Arkansas Nonprofit News Network Aiming for Impact

by Kyle Massey  on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017 12:00 am  

It was 2013, oil from a burst pipeline was flooding the town of Mayflower, and journalist Lindsey Millar was “banging my head against the desk.”

The editor of the weekly Arkansas Times was racking his brain for a way to properly cover the greatest environmental disaster in Arkansas in years. He hit upon crowdfunding, and the seeds of the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network were planted.

In an era when “fake news” is a rallying cry and the Trump administration is attacking the press as a “failing” opposition party, Millar has launched ANNN as a “nonpartisan news project dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans.”

Financing his vision with grants and donations, Millar hopes to hire writers, editors, photographers and others to deliver important stories and distribute them at no charge to a statewide network of partners — newspapers, TV and radio stations and websites.

Since its roll-out in January, ANNN has covered the legislature. Reporter Ibby Caputo’s stories have been published on ANNN’s website, ArkNews.org, and in partner papers like the Jonesboro Sun and The Leader in Jacksonville. (One item appeared on ArkansasBusiness.com.) Millar is still gathering media partners, hoping to expand more into broadcasting.

The legislative coverage has been largely incremental, but Millar eventually hopes to produce deep examinations of key topics and major investigative series. His model is the Arkansas Times’ donor-funded work on the state child welfare system in 2015 and on Mayflower, where ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured in 2013.

“That was something that nobody was covering as it deserved to be, and I was trying to figure out a way to do it.”

The answer was crowdfunding, financing a venture by raising money from many donors and grants, typically through the internet. “I was reluctant initially because that was around the time we [Arkansas Times] were about to do a digital membership and ask people to pay, and it seemed like having your hand out a little too much.”

Soon he relented and partnered with InsideClimate News, an environmental nonprofit site, and their fundraising effort brought in $27,000, Millar said. That money, plus an $8,000 grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, led to the hiring of two reporters, including former Arkansas Business reporter Sam Eifling and Elizabeth McGowan, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of a 2010 oil spill.

“We did some really consequential reporting,” Millar said. The Times traced the pipeline’s path and highlighted deficiencies in its maintenance. “We wrote about people who were near the spill who had problems with fumes and potential health hazards. The day after our report came out, Congressman [Tim] Griffin [now lieutenant governor] called the person who had been on the cover and to ask what he could do. Eventually Gov. Mike Beebe offered free health screenings.

“That exposed me to the idea that great freelancers were out there who would come here and work with us. We confirmed that again on the child welfare project when we were able to hire Kathryn Joyce,” a reporter who was runner-up for a National Magazine Award.

In 2015, the Times raised $23,000 to investigate the state’s child welfare system after Times Associate Editor Benjamin Hardy broke the news that two young girls adopted by then-state Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, were unofficially placed into a new home under the care of a man who later abused one of the children. This practice of giving away children, known as “rehoming” in the adoption world, has since been outlawed.

 

 

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