Thursday, April 11, 2013

Director's Notes: APPLY BY MAY 8

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Clark Bell, Program Director
With the May 8 deadline for Letters of Inquiry fast approaching, I would like to review the Journalism Program’s current strategy and present a few ideas under consideration for 2014.

As you may recall, the McCormick Foundation’s Journalism Program has been transformed around the belief that news consumers---students, teachers, people like you and me---need help in coping with information overload.

Our $5.5 million in annual grantmaking is built around an Audience-Rights-Content framework.  It is designed to build a more informed, news literate and engaged citizenry. Our goal is to increase the level of civic engagement by strengthening the quality of journalistic content, helping audiences become smart new consumers and promoting an open and free environment in which journalism can flourish.

As a result, we shifted much of our portfolio to a “demand-side” approach to grantmaking and away from a “supply-side” strategy. We still support mid-career training for news media professionals, investigative reporting, community news, youth media, press freedoms and other areas that bolster the field of journalism in a time of transition.  Rather than shape grantmaking around the life cycle of a journalist, we now emphasize news literacy and its critical role as a catalyst for informing and engaging citizens.

The anchor to this work is the three-year, $6 million WHY NEWS MATTERS (WNM) initiative, which began in January with a major round of grant awards. The WNM cohort now includes 25 organizations doing news literacy work in Chicago.  

As we begin preparing for 2014, we look forward to reviewing your proposals for grants of $50,000 or more.  The deadline for letters of inquiry is MAY 8 (proposals of less than $50,000 can be submitted at any time throughout the year). 

We recognize the competitive nature of seeking grants to fund journalism projects.  Last year, we received 311 written requests seeking $26.8 million in funding.  Scores of other interesting ideas were nixed before formal submission because they were not suited to our strategy and portfolio. This is a highly selective process.  In the end, we judge proposals on fit, feasibility, need and ability to assess impact within the McCormick framework.

Grant officers Mark Hallett, Jennifer Choi and I have discussed a number of ideas that could fill gaps in the portfolio. For example, in the Content sector, we see a need for training Chicago area journalists on timely topics, interpreting data and multi-media storytelling.  A research project could assess the reach of existing news in Chicago communities and better define the critical issues facing low-income news consumers.

We believe that the quality of journalism produced by Chicago youth media groups has improved dramatically, in part because of the nearly $6 million McCormick has invested in the sector since 2006.  With that in mind, we will begin evaluating youth media programs on the strength of the journalistic content produced.  In addition, we will continue to expect that the youth media organizations build in principles of news literacy throughout the training.

For information, visit our guidelines.

The WNM initiative will become the domain of more focused news literacy programs that energize the community around quality news and relevant information.  We will consider a broad range of dynamic projects to engage young people with news. 

We seek to support activities that help teachers bring news literacy activities into their classrooms. We hope to work with networks of schools willing to establish comprehensive news literacy approaches.  We are looking to document the impact of news literacy training on critical thinking skills.  That could lead the way for support of policy efforts that specifically recognize news literacy as part of the common core curriculum.  We also will give a hard look to news literacy projects that help students cope with “other” literacies such as health, personal finance, digital and civics.  

Col. Robert R. McCormick’s unwavering support of press freedoms is a cornerstone of the Journalism Program.  We will continue to parlay this tradition of funding legal protection for journalists with support for projects that address government transparency, accessibility, accountability and civic education.

The McCormick Foundation has evolved into more of a place-based grantmaking organization. The Journalism Program has joined forces with our colleagues in the Civics, Education and Veterans programs to tackle some of the most difficult issues facing the Chicago area.  We will consider journalistic-based proposals that deal with such topics as fiscal policy, regional planning, reducing youth violence and sustaining the nonprofit sector. 

 McCormick President and CEO David Hiller recently said: “We find enormous optimism---at a time when our region faces daunting challenges---in the extraordinary work of engaged citizens and civic organizations. Concerned citizens are waging a multi-front battle for the future of our city and state. From gun violence to bankrupt fiscal policy, now is the time to stand up and be engaged.”

News literacy and journalistic content will certainly play major roles in this effort to reinforce civic health.  We look forward to reviewing your ideas.  To begin the application process, click here.

Journalism Program Director
McCormick Foundation

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

McCormick Foundation and Poynter announce reporting workshops on covering guns, Medicare, immigration and more

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Reporters and journalism professors can receive free travel and tuition to attend one of seven nationwide seminars. To ensure citizens benefit from the best possible reporting on critical issues, The Robert R. McCormick Foundation and The Poynter Institute for Media Studies today announced seven new issue-centered workshops for journalists in 2013. The McCormick Specialized Reporting Institutes are free training seminars, focused on creating a strong democracy through an informed public. They are scheduled from Long Island to Chicago and El Paso, Texas, from April through October. The McCormick Foundation is funding the training (which also includes e-learning) through a $710,000, two-year grant to Poynter — an international media strategy center and school for journalists. The seven topics and workshop hosts are:  Covering Guns, April 1-3 in Chicago, organized by The Poynter Institute;  Covering Medicare: Care, Costs, Control and Consequences, May 5-7 in St. Petersburg, Fla., organized by the Medicare NewsGroup;  Grading the Teachers, May 8-10 in Detroit and in October in Chicago, organized by Michigan State University School of Journalism and the Education Trust-Midwest;  Covering Big Agribusiness in the Heartland, in June in Champaign, Ill., organized by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and Investigative Reporters and Editors;  Poverty in the Suburbs: The New Poor, the Old Poor and the Growing Poor, in September at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, on Long Island;  Reporting on Immigration Reform, in September or October at The University of Texas at El Paso; and  Reporting Sex Trafficking: A Local Problem with Global Dimensions, in October at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The McCormick Journalism Program and Poynter made these selections from almost 60 applications. To ensure as many people as possible benefit from the workshops, each host also will produce a Webinar on the topic and a page of reporting resources on Poynter’s e-learning site, News University ( McCormick and Poynter require journalists who attend to commit to producing significant coverage on the issue. “Every news organization in America is challenged to provide quality coverage on these sensitive, hot-button social and economic issues," said Clark Bell, director of the McCormick Foundation's journalism program. Reporters interested in applying should contact workshop hosts. The first two Specialized Reporting Institutes, or SRIs, are accepting applications. Apply for Poynter’s workshop in Chicago on Covering Guns at To apply for Medicare NewsGroup’s workshop in St. Petersburg, go to The Grading the Teachers workshop will post its information soon at, and look for information about Poverty in the Suburbs at The McCormick Foundation awarded The Poynter Institute a one-year grant to administer its SRI program in 2011, then gave Poynter a second grant to continue that work through 2013. The program complements Poynter’s curriculum, which teaches the craft and values of journalism to reporters, bloggers, students and others interested in storytelling in print, on radio or TV and on screens of all kinds. “We continue to be thrilled to partner with McCormick on such important work,” said Stephen Buckley, Poynter’s dean of faculty. “We especially appreciate the opportunity to help reporters from small and mid-sized organizations tackle these issues that are so crucial to their communities.” This initiative supports the Robert R. McCormick Foundation’s commitment to ensuring that citizens have access to quality news content by providing resources and training to journalists. The ongoing transformation in the way news is reported and shared has created a need for specialized training for those whose work helps keep the public informed. “The McCormick Foundation is dedicated to building a more news literate audience,” Bell said. “We believe that news literacy is dependent on quality content and press freedoms.” Previous Specialized Reporting Institutes have informed journalists’ work on covering child sexual abuse, veterans returning home, Super PACs and more. To see tip sheets, slide presentations and other reporting resources from prior McCormick SRIs, go to The Robert R. McCormick Foundation developed the SRI program in 2007 to provide journalists and others with subject-specific expertise and practical reporting training in key issues. The training convenes a diverse group of journalists, often from small to mid-sized news organizations, plus educators for a program lasting two to three days. Participants represent all media platforms. Grant funds pay for participants’ tuition and travel.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Affordable one-day multimedia training conference in SF, CA

Renaissance Journalism will hold its next LearningLAB event, a one-day multimedia training conference, on Friday, January 11, 2013, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., on the San Francisco State University campus.

Registration fee is $25  (Space is limited).

This event offers an opportunity to learn digital storytelling skills and to hear about best practices, free tools and social media strategies from leading experts in Web journalism.

The 2013 conference will feature a selection workshops organized around three broad themes: multimedia storytelling, social media and community engagement, and “hot topics,” those important—and often polarizing—issues that have a profound impact on our communities (e.g. immigration, poverty in America, health reform).

More info:
Web Site:
Registration Page:

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Friday, November 2, 2012

McCormick Journalism Program launches News Literacy collaborative

Friday, November 02, 2012

by Ashlei Williams, Robert R. McCormick Communications intern

Got news literacy? On October 24, the McCormick Foundation Journalism Program and Midwest Journalism Education Initiative (MJEI) gathered representatives from 10 secondary education schools and organizations to consider this question. Over the next seven months, the first collaborative news literacy project will be conducted to help student journalists and young news consumers apply critical thinking skills to media.

The foundation recently announced plans for a three-year, $6 million initiative, called “Why News Matters,” to expand innovative approaches to improving news literacy. In the initial round of this three-year program, the foundation will award more than $1 million in grants to 11 organizations to enhance news literacy skills and programs in Chicago.

MJEI works with leading organizations in the identification and development of resources to enhance the practice of journalism and media instruction. MJEI is leading the collaborative project that is funded by the foundation. Project participants include: Bartlett High School, Benito Juarez Community Academy, Downers Grove North High School, Elk Grove High School, Free Spirit Media, Oak Park-River Forest High School, Perspectives Math and Science Academy, Roberto Clemente High School, Rolling Meadows High School and Wheeling High School.

“The goal of the project is to provide reporting that is accountable, verifiable and independent of bias,” said Stan Zoller, director of MJEI.

Zoller is developing the curriculum for the project that is based on Stony Brook University’s news literacy course. At the initial meeting, he explained that the students participating will be expected to do investigative reporting on a specific issue. Teachers and advisors brainstormed on topics ranging from the depletion of vocational courses to equipping ELL students for advanced placement opportunities.

After students have also suggested topics, the reporting theme will be selected in December. Production will take place from January to March. In April, Zoller will reconvene with teachers and advisors for a project summary. The students’ work will be published on an established website in May.

“You guys (teachers) are pioneers for doing this,” said Clark Bell, director of McCormick Journalism Program. “This is something that can be and should be replicated nationally.”

Bell said that from this pilot project the foundation hopes to host a national conference on news literacy in 2014 and a showcase for related projects in 2015.

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News Literacy Project visits Associated Press Chicago

Friday, November 02, 2012

By Sahar Alchammae, Robert R. McCormick Communications intern

Among journalists there is an old joke about fact-checking all sources, even one’s own mother. It is this message of skepticism that staff at Chicago’s Associated Press bureau shared with student journalists from Northside College Prep High School who were on a News Literacy Project field trip.

On October 17, the editorial team of The Hoofbeat, Northside College Prep’s school newspaper, was challenged to consider the question “how do you know?” Two AP staff members introduced the news organization, explaining its history and its role in providing content to media outlets. Next, they shared how the 2006 Sago mine collapse was misreported by numerous reputable publications. This example showed the students the importance validating facts.

During the closing question and answer segment, the students asked if social media is a useful source for reporting. One AP staffer responded by explaining that Twitter was a valuable tool when she was reporting on an emergency plane landing. She explained that social media can be used as a way to listen for trends and to discover sources but should not be considered a primary news source.

After the session, the students were provided with lunch and the opportunity to workshop story ideas with staffers.

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2012 C-LINKS cohort graduates with special honor

Friday, November 02, 2012

by Ashlei Williams, Robert R. McCormick Communications intern

Becoming an adult is some people’s biggest regret. But for the 23 teenagers involved in the 2012 Columbia College Chicago’s Columbia Links summer program not being able to grow up is their greatest fear.

For six weeks, the teens took multimedia courses based on the student-selected topic of violence. Veteran journalists lectured on Basic Reporting, Investigative/Multimedia Reporting and Special Reporting. Since 2006, C-LINKS has built expertise, relationships, skills and opportunities that connect students, teachers and volunteers through media.

“Ellyn was my mentor and she was really there with me the whole time,” said Lileana Moore, a student at Northside College Prep. “If there was a problem I ran into, I could email her or call her and talk to her and work it out.”

Family members, mentors and Columbia College Chicago staff in the audience of C-LINKS graduation. (Ashlei Williams/Robert R. McCormick Foundation)

On August 30, a graduation ceremony was held at Columbia College’s Collins Hall to celebrate the C-LINKS community’s work. Facing the audience of delighted family members, proud mentors and blushing students Brenda Butler, executive director of C-LINKS, led the presentation of the 2012 cohort’s compilation of letters and essays, “Don’t Shoot. I Want to Grow Up.”

Brenda Butler speaks about C-LINKS. (Ashlei Williams/Robert R. McCormick Foundation)

Moore’s article on CeaseFire, the Chicago organization made up of ex-gang members who advocate against gun violence, was highlighted in the presentation. Moore explained that while reporting she was able to travel with one of the CeaseFire members to the scene of a shooting. Such real-world experiences contributed to the journalism skills and knowledge that students gained.

“At my school the News Literacy Project came to our World Studies class and kind of talked to us so I had an experience knowing you need to check out the credibility of sources,” Moore said. “But this program really helped me to solidify that because I really had to be checking all of the things that I was finding through my research and making sure that I was using the right sources.”

Lileana Moore, a student at Northside College Prep. (Ashlei Williams/Robert R. McCormick Foundation)

Before students were granted their certificates and status as C-LINKS alumni, Laura Washington, of the Chicago Sun-Times and Channel 7, addressed the crowd with as the keynote speaker. Washington provided 10 tips of advice to the graduates such as supporting advocacy journalism, using discretion and exploding myths. Washington’s closing comments about showing gratitude can be seen by clicking on the video below.

Laura Washington speaks to the graduates. Click here for video. (Ashlei Williams/Robert R. McCormick Foundation)

After Washington’s speech, each student filed up to the podium to receive their credentials from Nancy Day, chair of Columbia College’s Journalism Department. But the work of the 2012 C-LINKS cohort did not end there. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office has been in contact with C-LINKS staff about the group’s compilation and will the students have the honor of presenting their work to the mayor himself. Discussions are also in place between staff and the Chicago Police Department about including Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy in that conversation. To stay updated on the C-LINKS program visit

Kevin Morales accepts C-LINKS certificate. (Ashlei Williams/Robert R. McCormick Foundation)

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