An unusual collaborative effort among newspapers in South Carolina has created meaningful investigative journalism across the state, raised money to support local news outlets and perhaps undermined the conventional wisdom that newspapers are doomed.
All that was noted by broadcast journalist Ted Koppel in a recent report for CBS News’ “Sunday Morning” program. Led by the state’s leading newspaper, The Post and Courier of Charleston, the collaborative series “Uncovered” focused on political corruption in South Carolina.
The Post and Courier summarized some of the project findings as follows:
- Among other reports, the Uncovered project exposed how officials steered business to themselves and their partners, and how others spent hundreds of thousands of public dollars on junkets.
- It also revealed how a pharma company paid state staffers who regulated one of its businesses, and exposed a massive problem with mold in South Carolina’s public universities.
For many years, the locally owned Charleston newspaper has been an outlier among newspaper owners in placing big bets on local news while avoiding the widespread cutbacks that have reduced some newspapers to shadows of their former selves. Part of the strategy is to leverage digital platforms and recognize that the financial support for local news must shift from advertisers to committed readers.
For that to work, the readers must receive a meaningful quality and quantity of local news they want to read.
“We see what happens when communities lose their newspapers, ’cause it’s happening all around us,” Pierre Manigault, the fourth-generation owner of The Post and Courier, told Koppel. “I think it’s very important to have, not just a newspaper, but a very good newspaper.”
What became “Uncovered” started when The Post and Courier used its community foundation to ask people to help fund investigative journalism. Manigault said they raised $500,000 — five times more than the goal of $100,000 in 100 days. The total reportedly has grown to more than $1.7 million devoted to investigative journalism and local partnerships.
In 2021, the newspaper decided to use some of the donated funds to support struggling papers elsewhere in South Carolina for the “Uncovered” project, seeking help from editors and reporters who knew their local communities better than the big-city metro outlet could.
The project eventually involved 19 community papers. The Post and Courier ran the stories, which were made available to all the local partners.
Not all the news is good. Koppel reported that two of those papers have since folded.
The Free Speech Center newsletter offers a digest of First Amendment and news media-related news every other week. Subscribe for free here: https://bit.ly/3kG9uiJ