News Blitz Launched on Michigan’s Financial Turmoil

Renaissance Journalism has played a key role in organizing a bold, collaborative effort by nine news organizations to provide ongoing coverage of the financial crisis that has engulfed the city of Detroit and other public agencies in Michigan.

The financial situation is especially grave for Detroit, which last July 18 became the largest city in the nation to file for bankruptcy. In addition, the state of Michigan has placed a number of other cities and school districts under the jurisdiction of emergency managers. The situation is exacerbated by longstanding political, racial and class divisions.

The yearlong effort will support in-depth reporting that will help residents keep abreast of the developments, weigh options going forward and monitor the actions of Detroit’s bankruptcy and emergency managers. In addition to news coverage, the journalism groups have agreed to undertake extensive community engagement activities to reach Michigan’s diverse communities.

The news partners are The Center for Michigan, a policy center that publishes the online Bridge Magazine; Detroit Public Radio (WDET); Michigan Public Radio; Detroit Public Television (DPTV); and New Michigan Media, itself a collaboration involving five ethnic newspapers: Arab American News, The Jewish News, The Michigan Citizen (serving the African American community), the Latino Press and The Michigan Korean Weekly.

The Ford Foundation’s program on Promoting Transparent, Effective and Accountable Government provided a grant of $250,000 and asked Renaissance Journalism to organize the project. The collaboration also has received $250,000 in funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, doubling the philanthropic investment. The aims of the two foundations are very similar, although Knight’s funding is focused on Detroit, while Ford is interested in the statewide significance of the funding crisis. In addition to Detroit, a number of other cities and public agencies are in financial distress, and a state law empowers Michigan’s governor to appoint an emergency manager to take over such agencies in trouble.

“Detroit is just one of a number of Michigan communities with an emergency manager, and what we learn from Detroit can offer lessons for both the state and the nation,” said Jon Funabiki, executive director of Renaissance Journalism. “We are honored to work with the Ford Foundation, the Knight Foundation and the news partners to bring aggressive, in-depth reporting to bear on these issues.”

Renaissance Journalism worked closely with leaders from both the Ford and Knight foundations in an effort to maximize the impact of the combined funding.

The degree of cooperation pledged by the news partners is extraordinary. While each group will produce its own news stories, they have agreed to share those stories. They also have agreed to coordinate outreach efforts, which will include live programs broadcast by the three broadcast outlets and meetings to be held in neighborhoods.

Renaissance Journalism was created to incubate innovative journalism projects that strengthen communities. It is operated in partnership with ZeroDivide, a nonprofit that utilizes technology to empower communities.

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