A $1M grant underwrites nurturing of in-depth reporting

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia

Journalism lives in long form: Josh Friedman, left, vice chairman of the Carey Institute’s board of directors, was on a 2013 panel about journalism at the institute with Carl Bernstein, right, famous for his coverage, with Bob Woodward, of the Watergate scandal.

RENSSELAERVILLE — A two-year-old program at the Carey Institute for Global Good has received long-term support in the form of a $1 million grant.

The institute’s  Nonfiction Program will henceforth be known at the Logan Nonfiction Program in honor of the California-based family foundation that has been a supporter of the program from its beginning.

The institute's twice-a-year Nonfiction residency program — one in the autumn, now underway, and one in the spring —  awards fellowships to a wide range of writers, journalists, and filmmakers who stay for up to three months at the institute's bucolic campus.  The idea is simple: Give the fellows — 14 in number this year — a peaceful, comfortable, and supportive environment in which to work on their books, investigative reports, or films. Some participants are well along in their careers, others at earlier stages.  For all of them, the program is a creative working  retreat.

The Logan family has long supported in-depth journalism, first as the Reva and David Logan Foundation and now as the Logan Family Foundation.  

Reva and David Logan were a Chicago couple who deployed  their wealth to support the arts and investigative  journalism. Their son, Jonathan Logan,  chairs the  second generation of their generosity: the Logan Family Foundation.  Based in Berkeley, California, it has been a major donor to the University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and its Center for Investigative Reporting. The Logans also underwrote the PBS documentary series, Frontline.

The initial monies that established the Carey Institute’s program included a $100,000 gift from Jonathan Logan.

The institute’s program and the foundation now have a name in common but more than that they share  an interest in longform reporting about  complex and important subjects.

Asked for his reaction to the grant, Josh Friedman, vice chairman of the Carey Institute’s board of directors, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, and one of the founders of the Nonfiction Program,  was pithy: “I am ecstatic.”

His metaphor for the aim of the in-depth reporting the program seeks to promote is equally concise: “Get past the shrubbery.”

“One of the great things about the program, “ he adds, “is the good chemistry among them….They have dinner together  and sit around and talk afterward...critique each other’s work.”

He says synergy grows, too, from the different mediums — film, photography, and writing this year — in which the fellows work.

Tom Jennings, the program’s director, says, “One of the greatest experiences I've had  here is witnessing a group of extremely smart writers and filmmakers bond…. the mutual support system that is, in part, a reaction to their normal, solitary work patterns and, frankly, creative insecurities. This place is a confidence booster. We've seen it again and again.”

He said applications continue to climb from journalists and documentary-makers who have heard about the program. He says that more than 100 applications were received for the two 2016 groups and that more than 90 applications have already been received for the 2017 spring residency alone.

The initial coast-to-coast connection between the Nonfiction Program and the Logan family, he says, was made partly because of the presence of Robert Rosenthal on the program’s advisory board. Rosenthal heads the Center for Investigative Reporting at UC Berkeley.

This year’s fellows are as diverse as their subjects, which include the war in Syria reported on the ground; elder abuse in the United States; the disappearance of some 27,000 people in Mexico and their families’ resolve to find the truth; the struggle of Bolivian women for respect;  the terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013;  and humans’ impact upon the South American bird called caracaras.

Several of the fellows will work toward completion of books, others on proposals for books. One will edit her film, “Streetcar to Kolkata.” Another will develop an “alternate narrative” combining photography, video, and text, about  the Pakistani city of Karachi.

The fellows, their interests. and their reporting span the globe.

Jennings says the grant will be put toward operating costs over the next four years, but that its impact will go beyond that. He says,  “... having somebody like Jonathan Logan in our corner is a tremendous credential that will help us raise other foundation grants as well. It's just terribly important for us at this stage in our fairly young institutional life. A tremendous vote of confidence.”

Jonathan Logan, head of his family’s foundation, says there are many residency programs for fiction writers but he believes the Carey Institute program may be the first for non-fiction writers.

“It’s a place where experienced journalists and very new journalists can really focus on their work. They’re  all doing fabulously interesting work...and making the world a better place,” Logan told The Enterprise.

Carey Institute spokeswoman Sarah Gordon says the grant has local economic impact, too. “While the grant,” she says, “will largely cover operating expenses for the Nonfiction residency, that translates into year-round rural jobs in program management, IT, grounds and maintenance,
hospitality and a host of other specialities.”  The institute employs about 70 local residents, it says.

Wider-world economic considerations come to bear also.

“It’s very difficult now, economically, to do long-form journalism,’ says Friedman. He says the freshly-funded program “seeks to close a gap that exists” as traditional media undergoes rapid change.

“Our fellows seem to like coming here,” he says. “Their only complaint I have heard is ‘too much food.’”

Updated on Nov. 8, 2016, to include comments from Jonathan Logan.

 

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