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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Spokesman-Review hires two government reporters through Report for America

From staff reports

It’s an unprecedented time in America and the world right now, and the intersection of public health and government has never been more readily apparent.

That is why The Spokesman-Review is thrilled to announce the addition of two new staff members, and the continued employment of a third, who will work to cover state government, the federal government from a Northwest perspective, and health issues, with an emphasis on rural health. These reporters come to us through Report for America, a national effort of the GroundTruth Project to place journalists in local newsrooms to report on issues and communities deserving more coverage.

Report for America last year placed 59 journalists in newsrooms, including Arielle Dreher, who covers rural health and has been a lead writer in The Spokesman-Review’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Dreher will return for a second year.

The program expanded dramatically in 2020, with RFA placing 225 journalists in 162 newsrooms. The Spokesman-Review will benefit from two new government reporters, one based in Olympia and the other in Washington, D.C.

Joining veteran reporter Jim Camden in Olympia is Laurel Demkovich. After graduating from Indiana University in May 2019, Demkovich completed an internship at the Washington Post, where she covered cops and courts. Demkovich also completed internships at the Tampa Bay Times and the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts, covering local government, breaking news and general assignments.

She will help keep our readers informed of the goings-on at the state Capitol during the legislative session and beyond. She will be on the lookout for news made by state agencies that has an impact on residents of Eastern Washington and will help with election coverage this fall.

The Spokesman-Review will be one of the smallest newspapers in the world to have a Washington, D.C., bureau – and the only news organization in Washington or Idaho to a have a dedicated journalist in the nation’s capital – when Orion Donovan-Smith joins the staff this summer. Donovan-Smith grew up in Concrete, Washington, which is located on scenic Highway 20 on the west side of the Cascades. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington.

Donovan-Smith has been in the other Washington for the past several years while finishing a master’s degree at American University. He worked as the Investigative Reporting Workshop fellow on the documentary “Plastic Wars,” a Frontline investigation into recycling and the plastics industry. Before that, he was an intern and later a part-time producer at the NPR program “1A” in 2019, and he worked with the investigative team and as a general assignment reporter at the Washington Post, covering immigration. Before turning to journalism, he worked on international development programs in Central Africa.

Donovan-Smith’s job will be to cover the federal government through the lens of the Northwest. He will report extensively on our congressional delegation as well as the decisions made at the agency level that affect the entire region.

“Our readers immediately saw the impact of having Arielle on our staff last year, giving our newspaper some of the best and most unique health coverage in the nation,” Spokesman-Review editor Rob Curley said. “Once COVID-19 became the biggest story in the world, the impact the Report for America project had on our community became much more apparent and even more important.”

Curley said this year’s Report for America journalists will have the same impact Dreher had when she joined the newspaper.

“Laurel and Orion are great journalists who have already proven they can work at the highest levels, and we feel so blessed to have them joining our newsroom,” Curley said. “Government at the state and national levels plays ever increasing roles in our lives, and we simply can’t do enough to keep our neighbors informed of what our politicians are doing and, more importantly, how those things will affect our lives in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.”

The dramatic increase in the size of the Report for America reporting corps could not come at a more critical time for journalism. Local newsrooms have struggled for the past decade as advertising revenue has continued to decline. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned that problem into a crisis as local advertising has evaporated during stay-home orders from state governments.

Over the last month, newsrooms across the country have laid off and furloughed reporters in almost unprecedented numbers, with some newspapers and websites shutting down completely.

“It’s now crystal clear that the need for trustworthy, accurate and local information can be a matter of life and death,” said Steven Waldman, co-founder and president of Report for America. “This surge of reporters should help meet this moment.”

All stories from these three reporters will be made available free to all who would like to publish them, but the Report For America grant requires that half of the funding come from local philanthropy and the host organization. Curley said securing those dollars last year came almost immediately through generous grants from the Innovia Foundation and an anonymous local philanthropist. However, he said that funding has not been secured for this year.

“We know it will come,” Curley said. “Our community and readers have told us time and time again that they want more of this exact kind of local journalism and that they will help us pay for such important work. They just need to know when we need help and we need their help right now.”

Curley said anyone interested in helping fund these efforts can do so by donating to the Community Journalism and Civic Engagement Fund through the Innovia Foundation by visiting spokesman.com/thanks or by contacting The Spokesman-Review newsroom office manager Mary Beth Donelan at (509) 459-5485. All donations to this fund are tax deductible.

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