- File: Ed Koren
There's no shortage of dire reports about local U.S. newspapers. In the same week that the owner of Vermont's 132-year-old Hardwick Gazette announced he would sell its building on South Main Street to stay afloat, the Washington Post Magazine devoted an entire issue to chronicling what's at stake in a growing number of "news deserts" across the country.
The Post did more than report the numbers: A quarter of all print newspapers — about 2,200 of them — ceased publication between January 2005 and December 31, 2020. "Showing" instead of telling, the editors uncovered and compiled some shockingly important stories in places where there is now little to no regular media scrutiny.
In a companion piece, the newspaper's media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, summed up the trend in a well-worded quote: "The demise of local news poses the kind of danger to our democracy that should have alarm sirens screeching across the land."
Coming to the rescue? Report for America, a national service program that's subsidizing and placing "emerging" reporters with local news outlets. Last week, the organization selected Seven Days as a "host newsroom partner" to employ the next generation of news gatherers. An initiative of the GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit media organization, Report for America is structured to harness the skills and idealism of these truth tellers in service to communities that rely on accurate information to stay connected.
Seven Days is not the first Vermont media outlet to host a Report for America corps member; Vermont Public Radio, the Valley News and VTDigger.org have all employed young journalists through the program, which provides partial funding for up to three years. More than 270 U.S. newsrooms are currently using these reporters to understand and shed light on under-covered issues and populations.
In Vermont, rural areas are prone to media neglect. If local papers such as the Hardwick Gazette disappeared here, news deserts wouldn't be far behind.
With Report for America assistance, Seven Days will commit a regular reporter to a beat we defined in our 2018 "Our Towns" issue. As news editor Matthew Roy explained it in our application: "Most Vermonters live in small towns with aging populations. The state's lack of school-age children is closing local schools. Houses in many quaint, rural communities have been bought up by wealthy second-home owners from out of state, creating vampire towns that stay dark for months in the 'off seasons.'
"Our reporter will become versed in small-town life and cover how Vermont's burgs are adapting, or not, to the dynamic environment and opportunity for regeneration. The reporter will follow real estate, economic development and demographic stories. They'll write about small-town challenges, opportunities and innovations ... as rural Vermont prepares to string fiber-optic cables, host newcomer families and attract companies drawn by our quality of life."
We've already started talking with possible candidates for the job, which starts next June. Interested parties can apply at journalismjobs.com, email Roy directly at email@example.com — or both. Soon we'll begin asking for donations. Report for America requires that the host newsroom raise a portion of the reporter's salary, from the community that will be reading what this lucky journalist writes. Their contributions demonstrate that readers understand and are invested in the success of this experiment. Our free and independent press — and our democracy — depends on it.