Inside VTDigger

‘Be more local!’

Vermonters say they want more reporting, more positive coverage, and most of all, more local news. 

In September, VTDigger announced a community listening project that will inform strategic decision making and the future of our local news coverage in Northwestern Vermont and beyond. We are piloting these listening activities in Northwestern Vermont because it’s home to the state’s most populous and diverse communities, but also because the region has seen a steep decline in local news coverage.

Listening has always been central to how VTDigger operates. On average, one-third of our stories begin with a tip. VTDigger received more than 1,700 confidential tips through our tip drop form alone in 2020. 

The community listening project doubles down on our commitment to those we serve. As part of the project, VTDigger is conducting an online survey, as well as one-on-one interviews and focus groups to help us better understand how Vermonters are getting news and information and what they wish local news organizations would do —or do differently. 

VTDigger has also recruited several part-time community ambassadors to support outreach activities and broaden participation, particularly among underrepresented communities. 

Progress to date

The listening team has thus far interviewed more than 100 people from diverse backgrounds and life experiences in Northwestern Vermont, including teachers, migrant farm workers, grocery store clerks, town employees, people out of the workforce, advocates, veterans, caregivers and librarians. 

The online survey, which is open to all Vermonters regardless of geography, has so far garnered more than 400 responses from across the state. We’ve heard from residents ranging from Alburgh, Essex and Danville to White River Junction, Brookfield and Dummerston, representing more than 80 towns in total.

What we are hearing

Here is a sampling of what Vermonters have been sharing with us through conversations and survey responses so far. 

More positive coverage

Many local residents want more positive stories about successes in their communities, in addition to strong accountability and investigative reporting. People want to see the good in their communities recognized in a way that brings people together and uplifts solutions as examples for others to learn from. 

“We need positive media coverage for our town to drive business investment because Alburgh is really struggling and I feel it’s forgotten while the big downtowns get most of the news coverage and dollars.” 

- Matthew LeFluer, disability rights advocate, Alburgh

“I wish the local media would include more positive stories about people making Northwest Vermont a better, more caring and humane place to live.” 

- Survey respondent, Fairfield

“Can there be more statewide news that focuses on both the important work that people are doing as well as the deaths and negative incidents? I would love to know more about how many communities are working toward climate justice goals, racial justice goals, what legislation is coming up in the state regarding these issues? 

- Retiree, Burlington

More local news coverage

We hear a strong demand for more local news coverage. In particular, people want to see more reporting on town selectboards and civic institutions. They also want reporting on local businesses and community news that would be helpful in their everyday lives.

“Several people have said to me, ‘I wish the local news would ask the locals what they wanted to hear,’ or ‘I wish the local news would be more local.’ Talk to the people in the locale and see what they think is important. Don’t just assume that because something has a big impact on a state level, that relevance will automatically trickle down to the local level. Or at least explain in lay terms why people should care.”

- Jill Allen, VTDigger community ambassador, Burlington

Stopgap measures

We’re learning about grassroots solutions that have emerged to fill the void left by shrinking newspapers, from whisper networks and mutual aid groups on social media to newsletters that are produced by school districts and town governments. 

“People turn to the neighborhood group pages on Facebook for news. People reach out to city officials individually to figure out what’s happening with the wastewater bills. It’s inefficient. I’ve talked to lots and lots of people who have said, 'I don’t know what’s happening in my community because it’s not being reported on.'”

- Community organizer, St. Albans

Accessing local news

Lack of internet access and lack of comfort using technology are common barriers to getting news and information, as are varied levels of literacy and English language proficiency. The loss of printed newspapers in towns like Milton has cut many folks off from a vital source of connection. In other communities, that connection can be hard to establish if local news is written in a language you don’t speak.

“Now that the town newspaper is online only, I don’t think anyone reads it. They really miss our local printed newspaper and I still hear people talking about it, even though it went digital years ago.

- Interviewee, Milton municipal government

“I don't know of any Vermont news or media. I feel so uninformed about Vermont. I want to know more about the landscape and nature. Is it safe to swim? What's happening with lake health? News about the winter and snow storms, stories about people, nature, and immigration updates.”

- Migrant dairy worker, Grand Isle County

What else should we know, Vermont?

Help us continue gathering community input and feedback so we can improve our newsgathering and better serve your community. 

Thoughts or questions about our process? Interested in helping? Email Libbie Sparadeo at [email protected]

Did you know VTDigger is a nonprofit?

Our journalism is made possible by member donations. If you value what we do, please contribute and help keep this vital resource accessible to all.

Libbie Sparadeo

About Libbie

Libbie Sparadeo leads community engagement, communications and external partnerships. Previously she managed development and planning for Neighbors in Action, a demonstration project of the Center for Court Innovation that promotes community cohesion in Central Brooklyn. Before that, Libbie was policy associate with the Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice, and managed a Ford Foundation initiative at CUNY with formerly incarcerated and undocumented students in the South Bronx. Born and raised in Vermont, she holds an MA in Human Rights from Columbia University. She lives in Randolph.

Email: [email protected]

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