In partnership with WUSF Public Media, on Thursday, the Community News Collaborative began launching regional coverage, including stories, images, sound, and video, delivered by four newly hired reporters and their editor, to more than a dozen local media organizations every day.
The independent newsgathering organization is led by executive editor Eric Garwood, who oversees reporters Jim DeLa, Catherine Hicks, Sarah Owens and Alejandro Romero.
The collaborative was created in partnership with WUSF after extensive research and discussions with local media representatives. Because media outlets in Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto counties face eroding resources in the news industry, the CNC was created to drive good civic journalism and help local media harness their collective abilities to drive and create coverage. The CNC provides them with free, comprehensive, and impactful content.
“Forming this team from the ground up has been an amazing experience, but I’m really looking forward to working with the reporters and our partners in Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties to tell stories that might otherwise not get told,” Garwood said.
“It is wonderful to see the Community News Collaborative fully staffed and delivering content,” Barancik Foundation President | CEO Teri A Hansen said. “This will provide our partners with a steady flow of stories about our community, many of which have not been covered in recent years. Most importantly, the CNC will help boost civic engagement and knowledge for many, many of our neighbors.”
Since 2004, nearly 2,000 newspapers have closed their doors, and since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, more than 6,000 news workers have lost their jobs, according to a tally by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The work of the collaborative will help counteract that trend with stories on a wide range of topics.
The Community News Collaborative’s journalists come with a variety of experience, most with firsthand knowledge of Florida and Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto counties.
DeLa is a veteran of the news business, serving in a variety of roles over four decades. He has worked in television, newspapers and radio while reporting, editing and supervising teams of journalists. He was the night metro editor of the Bradenton Herald, worked in collegiate offices of communications and was director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida. In his spare time, DeLa is a softball umpire.
Hicks is a graduate of University of South Florida-St. Petersburg where she also is pursuing a master’s degree in digital journalism. She served as a digital producer for Fox 21 TV in Denver, Colorado, while also running a freelance reporting and copy writing business. She is a native of Pinellas County and served as a graduate teaching assistant at USF while also helping edit “The Crow’s Nest.’’ Hicks is particularly interested in issues of mental health and the environment.
Owens is a graduate of Milligan University, where she played intercollegiate soccer before joining the staff of the Johnson City Press in Tennessee as a reporter. She has focused on issues of social justice, cultural practices, mental health and criminal justice. Owens was the editor in chief of her campus newspaper and is a native of Alabaster, Alabama.
Romero is the CNC’s video specialist. He is familiar with the people and issues of Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties after his time as a multi-media journalist, producer and occasional anchor for Suncoast News Network, or SNN, where he worked for about three years.
Garwood was most recently the managing editor of the Observer Media Group in Sarasota. Prior to joining the Observer Group in 2017, Garwood served in a variety of roles at Florida Today, the Gannett newspaper based in Melbourne on Florida’s east coast. Starting there in 1996, he worked as a planning editor, communities editor, deputy metro editor, assistant sports editor, and reporter. He has also held posts at the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina. Garwood grew up in Pasco County and holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from the University of South Florida.
Garwood was selected with the help of the CNC Advisory Board, a team of local professionals and academics who help oversee the independent newsgathering body.
The board includes Tim Clarke, a long-time advertising executive and chairman of Sarasota’s Gulfside Bank; William L. “Bill” McComb, former CEO of Fifth & Pacific Companies Inc. and a founding board member of The Marshall Project, an independent non-profit journalism effort reporting on criminal justice around the nation; and Maria Vesperi, a professor of anthropology at New College of Florida who teaches the school’s journalism sequence, serves as faculty liaison to the college’s student newspaper, The Catalyst, and who is a former reporter at the Tampa Bay Times and member of the board of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which owns the Times.
The CNC team will be based in Sarasota as part of the WUSF newsroom. WUSF 89.7 is the National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate licensed to the University of South Florida and is part of WUSF Public Media which also operates Classical WSMR 89.1 and 103.9.
NPR is regularly listed among the most trusted news brands in America, and WUSF’s newsroom regularly wins major journalism awards, including a record 16 awards this year from the Society of Professional Journalists in Florida. Member-supported, WUSF already produces outstanding news reports on happenings across the gulf coast.
Participating members of the CNC presently include: The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Observer Media Group, Venice Gondolier/The Daily Sun, The Bradenton Herald, ABC 7 WWSB, WEDU Public Media, WSLR, Solmart Media, iHeart Radio, Sarasota Magazine, and West Coast Woman. Beyond this group, other local media organizations are encouraged to participate.