A recent study by Northeastern University found that high school dropouts are three-and-a-half times more likely than high school graduates to end up in prison. Considered along with the fact that a child from an impoverished family who can’t read by third grade is 13 times more likely not to graduate with his or her high school class, and you quickly understand why the Scripps Howard Foundation recently added childhood literacy to its mission of “giving light, changing lives.”
Launched in 1962 and headquartered in the Scripps Media Center at Third and Walnut streets, the private foundation is the philanthropic arm of the E.W. Scripps Company devoted to the dual causes of journalism and community enlightenment, both of which have suffered heavy casualties in recent years. On college campuses across America, the foundation is known for its long-time support of journalism education, including grants and scholarships for students, media internships for students and “externships” for professors, and direct support to various journalism programs. It doled out $4.3 million in 2017 alone. (To wit: I received a Scripps Howard grant to attend Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 1976 and, 34 years later, a Scripps fellowship toward my doctorate at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.)
Working journalists know the foundation for its coveted annual Scripps Howard Awards that recognize achievements in nearly every form of media and, even better, offer monetary rewards. This year’s 65th annual awards distributed $170,000 in prize money in 15 different categories.
And yet the Scripps Howard officials are much more eager to tout their service in their local communities, especially in the advancement of childhood literacy. In 2016 and 2017, Scripps employees in all 24 of the company’s markets deducted from their paychecks to buy 100,000 new children’s books to be distributed to needy families. (Many teachers and parents also know the Scripps name thanks to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which is a wholly separate entity in the Scripps empire.)
“When you look at kids who are prepared (for grade school) and those who aren’t, one of the common denominators is that the kids who aren’t prepared often don’t have books in the home,” says Liz Carter, president and chief executive officer of the Scripps Howard Foundation. “And when you walk around this building or go over to WCPO, the people you talk to are information junkies. They read and read. We felt this was something that would combine a passion of our employees with a huge need in the community.”