Capitol News Connection (CNC) is closing up shop after eight and a half years. Last week the Corporation for Public Broadcasting informed the nonprofit watchdog reporting service that they could no longer sustain their funding. Their last grant ran out Aug. 30.
“I’ve had better days for sure,” Founder and CEO Melinda Wittstock told FishbowlDC this afternoon in a phone interview. “We’ve worked so hard for the past eight and a half doing something special. This recession has been a really tough fight.”
Three reporters and Wittstock will be out of jobs with CNC. They are Elizabeth Wynne Johnson, host of NBC Washington’s “Power Breakfast,” which will continue outside of CNC, Patrick Terpstra and Ana Radelat.
The writing wasn’t necessarily on the wall. But Wittstock saw the company struggling more acutely since 2008. “Here’s the thing. I knew it was a really tough slog,” she said. “I saw what was happening to the public radio ecosystem. All of them are struggling. All are facing the lost of their federal funding. A lot of these stations can only exist but for federal funding, and a lesser known story, state funding.”
Wittstock points to Congress as at least partially to blame. The Corporation lost some $30 million that Congress has taken away to cut the deficit. She lamented, “It all gets passed on down the chain I guess.”
Over the years CNC has been what Wittstock calls a “great incubator of talent.” There was FNC’s Chad Pergram, their first reporter who ultimately won an Edward R. Murrow award — “He is amazing,” she gushed. “He is a great reporter.” Alumni also include NeuStar’s Heather Dahl, who was formerly the President of Radio TV Gallery, Jill Jackson, a House producer for CBS News, “The Takeaway’s” Todd Zwillich, who came to CNC as a print reporter and quickly transitioned to radio, Matt Laslo, who began at CNC as an intern, and Gannett’s Paul Barton.
For a good while, the news service beat the odds. They began shortly after Sept. 11, 2001 with just three employees and no office. Their marching orders were to produce 500 stories that first year and instead they produced 690. They were supposed to bring in $20,00, but instead brought in $55,000.
CNC will continue to hunt for a buyer. But in the meantime, Wittstock, who began her journalism career at the Times of London as a business correspondent and proceeded to BBC and ABC, has a new business venture in the works that she’s working on with Dan Kunitz, former associate publisher and managing editor of Politico. The venture, called NewsiT, is a mobile social network for citizen journalism. Wittstock stresses that it is in its “infancy,” is a for profit and will be minimally viable by late October.
“I seem to gravitate toward challenges,” she said with a sorrowful laugh that contained more than a tinge of hope. “We were sort of the last man standing. And now, even us. It’s sad.”
UPDATE: Former CNC reporter Manuel Quinones moved on to E & E Publishing earlier this year after CNC. He remarked to FBDC, “They’ve been going through tough times, but they deserve all the recognition possible. I will remember my time there very fondly. I’m sure the others will agree, that CNC gave us a chance to do great work.”
Correction: An earlier report stated that they Wittstock and three employees would be unemployed. Wittstock is technically working on her next venture, NewsiT. While she is not yet paying herself, she is “working on fumes of equity, our early investor dollars devoted solely for now to the technology.” Radelat, meanwhile, was a freelancer for CNC and will continue to freelance on her own.