The strategic discrediting of the media by this administration will likely be at the top of the list of damages they’ve unleashed about the U.S. citizenry. Sowing distrust in reporting and attacking journalists is straight out of Oligarchy 101 class at Evil Villain University (<– not actual fact and basic media literacy would allow you to detect my sarcasm). Just as much as social workers and lawyers, the journalists out there working to uncover the truth about injustices, still need our support. Thank you to Trevor Aaronson, Executive Director at the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, for updating me on what’s happened since last year. Please read on and consider joining me in making a donation.
What was your organization’s biggest win(s) in 2017?
Late last year, we produced a documentary short about a Florida man named Roderick Kemp, whose voting rights had been revoked as a result of a 30-year-old felony conviction. He was one of an estimated 6.1 million Americans, and 1.7 million Floridians, who are disenfranchised due to felony convictions. In Florida and in other states, felons can be kept out of the polls years after they have completed their prison sentences. Our film was distributed in partnership with TIME, The Atlantic, the Miami Herald, Salon and others. Three months after our film’s release, an extraordinary thing happened: Kemp received a letter from the state of Florida notifying him that the state’s Office of Executive Clemency had restored his voting rights. This is a process that takes years in most cases, and in fact, Kemp was prepared to wait as long as a decade to receive back his voting rights. No doubt our documentary short played a role in the state’s taking quick action in Kemp’s case, and we view that as a victory both for Kemp and for our journalism, demonstrating that serious-minded storytelling about Florida can have a direct and lasting impact on Florida and Floridians.
What has been your organization’s biggest challenge(s) in 2017?
Our biggest challenge this year, as it was last year, is funding. We are a small nonprofit — our annual budget has never exceeded $250,000 — and for that reasons, we do not try to compete online as a destination site. Instead, we invest in stories that we think need to be told and then partner with national or state news media to distribute those stories. This makes our audience diffuse, and a result creates a challenge for fundraising or membership building. At the same time, as other nonprofit journalism organizations have seen, we have in recent years witnessed a softening of foundation support for journalism. We now receive the majority of our funding through individual donations, a fact we are proud of in light of the difficulties of raising money from individuals. We raise most of our funding through our annual fundraiser, the 125-Day Challenge, and we have some additional support for that campaign this year. As part of News Match, the Knight Foundation, Democracy Fund and the MacArthur Foundation are matching all individual donations up to $1,000 per donation through December 31. This year’s fundraising campaign will support our journalism next year, which will focus on climate change in Florida.
Please share a story about one individual in Florida who has truly made an impact this year who you’d like the rest of the world to know about.
I would point back to the answer to my first question and say Roderick Kemp. Now that he has his voting rights restored, Kemp could have gone back to his previous life, as if nothing happened. But he’s not doing that. Instead, he’s become an advocate for the restoration of voting rights in Florida and now something of a face for those affected by voter disenfranchisement. He’s been talking to people and community groups throughout the state, and no doubt he will play a large role in 2018, when there is a ballot initiative in Florida that, if passed, would automatically restore the voting rights of felons after they have completed their sentences.
Editor’s Note: I vividly recalled Roderick’s story from last year and will 100% admit to both tearing up and cheering when I heard Trevor’s update. Congratulations, Mr. Kemp and thank you.