National NPR reporting collaboration covers state news, impact in Idaho

By Sadie Babits

Idaho’s Boise State Public Radio is at the center of a national initiative to expand and improve reporting on state government and how it affects people and communities – through both broadcast and online reporting.

Two new full-time reporters have been hired and started in mid-September as part of  StateImpact Idaho. It’s one of eight StateImpact projects launched in collaboration with National Public Radio; the others are in Florida, Indiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas.

“StateImpact is launching at a time when investments in local media are shrinking or have disappeared all together,” said Margaret Low Smith, NPR’s interim Senior Vice President for News. “StateImpact will deliver first class accountability reporting at the local level. This vital reporting is nowhere to be found in dozens of cities and towns across America, and we want to fill that void.”

In Boise, that means Emilie Ritter Saunders, the former Capitol Bureau Chief for Montana Public Radio who spearheaded that station’s foray into the digital world and was a senior fellow for NPR’s Economic Training Project, and Molly Messick, a former reporter and host at Wyoming Public Radio, have joined the newsroom staff. Their focus is Idaho’s economy, and how state governmental actions affect it.

“StateImpact Idaho is a project dedicated to asking and answering big questions,” said Messick, the project’s broadcast reporter, who will specialize in in-depth radio stories. “We aim to help our audience understand the broad and perhaps unexpected effects of incremental policy decisions.  We also want to give listeners a more comprehensive view of the state’s economic situation.  We want people to be at the heart of these stories, so that at no time do we talk about policy and the troubled economy, without thinking about how both play out and affect people in their daily lives.”

Ritter Saunders, who is Boise State Public Radio’s first digital reporter, said, “A few months from now I see StateImpact Idaho being the go-to statewide resource for economic news. People will have StateImpact Idaho bookmarked as a must-read daily news site.  We’re in the process of building a tool that will be a hub for learning about state government policies that impact business and the economy, and a place to find real-life stories of how Idahoans are coping with a ‘post-recession’ economy.”

The two-reporter team will break down key economic terms and ideas, the budget and much more.  Those stories will be told using the best platform available from multi-media to on-air. All of the content can be found on the StateImpact Idaho website: The project also is on Facebook and Twitter.

It’s part of a local-national journalism collaborative designed to build on the best of local and state reporting at NPR member stations across the nation by focusing on how governmental decisions affect citizens in such areas as education, healthcare, business, the environment, energy and jobs. StateImpact will eventually put reporters on the ground in all 50 states to serve public radio’s growing audience of 34 million listeners, and tens of millions more online and on mobile.

Several foundations, corporations and individual donors have made philanthropic contributions to NPR and partner stations in support of StateImpact. These grants fund the planning and launch phases, and have made it possible for NPR to staff an eight-member StateImpact desk to run the project, which is starting with a two-year pilot in the eight states. NPR is working with partner stations to seek additional funding for the overall initiative and local and regional matching funds.

NPR will invite applications from additional stations and states to join the project in the coming months.

Both Ritter Saunders and Messick say they’re glad to be in Boise and to continue reporting in the West.

Ritter Saunders said she’s excited to be part of “a news organization that is embracing new reporting initiatives.  It’s energizing to work in a newsroom where quality is paramount and we’re able to put a human face on economic stories.”

Sadie Babits is the news director at Boise State Radio and a member of the Press Club board.