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Foundations launch ‘nonpartisan’ Florida news agency

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One of Florida’s largest foundations is forming a nonprofit news agency to increase coverage of statewide issues and their local impact.

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice recently secured $352,000 from the Miami-based Knight Foundation to create a news Web site called the Florida Independent.

Community Foundation leaders said the Florida Independent is being formed in response to the dwindling number of reporters covering state government in Tallahassee.

Many newspapers are laying off reporters who cover the governor, Legislature and state agencies. Some newspapers are sharing reporters to maintain coverage.

“The Capitol press corps has probably been cut in half in the last six or seven years, and they don’t have time to do investigatory journalism like they used to,” said Mark Pritchett, the Community Foundation’s vice president for community investment.

Pritchett said the Florida Independent will start with one editor and three reporters. At least one reporter will be based in Southwest Florida to provide a local perspective on statewide issues.

The Washington D.C.-based Center for Independent Media will supervise reporters on a daily basis, but a board of directors chosen by the Community Foundation will “interject with policy decisions and feedback,” Pritchett said.

The Florida Independent Web site should be running by May.

Traditional media companies are largely supported by advertising revenues, which plummeted in the economic downturn. Mass layoffs followed. Read the rest of this post after the jump.

Nonprofit news agencies have popped up across the country, aiming to fill the gaps in news coverage. These nonprofit news groups rely on grant funding and private donors.

Pritchett said the Community Foundation is matching the Knight Foundation’s $352,000, giving the Florida Independent about $700,000 to start. The news site’s future will depend on donor support.

The Florida Independent will be “fair and unbiased,” Pritchett said.

“We are looking for depth and some good, fair journalism,” he said.
“We’re not going after people so to speak, we’re going after major issues.”

The Knight Foundation — formed by one of the country’s leading newspaper families — is a major supporter of new journalism trends. The grant to form the Florida Independent is part of a five-year, $24 million effort to help “foundations find creative ways to use new media and technology to keep residents informed and engaged,” according to a news release.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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