Employment at newspaper newsrooms fell 57 percent between 2008 and 2020, from about 71,000 jobs to 31,000, according to the Pew Research Center. Report for America, a national service program launched in 2017, is helping stem the tide by placing talented journalists with news organizations throughout the U.S. to report on under-covered issues.
The program is highly selective: news organizations and emerging journalists compete separately to be part of it. Winners are then matched, with Report for America paying up to 50 percent of the salaries of selected journalists for up to three years.
Lynandro “DJ” Simmons, ’18, was among the journalists invited to join the Report for America Corps in 2021. A journalism major and political science minor, he is covering marginalized communities for the Athens Banner-Herald in Athens, Ga.
“For me, local journalism is more important than ever, with national politics in such a divisive period,” says Simmons. “This was the best opportunity to help provide meaningful change through impactful reporting while also sharpening my skills.”
Here’s more on his Report for America (RFA) newsbeat.
• Simmons brings experience as an award-winning local journalist to the Banner-Herald. He previously worked for the Westport News and Hearst Connecticut Media, a network of newspapers and websites.
• Since early childhood, Simmons was an avid reader who enjoyed writing. “But I never saw journalism as a feasible career path. It wasn’t until I took a journalism course at Southern that I felt this was something I would truly love to do for a living,” he says.
• He got experience at Southern News, working as editor-in-chief of the student-run newspaper. It’s the most diverse newsroom he’s been in to date, one that “affirmed my belief that there’s space for everyone in this field,” he says.
• Southern News was also a great training ground, he says: “It was my first time experiencing real deadlines, beyond just submitting papers to teachers. Our advisers at the paper gave us a lot of independence to grow and make mistakes, which helped me in my growth as a young reporter.”
• In his first year with RFA, he’s written on far-reaching subjects, including an organization providing jobs for the homeless, the first city commissioner to give birth while holding office, the city’s Black-owned restaurants, a new museum focused on Black history, and more.
“The most rewarding experience I’ve had so far was residents telling me they’re happy to see new faces centered in the stories impacting the city today,” he says.