The Corporation for Public Broadcasting announced a $4.1 million grant Thursday to American Public Media to expand its network of "citizen sources" that help provide local news coverage across the country.
The grant will be funded over two years by the nonprofit corporation that channels federal funds to public broadcasters. Earlier funders of the project have been the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Patricia Harrison, president and CEO of the Washington-based Corporation for Public Broadcasting, said the effort will enhance local and regional news coverage from courthouses and state houses in urban and rural areas.
St. Paul, Minn.-based American Public Media's Public Insight Network already includes 120,000 "citizen sources" who share information with journalists in 45 newsrooms across the country. The newsrooms include New York Public Radio, KPBS in San Diego, Minnesota Public Radio, The Miami Herald and The Charlotte Observer.
Officials said the grant will add 100,000 more people to the network to share information with 50 more newsrooms. It will fund mobile apps to share content and tools to vet information from participants. The public media group created a translation application to help journalists engage with multilingual communities, for example.
The "citizen sources" come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines and are not paid for their involvement, said Bill Gray, a spokesman for American Public Media. They aren't recruited to be financial contributors, either.
Journalists fact-check information from citizens, interview them and maintain control of the journalism. But the citizen engagement can take on different forms.
Sometimes citizens may provide news tips to help guide coverage, while in other cases journalists seek permission to publish stories written by citizen contributors, said Joaquin Alvarado, vice president of digital innovation for American Public Media.
"In some cases, Public Insight drives very forward-facing reporting or special features or interactive magazines," he told The Associated Press. "Other times, there is deep sourcing around very sensitive issues, and like any source would be, you might never know they were necessarily involved with the story."
Alvarado said the group is trying to create a different kind of approach to reporting news _ one that is balanced and focused on engaging sources for their knowledge, rather than opinion.
Public TV and radio stations, which are funded by donors along with some federal dollars, already have a uniquely loyal relationship with their audience, Alvarado said.
"We want to translate that in a broader, more diverse sense in service of the journalism that we do," he said.
Public Insight Network: http://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/
Corporation for Public Broadcasting: http://cpb.org/
Brett Zongker can be reached at http://twitter.com/DCArtBeat