By David Poulson
The Knight Center and WKAR public radio just launched a series of audio reports about the promise and recovery of Detroit’s waterfront.
It is a significant issue for a struggling city. It is also significant for the way it was created. Our partnership with WKAR has greatly extended our reach. We support regular environmental programming each Tuesday on WKAR’s Current State public affairs program. Those interviews are also featured on the center’s Great Lakes Echo news site.
Often Current State assistant producer Emanuele Berry, a former Echo intern, will use ideas and sources from Echo stories for that programming.
The Detroit series is a little different in that we hired professional radio producers to produce feature stories that include a push to “daylight” the city’s ghost waters and soften its shoreline. They describe some of the best fishing in the world and report on efforts to repair longtime damage to an industrial riverfront.
These are important stories for a city struggling to remake itself. We’ll run one a week for five weeks.
Support for this programming comes through a grant that is administered through Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality. The ultimate source of those funds is the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
While our funders may support a particular area of Echo stories – the nearshore ecosystem, in this case – we never allow them to dictate the actual stories we report. We make our funding support clear to readers so they can judge for themselves.
And the professionals involved in this and other efforts would rebel if we tried to put a government slant to our journalism. If anyone questions Echo’s editorial independence they should read some of Echo commentator Gary Wilson’s occasional criticism of the restoration initiative.
Critics may say that government funding is a less than ideal way of supporting journalism. But I respond that we need to be creative in supporting public service journalism during this period of struggle for new independent business models.
Echo has covered issues that simply would have gone unreported without this kind of support. If it is a flawed model, it certainly is preferable to no model. And if an independent free press is so important that we enshrine it in our constitution, it’s not inconsistent to invest public funds to support it.
So we are transparent about such support on the site and on this series. And right here.