StateImpact project comes to an end at Boise State Public Radio

krodine@idahostatesman.comJuly 25, 2013 

StateImpact Idaho, a project at Boise State Public Radio that specialized in multimedia economic reporting, filed its last story this week.

Under the headline “Farewell, StateImpact,” reporter Emilie Ritter Saunders announced that the project is signing off, one month shy of its second anniversary.

National Public Radio announced last spring that it would end its relationship with the StateImpact project and the eight pilot programs it fostered around the nation, including Idaho's. Some of those programs planned to continue without NPR funding. The Idaho project did not.

StateImpact Idaho’s name and primary focus on economic reporting will go away, but the depth and range the project brought to Idaho radio and online journalism will continue, News Director Sadie Babits said.

Ritter Saunders will stay on at Boise State Public Radio, taking charge of its online content. Babits said that move slightly hastened State Impact Idaho’s end, which was earlier forecast for late September.

“One of the factors for winding down StateImpact a little earlier is that we have hired Emilie as our first digital content coordinator, and she starts Aug. 1.,” Babits told the Idaho Statesman. “We want to use the best principles that came from StateImpact Idaho and weave them into Boise State Public Radio.”

Ritter Saunders said StateImpact was a tremendous experience, allowing her and Molly Messick — who left in May — the rare opportunity to work out of a local public radio station but under the auspices of National Public Radio. The two reporters took part in regular NPR webinars and training sessions, and “we had a set of editors in D.C. who looked at … most of our work. We were edited at the top of the food chain, and that’s always a good thing for a reporter.”

As a result, Ritter Saunders said, she grew from a “straight broadcast reporter” to a level where “I can truly call myself a multimedia journalist now. I have a brand-new set of tools for storytelling.”

She said she’s particularly proud of three series that exemplify the “deep dive journalism” that StateImpact specialized in:

– “Jobless in Idaho,” which followed five Idahoans for up to a year as they struggled with unemployment.

– “Bottom Rung,” which “took a one-sentence factoid — Idaho has the highest percentage of minimum-wage jobs in the country – and turned it into a 14-piece series.”

– An a eight-part project on Idaho’s doctor shortage that Ritter Saunders reported on her own. (The other two projects were joint efforts with Messick.)

Plans call for the Boise State Public Radio site to include more data-driven and multimedia reporting, Babits said, with “build-outs” that group stories and resources on key issues. The site’s first “build-out,” on Idaho’s wildfire season, is already online, compiling news stories and a glossary of fire-related terms.

The StateImpact Idaho website will be “frozen” on July 31 but will remain available as an archive and resource.

Babits said the loss of StateImpact’s grant funding will not be dire for the Boise State station. The two-year grant helped wean participating stations by covering 70 percent of the local StateImpact budget — roughly $150,000 per year — during the first year and dropping to 30 percent in the second year.

NPR funding was always expected to end this year, although NPR had initially planned to continue providing centralized resources for StateImpact projects and expand the program to eventually reach all 50 states. Those plans are apparently dead now.

The Boise State station plans to hire a new senior reporter, which will leave the station’s news staff down one reporter from the height of StateImpact, Babits said. Ritter Saunders will still do some reporting in addition to her digital coordinator duties, she said.

“I think StateImpact was a fantastic project,” Babits said. “We really had a core audience, and I’m hoping that audience will find similar breadth and depth on the Boise State Public Radio news site.”

Kristin Rodine: 377-6447

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