Castleton University students are joining a journalism effort designed to fill gaps in local coverage and prevent the spread of "news deserts."
Students at the state college in southern Vermont began reporting and writing stories this fall with the hopes of landing bylines in newspapers including the Rutland Herald and the Mountain Times, as well a website called the Community News Service.
The University of Vermont in Burlington launched the site this year, when it began offering students a new minor — reporting and documentary storytelling. UVM also created an internship for its students to learn news and feature writing and work with a professional editor who vets stories for publication in area newspapers.
Students' stories have appeared in outlets including the Shelburne News, the Waterbury Record and the Other Paper.
In an age when many newspapers have cut staff, the project fills an important role, said David Blow, a media and communication professor at Castleton and a a former reporter and assistant city editor at the Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y.
"There's a lot of stuff that’s not being covered now, both features and hard news," Blow said. "We're trying to do a mix of both with this effort.”
Richard Watts, the director of the Center for Research on Vermont, which houses the Community News Service at UVM, reached out to Blow. Watts wanted to expand the project in Vermont after obtaining a $2,000 grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation.
Watts is also talking with a professor at Northern Vermont University-Johnson about joining the partnership.
After many news outlets reduced staff over the past decade, it's become more difficult for readers to stay informed, Watts said.
"I'm just so convinced ... how important it is to have local news sources to enable communities to be more vibrant and people more engaged,” he said.
Blow agrees. For papers that don't have the staff to cover as much as they once did, the program offers reinforcements. "These publications are getting content that they otherwise might not,” he said.
So far at least one story by a Castleton student has appeared on the Community News Service website, and Blow said others will published soon in local newspapers.
Castleton students will get writing and editing help from Castleton resident and former New York Times freelancer Martha Molnar. At UVM, veteran editor and reporter Lisa Scagliotti is working with students in the Community News Service internship.
File: Molly Walsh
From left: Lisa Scagliotti, Julia Bailey-Wells and Cullen Paradis