Shortly after he was tapped to oversee Community Newspapers Holdings Inc. publications in Georgia and Florida last year, Jim Zachary devised an investigative project that would bring the best reporters under his watch together as one collaborative team.
The result was the SunLight Project, launched this January, which intends to shine a light on important issues facing CNHI’s readers in Georgia and Florida. Participating newspapers include The Valdosta Daily Times, The Dalton Daily Citizen, the Milledgeville Union-Recorder, The Moultrie Observer, the Tifton Gazette and the Thomasville Times-Enterprise in Georgia, along with the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press in Florida.
“Strong enterprise reporting requires time and resources and many newspapers have stopped doing in-depth reporting because they do not have either of those things,” Zachary said. “We have put together a great team that is poised to do journalism that matters. We believe these reports will impact the community in positive ways and give readers valuable information they want and need to know.”
Zachary handpicked members of the project after paying a visit to each of the newspapers, where he met with newsrooms and reviewed the work of reporters and editors.
Among those selected include Charles Oliver a veteran reporter at The Dalton Daily Citizen, Eve Guevara of the Tifton Gazette, Thomas Lynn of the Suwannee Democrat and John Stephen of The Valdosta Daily Times, who serves as the team leader of the SunLight Project.
“They are a mixture of seasoned veterans and talented young reporters,” Zachary said. “Some are great with data collection, while others are better storytellers. Collectively they are a strong team, leaning on each other for support, advice and critique.”
Every week, each newspaper is given a specific set of responsibilities as part of a report produced by the SunLight Project. A lead reporter collects the data, interviews and other assignment materials from members of the team before writing the report under the direction of two editors. On the visual side, a graphic designer prepares charts and graphics, while photo and video contributions come from various newspapers within the group. The completed package is then sent back to the individual newspapers for print and web publication.
In one of its reports, the team examined criminal activity involving guns and high incidences of gun thefts in pockets of the state. A few weeks later, it produced a data-driven report on poverty.
“We are hearing from readers in each of the coverage areas,” Zachary said. “One reader commented, ‘I always loved the paper, but thought of it as a lightweight when it came to this kind of journalism. Now I think of our local newspaper as a heavyweight.'”