations for the years ahead."

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