Newsroom turns to community, finds groundswell of support for local journalism

Tucked up in New Hampshire along the state line with Vermont, readers of the Valley News are embracing philanthropic support for local news.

“I value our local journalism and want to ensure ongoing talent” was one reader’s comment when they donated to the Lebanon, New Hampshire, newsroom.

Dan McClory, the publisher for Valley News, got into journalism philanthropy about two years ago and has made impressive inroads building journalism philanthropy in the Upper Valley region. 

Photojournalist Alex Driehaus is now in her second year as a Report for America corps member with the Valley News.

As a first-time Report for America host site in 2021, Valley News was expected to raise, at minimum, a quarter of their corps member’s salaries — $16,125.  They instead raised $49,320. They did this through major gifts — $16,000 from four major donors (average gift $3,400), and $33,320 through crowdfunding from 191 donors (average gift was $82). 

In 2020, Valley News was selected as a Report for America newsroom to host two corps members. They delayed joining because of the pandemic and their murky financial future. 

McClory said the paper had to make some difficult cuts.

“We were very open and honest with our readers and said, ‘We need your help.’ It was overwhelming the number of people that responded, the number of financial donations, and the amount that was raised—that got us through 2020 and put us in a stable position to go in 2021. So we learned that our readers cared even more than we thought. They showed that care with their dollars, not just the words.”

McClory credits their fundraising success to four key activities:

  • He shared information about the Report for America program and highlighted that Valley News was selected to host corps members in a very competitive grant process. 
  • The corps members coming to the area are covering critical issues — the environment and a photojournalist. The environment was an issue that Valley News staffers identified as an important beat that was highly desired by readers that current staffing levels could not permit. Donors responded positively with comments such as “I am interested in more local climate news” and “We support increased climate and environmental reporting“. Photojournalism has been a long tradition at Valley News. During staff cutbacks, this was one of the affected areas. Adding a photojournalist preserved a long tradition of photojournalism.
  • Supporting young journalists was the focus area McClory featured in articles and crowdfunding campaigns talking about the corps members. 
  • Finally, McClory highlighted the sustainability portion of the program which requires newsrooms to raise funds from the community which are matched by Report for America. In the first year, RFA provides a 50% match; year two is a 33% match, and year three is a 20% match. The key goal is to identify funding so that when the corps member’s term is up, the beat is fully funded through local philanthropy.

Philanthropy isn’t all that the corps members have brought to the Upper Valley region.

Frances Mize covers the environment and climate change as a Report for America corps member at Valley News.

McClory notes, “The corps members’ arrival did a lot for the morale of our newsroom. People got accustomed to seeing empty desks, and some people leaving the industry. On top of that, the pandemic, and the reporting on the pandemic. It has been a real drain on people’s emotional well-being. Having two people come in who are young and energetic and who want to go into this business brought some new blood into the newsroom. The corps members were very well received, and fit right in. They’ve been wonderful additions.”

McClory sees the Valley News’s success as less about fundraising success and more about supporting the right cause. 

“I don’t know if it’s really about fundraising;  it’s about this cause. People are willing to support democracy. They’re willing to support local journalism. And it’s one thing for people to say. It’s another thing for them to do it with their dollars. We’ve learned that this is going to be a long-term strategy that gets us through the decline in the industry. It’s going to really change the model of how we support our journalism expenses from now till the end.”

About Report for America

Report for America is a national service program that places talented emerging journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities across the United States and its territories. By creating a new, sustainable model for journalism, Report for America provides people with the information they need to improve their communities, hold powerful institutions accountable, and restore trust in the media. Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, an award-winning nonprofit journalism organization dedicated to rebuilding journalism from the ground up.