May 8, 2018 at 2:18 pm

Alumni News | Messitt Hired as National Director of Report for America

Maggie Messitt

Dr. Maggie Messitt ’17

by Dinty W. Moore

Dr. Maggie Messitt ’17, a graduate of the English Ph.D. program in Creative Writing, was named national director of Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Report for America is a newly launched national service program deploying outstanding emerging and established journalists into newsrooms around the country to report on under-covered topics and under-covered corners of America.

“Local coverage has been decimated,” the Report for America website explains. “Residents no longer get the information they need to understand the critical issues facing their community, to make good decisions for their family, and hold elected officials accountable.”

In early 2018, RFA piloted its program by placing three journalists in newsrooms across Appalachia. These positions have increased coverage in West Virginia’s southern coalfields; placed a remote reporter in Mingo County, WV; and re-opened the Pike County bureau in Kentucky. In June, nine journalists—selected from an applicant pool of 740—will be placed in newsrooms in Illinois, Georgia, New Mexico, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Expanding each year, Report for America aims to place 1,000 journalists across the country in 2022.

Furthermore, RFA is encouraging a new financial model for local news—one that includes the community. In a recent interview, Co-Founder Steven Waldman explained: “one way or another, the crises in local news is not going to be solved unless the community gets more involved and passionate in its support.” As a result, the salaries for all RFA journalists are partially paid for by local funders.

In the past week, Report for America was included on a list of “Who’s Who in Local News: A Guide to the Biggest Brains and Bank Accounts in the Fight for Local Journalism,” published in Harvard’s NiemanLab. And a profile on the organization and its founders was published in the New York Times.

Messitt has worked as a journalist, editor, and social entrepreneur inside underserved communities in rural South Africa and the American Midwest. In South Africa, she was the editor/publisher of an award-winning community newspaper and the founding director of a nonprofit focused on training women journalists inside the former Apartheid-era homelands of Lebowa & Gazankulu.

In the United States, Messitt joined forces with the Writers in Prisons Project, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and UW—Madison’s MFA program to launch nonfiction workshops for minimum/medium security prisoners.

Messitt is the author of The Rainy Season, longlisted for the 2016 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award, and she teaches in the Goucher College low-residency MFA program. She currently splits her time between the RFA offices in Brooklyn and her home in Pittsburgh.

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