A national service program that pairs emerging journalists with local media organizations announced Monday that it will be sending three reporters and a photographer to work in newsrooms that cover Vermont.
Report for America selected VTDigger.org, Vermont Public Radio and the Valley News to join about 160 other media outlets taking part in its 2020 partnership program, which it calls a “direct response to the worsening crisis in local news across the country.”
“We offer a pretty simple fix for news holes in communities throughout the country — local reporters on the ground, who hold leaders accountable and report on under-covered issues,” Steven Waldman, president and cofounder of Report for America, said in a press release.
More than 1,800 local print outlets have shuttered in the United States since 2004, and at least 200 counties have no newspaper at all, the New York Times reported last month.
Report for America, an initiative of the nonprofit the GroundTruth Project, says its newsroom partnerships are an attempt to buck this trend by helping create new positions to cover underrepresented communities and issues.
Report for America pays for half of the reporter's salary. It then requires media outlets to split the rest of the costs with local and regional donors, in hopes of creating a sustainable funding source; positions last a year but are often extended another year, the organization says.
VPR plans to deploy its reporter to the Northeast Kingdom, where the station has been unable to direct many resources despite its importance to the state's future, president and CEO Scott Finn said.
VTDiggerwill likely base its reporter in Rutland to document some of the biggest issues facing southern Vermont, such as the impacts of the declining workforce and the opioid crisis, according to projects editor Jim Welch.
Welch said VTDigger has cobbled together coverage of the region using both its own reporters and partnerships with other media in the area. With the new position, he said, Digger hopes to bolster its coverage by embedding a reporter who is focused solely on the area.
And the Valley News, a daily newspaper located in West Lebanon, N.H., that covers two dozen Vermont communities in the Upper Valley region, has been selected to host two journalists: one covering climate and environmental issues, and one serving as a general news photographer.
Editor Maggie Cassidy said that while her staff does a good job covering environmental issues when they come up, the paper’s readers have expressed a desire for deeper dives on the topic.
"To get out into communities and really report on what things people are seeing, and what’s important to them, we haven’t really had the resources to do that," Cassidy said.
The photojournalist position, meanwhile, replaces a long-standing internship program that the paper recently cut due to budget constraints, she said.
Report for America is now accepting reporter applications for the gigs through the end of January and plans to announce pairings in April. Selected journalists then attend an eight-day training session in June before joining a newsroom.
Vermont’s haul is notable for a state of its size, Finn said, a fact the public radio veteran attributed to the "willingness of people in our region to support great journalism.”
“It’s a very special place, and I think Report for America recognizes that,” Finn said.