BuzzFeed wants to create a pipeline for investigative journalists of color
In March, everything Mark Schoofs had been noticing about all the white guys in journalism came together in one place -- the Pulitzers.
Schoofs, investigations and projects editor at BuzzFeed News, was on the jury for the investigative reporting category of the Pulitzer Prizes. He read about 80 entries.
"It was overwhelmingly white and, by the way, overwhelmingly male," said Shoofs, (who himself is a white guy who has won a Pulitzer.) And he thinks he knows why.
"What happens, I believe, is that all of the forces in our society that limit opportunities for people of color accumulate the higher up the ladder you go," he said in a phone interview. "Rightly or wrongly, investigative reporting is considered a plum job, so I think it's whiter than 'regular reporting.'"
On Thursday, BuzzFeed and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism announced a new fellowship to try and start changing that. Here's the quick sketch:
-- It's a one-year investigative reporting fellowship for a journalist of color.
-- You need at least five years experience.
-- The position is based in New York.
-- The fellow will work with Schoofs.
-- He or she can audit classes at Columbia.
-- The fellow will earn $85,000 "plus benefits and related expenses for one year," according to the press release.
"It's one attempt," Schoofs said. "It's not in any way a total solution, but it's one attempt to deal with a very real and urgent problem."
You should jump in this talent pool
The talent pool of young, ambitious, entry-level journalists is big, BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith said in a phone interview. But that's not usually where great investigative journalists come from. They're developed, often by editors who choose them for their reporting chops and tenacity. They're groomed. They're given time to develop and tell tough stories.
"You're very, very dependent on personnel decisions by other organizations," he said.
"Most of the investigative journalists are white, male and let's just say that many of them are of a certain age," said Sheila S. Coronel, academic dean, Toni Stabile Professor of Professional Practice and director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, in a phone interview.
Coronel worked with Schoofs "and he thought that there was something that we could do to help create a new generation of diverse investigative reporters."
Basically, BuzzFeed is starting to create their own pool, Smith said, offering great reporters a shot that many newspapers in the industry can't.
"When there isn't a pipeline that we're totally happy with, we're committed to trying to help create one."
On Wednesday, Smith wrote about the company's commitment to diversity.
The person who gets the fellowship will also get to audit classes at Columbia, including a range of investigative courses on national security, using data across borders, health care, business, projects and courses across many platforms.
Since starting in 2006, 90 people have graduated from Columbia's Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting, Coronel said.
"We hope we are seeding the ground in many places," she said, "And BuzzFeed is one of those places."
But don't lead with your Klout score
"We're not looking for people who are good at tweeting," Smith said. "We're looking for people who are good at writing stories that people want to share."
A great investigative reporter is tenacious, he said. They're patient, and they get what the difference is between the jobs of an investigative reporter and a private eye. They know what the story is and how to tell it, Smith said, "which is not a small thing."
They'll also get, if they haven't already, that the way newspapers tell their investigations, often one Sunday at a time, isn't how people consume media anymore, Smith said.
So is there a chance the person who gets this fellowship could end up staying on BuzzFeed's team? They haven't gotten there yet, he said.
"That's really not what this is about."
“Just apply,” Schoofs said. “If you think that this might be right for you, please send in an application. We want to hear from you."
Part of the application (due Nov. 1,) includes pitching an idea and your sources. That idea can be about anything. This is not, however, an internship. The goal isn't to BuzzFeed-ify a journalist and teach them how to turn a big story into a listicle, but to offer someone a chance that might not come up otherwise.
"If they would like to learn how to make GIFs, we will teach them how to make GIFs," Smith said. "But that's not the core of this."