I worked for several nonprofit organizations before I became a journalist and have written about them on and off for the last 20 years, but never have I been involved on the ground floor of actually creating a nonprofit.
You may have heard of the joint venture between the Herald-Tribune and The Patterson Foundation that has been christened SPIRE CoLab. If you haven’t, here it is in a nutshell: Patterson gave the Herald-Tribune some seed money to focus intensely on issues important to both of us, and more importantly, communities we serve. Our initial coverage will be about early education: specifically, how to get children to read at grade level.
The Campaign for Grade Level reading aims to get all third-graders reading at grade level, since numerous studies have shown that a child who lacks those basic reading skills is much more likely to have a difficult road ahead of them — four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma, for example — than one who reads well.
Other areas that SPIRE may tackle at some point include veterans issues, homelessness, domestic violence and mental health. I am also hoping that one of my pet projects — a paid summer internship program for minority journalists — will take root in the SPIRE CoLab nursery.
Probably the most difficult part of getting SPIRE CoLab off the ground was coming up with a name. I know, SPIRE CoLab jumps off the page and flows from one’s lips so easily it seems like a no-brainer. It wasn’t.
The process of choosing a name took several weeks. While the task was laborious and often felt like intellectual deep sea diving, in the end it was helpful for me as an editor as we identified our mission, core audiences, engagement strategies and other building blocks that all helped select a name.
We went through more than a dozen possible names before settling on the winner. Some of the other names tossed around: Community Solutions Journalism Lab; ABCD (A Bold Collaborative Direction); Storywire; Co-Nexus; The Bridge; StoryOn; Commect; Storyline; The DOT Project (my favorite, in honor of Dorothy “Dot” Patterson); Stories 2 Solutions; Percolate Community Initiative.
Eventually, we decided that SPIRE CoLab fit the bill. And while it’s natural to assume SPIRE stands for Scott Prefers Indian Restaurants Especially, sorry to say, it doesn’t.
Instead, SPIRE means:
Syndicate — Our ability to collect and disseminate information.
Partner — Reflects our unique partnerships.
Innovate — What we do so well at the Herald-Tribune. Never been done? We’re in!
Resolve — Our Can-Do, Refuse-to-Quit attitude.
Engage — We seek to be as inclusive as possible, realizing that every voice matters.
Finally, CoLab is short for collaboration and also gives a nod to our desire to be a journalistic laboratory, where experimentation and efforts to solve problems are paramount.
One of the exercises we used to pick a name involved each of us identifying what this new identity is and is not. I wrote:
WE ARE NOT: A think tank, dull, stagnant, meek, rigid, exclusive
WE ARE: Hopeful, collaborators, storytellers, bold, aggressive, inclusive, thought-provoking, diverse, innovative, fun, meaningful, contagious, effective, the future
The SPIRE CoLab website (spirecolab.com) is still in its infancy. We hope to quickly start populating it with great stories, tips for parents and educators and who knows, maybe even some kind of newspaper for children (a longtime dream of SPIRE CoLab’s first hire, recent New College grad Yadira Lopez).
For more information on SPIRE and the partnership between the Herald-Tribune and The Patterson Foundation, go to www.thepattersonfoundation.org/spire.html.
As you no doubt have surmised, SPIRE CoLab is still a work in progress and there are more unknowns than knowns. Here is what I do know: We will continue to honor the fundamentals of traditional journalism — seek the truth, be transparent, shine a light on issues of importance.
We will also, when appropriate, go beyond simply holding a mirror up to society and highlighting issues of concern. We will create platforms to discuss the issues deeply and seek solutions.
If you have thoughts on SPIRE CoLab you would like to share, please send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.