The American Journalism Project is excited to announce that veteran nonprofit journalism leader Christa Scharfenberg will join the organization as senior vice president, Portfolio Success. Scharfenberg joins from the Center for Investigative Reporting, where she spent 18 years and most recently was CEO. Her first day with the American Journalism Project was June 15.
Scharfenberg was a leader in CIR’s growth from a small nonprofit news organization, producing a handful of stories a year, to a multiplatform newsroom that reaches millions of people monthly through public radio, podcasts, documentaries, social media and the web. She was a key leader of CIR’s local journalism initiative California Watch, its merger with The Bay Citizen in 2012, and the launch and growth of Reveal, the Peabody Award and Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award-winning public radio show and podcast.
Scharfenberg has been an executive or senior producer of documentaries, including the Academy Award-nominated film “Heroin(e),” numerous FRONTLINE co-productions and the independent film “Banished,” which premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Scharfenberg is a member of the Poynter Institute’s National Advisory Board and was a 2014 Punch Sulzberger Program fellow at Columbia University Journalism School. Prior to joining CIR, she was associate director of the Film Arts Foundation in San Francisco and a team leader at City Year Boston.
In this new role at the American Journalism Project, Scharfenberg is excited to work with the organization’s growing portfolio of 20 newsrooms to develop strategies for long-term success. Her focus will be on ensuring that the American Journalism Project is delivering the best possible programs so that its portfolio organizations are leveraging the philanthropic investment AJP makes to emerge as sustainable and growing.
“In thinking about what I wanted to do next in my career, my focus was really on doing work that looked across the field to discover, create and implement best practices to grow a thriving and scalable ecosystem of nonprofit journalism,” says Scharfenberg. “I look forward to working with the incredible newsrooms already in the American Journalism Project portfolio and being a part of this important mission to rebuild local news around the country.”
Christa will lead with empathy and understanding about what it takes to build a thriving nonprofit news organization. Christa has demonstrated that she is a leader who anchors equity and impact in everything that she does.”
Sarabeth Berman, American Journalism Project CEO
More from Christa:
Why Join AJP Now?
I first heard about the American Journalism Project in 2019 when I heard [AJP co-founders] John Thornton and then Elizabeth Greene talk about it at two separate funder convenings in the Bay Area. I was impressed with its bold ambition to rebuild the fabric of local journalism in this country. Fast forward a year and a half later: I was thinking about what I wanted to do after the Center for Investigative Reporting. I knew I wanted to do something that would impact the field of journalism, as opposed to working inside one newsroom. Philanthropy was in my field of vision, but I had no idea where I would go or how I would make that transition. This opportunity came along and it made perfect sense. Since so much of the position is supporting grantees over three years, I hope to be able to apply my knowledge and experience helping to build things at CIR. I learned how to build, scale and sustain there, so a lot of this position plays directly into that experience. Parts of this position will be totally new for me, so I like the challenge of it. I like knowing that I will continue to learn and develop while adding the value of my experience to this organization.
What are you excited to bring to this role?
I haven’t seen it all, but I have seen a lot in 18 years. The benefit of having been at CIR for so long is that I was there when the organization was small, medium sized and bigger. Both our staff and budget grew so much during my time there, and I learned a lot of lessons along the way. Working with the American Journalism Project grantees, I hope that I can share a lot of what I’ve learned, what I’ve tried, what worked and what didn’t work — so that they don’t have to learn lessons the hard way. I don’t have all of the answers, but I have been through so many iterations of the organization that I have a depth of experience to share. Over the last year, I created an informal network of other nonprofit news CEOs around the country, and that was actually the best part of my COVID year — building this network of peers and helping each other problem-solve. Nothing beats having a community of peers to tap into, and I’m excited to help deepen that among our grantee and foster more ways for them to learn with and from each other across the cohort. Learning from each other is the most valuable resource for all of us. Helping to facilitate that at the American Journalism Project will be fulfilling and exciting.
Why is the mission of the American Journalism Project important?
Like the mission of AJP, I believe that local journalism is critical to a healthy democracy. Living in Oakland, a vibrant and creative place, it is still very hard to get information about what is going on here. I read Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside, but especially before their existence, I felt like I was an educated person who sought out news but didn’t always have the information I needed to make informed choices. So, imagine what it is like across the country in communities where people don’t have any places to go to tap into what is happening in their communities. Access to local news is fundamental to being a part of the communities that we live in. Targeted investment in the business side of these newsrooms is absolutely critical, yet it is the hardest to come by because most funders are, for all the right reasons, focused on investing in the editorial side of these organizations. I know what it feels like to be at a news organization that is struggling financially — you can’t fulfill your mission if you don’t have the basics covered. The mission and the focus of the American Journalism Project is really kind of revolutionary. People want to fund journalism, but journalism can’t thrive if the business side is not also thriving. AJP’s focus on the business side of nonprofit news is critical for us to reverse the current state of local news.
What are five things your colleagues would know about you if we weren’t working in a virtual environment?
- I never intended to get into journalism, but I come from a family of journalists. I found my way into this work somewhat randomly and quickly realized it was in my DNA.
- I was addicted to the “Solid Gold” TV show as a kid. I finally started taking dance classes in my 40s, and now I live out my childhood dance fantasies.
- I love the ocean. That is my happy place, where I go to rejuvenate.
- I have three kids and they are growing up way too fast.
- I grew up in Boston at a time of tremendous societal unrest and racial violence in the city. That — and my family — gave me a strong sense of social justice. I am addicted to the immediate impact that public journalism can have on the world. My work is completely integrated into what I care about most in the rest of my life.