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I've heard twice from Geoff Dougherty in the last few days, each time calling my attention to a story posted on the Web site he runs, the Chi-Town Daily News. Both stories were by education reporter Peter Sachs, a new hire paid out of the $150,000 Dougherty received in December in grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Abra Prentice Foundation.
Sachs's first story reported that trustees of the City Colleges of Chicago were about to vote a second time on a 10 percent tuition increase, the first vote in December being arguably illegal because the public hadn't been properly notified. The second story said City Colleges is running a debit card program that might violate federal policies because students using the cards are charged withdrawal fees.
There's a phrase for reporting such as this: Sachs wrote two "nice little stories." He didn't set the world on fire but each story deserved to be told; and Sachs has made it clear to the City Colleges' board of trustees, a somewhat obscure public body, that it's being watched. Beat reporters used to publish a lot of nice little local stories in our daily papers. Now, not so many.
Not-for-profit, grant-driven operations like the Chi-Town Daily News are one idea of what the future of American journalism might look like. Maybe it's a model that will never do more than fill a niche, but it's an important niche.