The Boston-based nonprofit organization overseeing the burgeoning Report for America initiative, which places young journalists in local newsrooms across the US, said Thursday that CEO and founder Charles Sennott will step down from the top job in September to focus more on working with its journalists.
Sennott, a former Globe reporter, launched The GroundTruth Project in 2014 and has steered the organization through a period of growth and expansion that is rarely seen in this era of local news. The move will allow Sennott to focus on his role as GroundTruth’s editor-in-chief, and bounce more frequently between newsrooms across the country to work with the program’s corps members.
“I’m a journalist who is what might be called a reluctant entrepreneur,” Sennott said. “I’ve always had to straddle the editorial side and the business side since we founded GroundTruth. And as we’ve grown, that’s become untenable. My passions and talents lie in working with other journalists in the field, and that’s what I’ll be doing.”
The search is on for a new CEO, and GroundTruth hopes to hire someone by early 2023. The organization will remain based in Boston, and Sennott will remain on its board of directors. And Steve Waldman, who is currently president of Report for America, will turn his attention to the Rebuild Local News Coalition, GroundTruth’s public policy advocacy wing.
The shift in GroundTruth’s top leadership comes at a time of continued tumult in local newsrooms. Since 2005, the US has lost roughly one-quarter, or 2,500, of its local news outlets, researchers at Northwestern University said in a report released earlier this week. And while the pandemic did not accelerate the rate at which those outlets are disappearing, more than two newspapers are still closing every week, the report found.
Gannett announced plans in April to shutter or merge more than 20 print publications in Massachusetts. More than 40 others are expected to shift reporters off local beats in favor of more general regional news assignments.
GroundTruth was founded to help fill the void those papers are leaving behind. Report for America, the group’s flagship initiative, began in 2017 with just three reporters. Its newest cohort is 300 journalists strong, and will bolster reporting efforts in more than 200 local outlets across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Guam. (The Boston Globe currently employs a Report for America corps member.) GroundTruth pays half of each reporter’s salary, and helps newsrooms raise enough funds to cover the rest. The group hopes to eventually hit 1,000 reporters.
And the organization’s new Report for the World program is hoping to find similar success following the Report for America model internationally. Its first cohort was announced last year.
As Sennott sees it, his departure from the CEO role underscores just how successful the program has become. GroundTruth’s annual budget has now climbed to $13 million, and the organization employs around 50 people.
There is still and always will be an appetite — and need — for local reporting, he said.
“The crisis in journalism is so serious that all of us need to do whatever we can to meet the moment,” said Sennott. “We want to be the organization that leads the way and shows people that we still need local news, and that there is still a real hunger for it.”