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L.A. Times will use $1-million grant to expand key beats

May 18, 2012|By James Rainey

The Los Angeles Times will use a $1-million grant from the Ford Foundation to expand its coverage of key beats, including immigration and ethnic communities in Southern California, the southwest U.S. border and the emerging economic powerhouse of Brazil.

Times Editor Davan Maharaj announced the grant Thursday, calling it "great news" that will bolster coverage of subjects vitally important to readers.

A Ford Foundation spokesman said that as media organizations face challenges in funding reporting through advertising and traditional revenue streams, "we and many other funders are experimenting with new approaches to preserve and advance high-quality journalism."

The Times plans to use the two-year grant to hire journalists who will focus on the Vietnamese, Korean and other immigrant communities, the California prison system, the border region and Brazil.

Maharaj said that although The Times already covers those beats, the reporting is typically done by journalists who also have other responsibilities. The five new reporters will provide more robust coverage of those topics.

As the Internet has triggered massive shifts in audience and advertising, many media outlets have looked to partnerships and new sources of funding.

Substantial investigative projects that appear in many American newspapers are now researched, written and edited by nonprofits such as ProPublica and California Watch. The New York Times' national edition has bolstered local coverage in several states by contracting with nonprofits. The California Endowment pays for 15 reporters to cover healthcare at media outlets around the state.

The planned hire in Brazil represents the return of a Times correspondent to South America, where a network of stringers has provided the bulk of coverage in the last several years.

Regarding the state prisons, The Times has produced award-winning stories about guard-sanctioned "gladiator fighting" and other corruption. With roughly 11% of the state's budget dedicated to incarceration, Maharaj said it made sense to commit more resources to the beat.

"These are vital coverage areas that have been affected by our need to make tough choices in the past decade," Maharaj, who became editor at the end of last year, told the staff via email. "Although the grant is for two years, we intend to continue with these beats beyond that period. We will immediately start our search for reporters."

Ford Foundation spokesman Joe Voeller said the nation's second-largest foundation would consider extending the grant beyond two years. The foundation and Times editors said the money comes with no strings attached and that the newspaper will have complete editorial control over the new reporters and their coverage.

james.rainey@latimes.com

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