Zack Baddorf first got into journalism the way a lot of us do — he wrote for his elementary school’s publication, then middle school, then high school.
Then, Baddorf did something a lot of journalists don’t do.
From 2001 to 2006, Baddorf served in the Navy. There, he went through Defense Information School, learning photography, videography, print journalism and public affairs. At night, he studied and got his bachelor’s in journalism.
Once he was back in civilian life, he applied for dozens of journalism jobs. None ever called back. Baddorf went on to freelance and travel around the world, writing for The New York Times and The Associated Press, among others. Then, last year, he co-founded an organization meant to help more veterans build careers in journalism.
On Wednesday, that group, Military Veterans in Journalism, announced a $250,000 investment from the Knight Foundation aimed at supporting veterans through six-month fellowships, workshops, mentorship and two paid staff positions for MVJ. (Disclosure: Knight is a Poynter funder and helps fund my coverage of local news.)
In a release with the news, Baddorf reports that 7% of Americans are military vets, but that number shrinks to just 2% among journalists, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“This is deeply important to me and this is also deeply personal to me,” said LaSharah Bunting, the Knight Foundation’s director of journalism. Bunting’s father was in the Air Force, her grandmother was in the Army and she has other members on both sides of her family who served. “I know of the sacrifices made by veterans and their families on behalf of this country.”
When the industry asks what voices, groups and people aren’t being heard, she said, “I would count veterans as part of that.”
“Veterans and military families are an important part of our audience but an under-represented group in America’s newsrooms,” said Doris Truong, Poynter’s director of training and diversity. “I train hundreds of journalists each year on perspectives we need to ensure are heard, yet ‘military’ is rarely mentioned when we brainstorm viewpoints that should be considered. Knight’s investment is an important step toward further diversifying voices in newsrooms.”
The $250,000 investment is meant to help elevate MVJ’s work, Bunting added, and make other funders aware of their mission, which includes career development and advocacy on behalf of veterans.
“We are creating opportunities for stories to be told by veterans who have unique experiences and backgrounds, viewpoints and perspectives that are otherwise neglected,” Baddorf said.
And for a country that’s been at war for nearly 19 years, Bunting said, it’s critical to hear the voices of the people who served and know the costs of war firsthand.
“Having those voices and getting editors and readers and reporters to remember that, I think, is crucial.”