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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