UVM's Center for Community News Awarded $7 Million to Expand | Media | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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UVM's Center for Community News Awarded $7 Million to Expand


Published June 25, 2024 at 6:54 p.m.

Richard Watts and Cory Dawson (left) with members of UVM's Community News Service - FILE: JAMES BUCK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: James Buck ©️ Seven Days
  • Richard Watts and Cory Dawson (left) with members of UVM's Community News Service
The University of Vermont’s Center for Community News has been awarded $7 million to expand its journalism training for college students in Vermont and around the country. The Burlington-based student news outlet plans to triple the number of Vermont student reporters who are working in local newspapers over the next five years to around 135, managing director Meg Little Reilly said.

Those reporters will work at local news outlets in Vermont, increasing news coverage in communities that lack it. The program will also expand its news training to include Vermont high schools, Vermont State University and other colleges.

The center is hiring a new instructor to teach audio production and intends to improve its local social media presence, mentoring and news coverage, she said. “These investments will have an impact on Vermont news outlets,” she said.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced on Monday that it would provide a $5 million grant to the center, which has five staff members. The center is also receiving $500,000 from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and $1.5 million from the UVM College of Arts and Sciences and donors.

The University of Vermont doesn’t offer a journalism major. Richard Watts, director of the Center for Research on Vermont, started the training program, then named Community News Service, in 2019 with the belief that reporting skills would serve the students well in whatever careers they pursue.

Watts was also seeking to bolster local news coverage, which has been declining for two decades around the country as outlets close due to financial pressures. Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications said in a 2023 report that the U.S. is increasingly divided between news haves and have-nots, with those who “have” more likely to be in affluent areas.
More than 130 newspapers closed or merged in 2022, Medill said, putting the nation on track to lose a third of its print media outlets between 2005 and the end of this year. It said the growth in alternative news sources, such as all-digital news organizations, has not made up for the losses.

There was also good news in last year's Medill report on the state of journalism: Philanthropic organizations such as the Knight and MacArthur foundations gave $500 million to support local media.

Through CCN, local editors train student reporters to cover government, politics and other topics. In 2021, the center also launched a series of free online classes for anyone who wanted to learn how to write for local newspapers.

“There’s equal value in having obituaries, arts, calendars, even local sports scores,” Little Reilly said. “It provides a kind of inoculation against the political polarization, and political violence, that has suffused public life.”

CCN sporadically covers news and public meetings in Winooski, the city of just 8,000 next to Burlington. Under the existing program, student journalists stop reporting for the summer — a coverage gap that Little Reilly said the grant money will be used to close.

Winooski City Manager Elaine Wang said she would welcome year-round coverage.

“It’s not fun being watched by the media, but it certainly matches with my values,” Wang said. “Government should be held accountable to the people they are serving.”

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