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May 3, 2023, 2:27 p.m.
Reporting & Production

A new fellowship, backed by Robert Allbritton, aims to shake up the Capitol Hill reporting pipeline

“All the editors I know wish they had more time to mentor their reporters, but they’re under so much pressure to produce that they just can’t do it.”

In Washington, D.C., a new $20 million effort aims to produce more political journalism while making the profession more accessible.

Founded and funded by Politico founder Robert Allbritton, the Allbritton Journalism Institute (AJI) will launch a nonprofit news outlet that covers government and politics, with veteran journalists overseeing an inaugural fellowship class.

Breaking into journalism can be difficult; journalism school is expensive, and entry-level salaries tend to be low. AJI’s stated purpose is to be a training ground for “aspiring journalists from underrepresented backgrounds” to cut their teeth, according to Semafor, which first reported on the initiative.

“It takes time and repetition to get good at journalism — to build sources, to identify stories, to report them out and write them and present them in a way that actually serves the intended audience,” said Tim Grieve, the former Politico Pro and Protocol editor-in-chief who will lead the institute’s (as-yet unnamed) publication. “We want to give aspiring reporters that time, without asking them to take on student loans or find some other job to support themselves.”

The fellows will be paid $60,000 per year for two years, with benefits. AJI plans to hire 10 fellows to begin this September and add another 10 each year; by September 2004, 10 first-year fellows and 10 second-years will be working on a mix of assigned and self-created beats, Grieve said. The fellowship application (due May 31) asks questions like “Where and how do you get your news?” and “If you were going to change one thing about Washington journalism, what would it be, and why?”

This September, the selected fellows will take a four-week “immersion course in the practical application of journalism skills, from ethics and newsgathering to writing and distribution,” before they start reporting and writing. Throughout the two years, they’ll continue to attend seminars and workshops while also reporting. The teaching faculty so far includes Atlantic staff writer Tim Alberta, Washington Post local enterprise reporter DeNeen L. Brown, and The Independent’s Washington correspondent Eric M. Garcia. The newsroom will be led by Grieve, former BuzzFeed News politics editor Matt Berman, former Washington Post Magazine editor Richard Just, and former Axios senior editor Kate Nocera.

Why a journalism institute with a stacked newsroom attached instead of a new newsroom with a robust fellowship program? Allbritton may have his hands tied after selling Politico off to Axel Springer for more than $1 billion in 2021. As Semafor’s Tani reported, “the Politico founder said that while he agreed to some restrictions about his own next business moves as part of the deal (primarily not turning around and starting a Politico competitor), the two sides also agreed to carve out space for Allbritton to pursue nonprofit opportunities.”

With trust in the news media at an all-time low, Grieve said he hopes the fellows will help readers understand “why people in power (or people who want power) think what they think and do what they do — which all helps to explain what Washington does (or doesn’t) do.”

In addition to Politico, Allbritton has launched other news outlets. In 2010, he launched the Washington, D.C. local news site TBD, which ran for six months before being shut down. The tech-focused Protocol had layoffs soon after launch in 2020, then was shut down in 2022 after Politico’s sale.

But the stated purpose of AJI’s associated publication is to develop journalists who will go on to work at other news organizations. According to the site’s FAQ, “By the end of the program, graduates will have the background necessary to cover the inner workings of Washington — and will be ready to take on reporting jobs at the country’s best outlets.”

“A handful of newsrooms have great training programs, and we’d love to learn from their successes. But many don’t, either because they have no one to train or not enough people to train them,” Grieve said. “On an individual level, all the editors I know wish they had more time to mentor their reporters, but they’re under so much pressure to produce that they just can’t do it. We’re turning that on its head: Our editors’ first job is teaching and training their reporters; the journalism they produce will be the result.”

Correction: A previous version of this story suggested that Robert Allbritton shut down Protocol. It was actually shut down after Allbritton sold it with Politico to Axel Springer.

Photo by Jorge Alcala on Unsplash.

Hanaa' Tameez is a staff writer at Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (hanaa@niemanlab.org) or Twitter DM (@HanaaTameez).
POSTED     May 3, 2023, 2:27 p.m.
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