February 14, 2023

Private equity’s impact on local communities is a notoriously difficult reporting subject. There’s uncertainty over what the term means. Many newsrooms avoid it altogether due to the challenges involved and the opaque nature of the growing industry ($4.4 trillion).

But private equity firms are having significant, negative impacts on rural hospitals, nursing homes and residential centers for the disabled. In cities like Charlotte, Dallas and Phoenix, investors play an outsized role in the housing market, making it even harder for first-time buyers, raising costs for renters and pushing evictions.

With Poynter’s Beat Academy virtual training sessions on private equity reporting, journalists of all stripes can learn how to find these stories in their own backyards. The guests for these sessions include many of the most experienced hands in this arena, including reporters from Bloomberg, ProPublica, and The Wall Street Journal.

These journalists have one key goal: to help other reporters answer basic questions. What are the red flags that show that private equity is making life harder, not easier? How can we document that problems exist? How can we tell the story without spending weeks and months of investigation?

These sessions take place March 2, 16 and 30, from 1 to 2:30 Eastern.

For those who want to take their reporting to the next level, Poynter is offering competitive grants of up to $20,000 each to three newsrooms or freelancers to support targeted reporting projects on private equity. All platforms — online, radio, video, print — are eligible to apply. Along with the money comes one-on-one guidance from reporters who have been there before.

What we’re looking for

Private equity can be benign, but when it goes wrong, it’s generally because financial incentives push toward flipping assets within three to six years. Key to the formula is boosting short-term profits through higher revenues and lower expenses. This is a risky mix, particularly in anything involving direct human services.

The strongest applications will focus on a concrete local example of where problems seem to exist. The ultimate private equity owner might not be known precisely, but there will be initial evidence of a private equity connection. We are looking for a crisp story pitch, a clear reporting plan and evidence that you have the skill to deliver.

And because there’s always the chance that the story will morph, we want to see your fallback plan if the facts don’t align the way you expect.

Applicants must provide:

  • A brief description of what they will probe, why they believe there is a story to be told and how they plan to report the story.
  • A timeline for producing the reporting project.
  • A plan for a community event tied to the project.
  • A budget showing how the grant funds will be spent.
  • A target date for publication.
  • The staff who will work on the project and their qualifications.

Applicants must have attended all three sessions on private equity offered through Beat Academy. (Enroll here.)

Successful applicants will have some post-project requirements. They must write a story for the Poynter audience describing the reporting process, what they learned from the experience, and where they think this project will take them next. They must also provide a report showing the use of funds and the outcomes of their work by Dec. 1, 2023. (All funds must be spent, and coverage appeared in print, on air or online, by that date.)

Applications are due April 21, three weeks after the final session. A panel assembled by Poynter will vet all applications and announce the winners by the end of May.

Funding support is provided by the Omidyar Network.

Questions? Contact Jon Greenberg at beatacademy@poynter.org.

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Jon Greenberg is a senior correspondent with PolitiFact. He was part of the PolitiFact team during the 2012 presidential election and was one of the…
Jon Greenberg

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