The Vermont Community Foundation recently received a three-year, $104,000 grant to build the capacity of public policy journalism in Vermont. The Foundation will partner with VTDigger.org, a nonprofit news website that provides in-depth coverage of statewide issues affecting Vermonters. The funding will allow VTDigger.org to hire a full-time investigative reporter to cover health care and energy issues in Vermont. It will also allow Founder and Editor in Chief Anne Galloway the chance to extend her energies beyond reporting.
‘VTDigger.org has grown from a very low-budget, all-volunteer operation to a funded news organization with paid staffers in just two years,’ says Galloway. ‘This generous grant will enable us to deepen our coverage of key issues that affect the daily lives of Vermonters and make it possible for us to focus on building the long-term sustainability of VTDigger.org.’
The grant was awarded by the John S. and James L Knight Foundation as a part of its Knight Community Information Challenge. The challenge is a five-year, $24 million initiative that helps community- and place-based foundations support news and information projects that inform and engage residents. The Vermont Community Foundation is one of only 19 foundations throughout the country that was selected to receive a grant this round and will match Knight’s grant dollar-for-dollar with contributions from their funds and larger supporting organizations.
If the challenged is fully matched, the funding will be worth $206,000, with $2,000 set aside for conferences, Galloway said.
‘Strong democracy depends on strong journalism and informed debate,’ said Vermont Community Foundation President & CEO Stuart Comstock-Gay. ‘Vermont stands out as a state with very high levels of citizen engagement, but we still need good information. We’re thrilled that the Knight Foundation has identified our proposal as worthy of funding.’
VTDigger.org first launched in 2009 when a group of concerned citizens and journalists, led by Galloway, came together to create a platform for fact-driven reporting and open debate on key issues impacting Vermonters. Now with 50,000 readers a month, VTDigger.org publishes daily stories on Vermont politics and public policy matters and serves as a critical resource for lawmakers and community leaders tracking down information on key issues.
When asked what sets VTDigger.org apart from other news sources, Galloway says: ‘Our total focus is on politics and public policy, and we tend to write frequently and relentlessly about a given topic. Traditional papers tend to cover the end game of lawmaking, not the process.’
Galloway cites their extensive coverage around health care, broadband infrastructure, and campaign finance reform as particular points of pride for the nascent organization. This summer, VTDigger.org also launched Tipster ‘ a virtual, public newsroom with the functionality of a social networking site like Facebook. Designed to facilitate interaction among readers and journalists, Tipster users can suggest questions and post tips and source materials for reporters. ‘Official sources tend to drive the information in the news,’ says Galloway. ‘Tipster is about bringing a more grassroots voice to the surface.’
In November 2010, VTDigger.org combined operations with The Vermont Journalism Trust (VJT), an organization dedicated to the funding of investigative reporting that provides scrutiny to under-covered issues and helps Vermonters make civic policy decisions based on informational integrity. ‘VTDigger.org is the ideal platform on which to build out Vermont Journalism Trust’s commitment to expanding quality journalism in all media,’ said VJT Founding Director Doug Clifton at the time of the merger.
‘The Vermont Community Foundation and others like it are part of a growing number of community and place-based foundations working to ensure residents have the information they need to make important decisions about their communities,’ said Trabian Shorters, Knight Foundation’s vice president for engaging communities. ‘Ultimately, our democracy will only thrive if we have informed and engaged communities.’
The Vermont Community Foundation is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. Started in 1986 with a mission to grow philanthropy in Vermont and ensure that Vermont nonprofits have the resources they need to be effective, the Foundation has grown to include more than 600 funds established by individuals, businesses, and organizations for a broad range of charitable purposes. It awards approximately $10 million dollars a year in grants, thanks to the donors who work under its umbrella. Additionally, the Foundation offers planned giving, nonprofit agency endowment management, and other services that help charitable partners achieve their missions. For more information, visit www.vermontcf.org.
VTDigger.org is a statewide news website dedicated to coverage of Vermont politics, consumer affairs, business and public policy. Created in 2009, VTDigger.org publishes original news reporting, video, audio and photos, in addition to raw information in the form of press releases and government documents whenever possible. New content is published six days a week, Monday through Saturday.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities, and foster the arts. The Knight Foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more information, visit www.knightfoundation.org.
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