Melody Kramer

Week 1. We go to Vermont

19 Jan 2016 by melodyjoykramer


This is the first of 52 installments in which we transport ourselves somewhere across the world and try to experience that place through their news. We’re starting in Vermont.

Why Vermont?

  1. 30 percent of people in Vermont lack broadband Internet. source

  2. Vermont is the second least populous state in the country. Burlington, its largest city, is the least populous largest city within a state in the United States.

  3. As of 2011, Vermont Public Radio was the No. 2 public radio station in the nation for percentage per capita of listeners; the first was in Washington, D.C. (2011, Vermont Business Journal)

  4. 120,000 people subscribe to an online community called the Front Porch Forum. which operates statewide.

  5. People love Vermont enough to write a theme song about its 251 towns.

  6. One out of six people in Vermont receive SNAP benefits. 40 percent of school children in Vermont are eligible for free lunches. The poverty rate in Vermont is the highest its been in 20 years. source

Vermont’s an interesting state. Outside of the county that houses Burlington, news travels mainly via newspaper, word of mouth, and newsletter. I was repeatedly told that to dig into Vermont, I had to leave Burlington.

I tried to do that — though I’m sure I’m missing quite a bit.

Things I did this week to learn more about the news in Vermont.

Asked you to reach out to people you knew in the state of Vermont and ask them a series of questions about how they got their news. A number of you did, including:

  1. Listened to Rumble Strip Vermont, a really great podcast about ordinary Vermonters. The host, Erica Heilman, “invites herself into Vermonters’ homes to find out what they know, what they hate, who they love, what they’re afraid of, and what makes them more like you than you’d realized.” Start with this one about Barre’s police log.

  2. Interviewed Sara Simon, the web developer at Vermont Public Radio, about the sewage bot she created.

  3. She led me to Taylor Dobbs, the digital reporter for the station, who recommended I read his curated collection of Vermont-related subreddits on the website Reddit.

  4. From there, I learned that Murphy the golden retriever was recently reunited with his family in Waterbury, VT after going missing for 19 months. I also learned that Vermont’s workforce size has not grown in a decade.

  5. If you want to follow Vermont-specific news on Twitter, I learned that you use the hashtag #VTpoli for political news and #BTV for Burlington-centric stuff. (h/t Taylor Dobbs)

  6. I read about the projects that Code for Burlington is working on to help make data more open in the state.

  7. I subscribed to The Daily 7, which shares seven Vermont news stories every day. 18,000 people subscribe.

  8. I read and listened to quite a bit of material.

This is some of what I consumed, though this list is not comprehensive:

  1. Is Vermont the whitest state in the union? from the VT Digger, a statewide news website that publishes watchdog reports on state government and politics.

  2. The Link Between Pain Management And Opiate Abuse from Vermont Public Radio

  3. Unpacking A Big Week In Vermont Politics also from VPR.

  4. How Three Vermont Media Companies Keep the Presses Rolling from Seven Days.

  5. Vermont Digital Newspaper Project

  6. Ongoing Bernie Sanders coverage from Seven Days and VT Digger and Vermont Public Radio.

  7. The 40 Towns literary journalism magazine created and produced by students at Dartmouth about 40 towns in Vermont and New Hampshire.

  8. I also watched InnoVaTe, a show about Vermont tech companies hosted by the former organizer of Reddit’s Ask Me Anything.

Five unique things I learned about the State of Vermont

  1. There are 183 libraries in the state and you can see all of them on a map that librarian Jessamyn West made.

  2. Burlington, Vermont relies on 100 percent renewable energy.

  3. The world’s most sentient robot lives in Vermont.

  4. A game called Lakecraft, based on Minecraft, helps teach students about the Lake Champlain Watershed.

  5. 86 children were followed for two years in the early 1970s by a geographer named Roger Hart, who wanted to know where kids go during the day time.

Ruth Ann Harnisch talked to her relative Helene, who is a grants director at a small college in Vermont

Who are you and what do you do?

I am a 47-year-old woman, work at a small college in Vermont as the Grants Director.

How do you get your news?

Primarily through two local newspapers, the Brattleboro Reformer and the Deerfield Valley News. There is no local television station covering this part of the state (southeastern), and even if there were, I do not have television reception. Furthermore, VPR rarely covers events occurring in southern Vermont.

A significant percentage of people in Vermont don’t have high speed internet. If you don’t have high speed internet or know someone who doesn’t, how do you/they get their news?

At this point in time, everyone I know has at least a DSL connection, not "high speed", but fast enough considering that the switch from dial-up was not that long ago. 

What story are you following locally that more people should know about?

The rise in heroin use throughout Vermont is an enormous issue with little concrete solutions being proposed. 

What’s the best thing about living in Vermont?

Incredible quality of life... quiet and peaceful, with little pollution and crime, no traffic to speak of, and generally a relaxing environment.

What’s the worst thing about the news?

In general I would say that many news stories are created for the sake of creating news. The making of something into a story creates fear in many instances.
Vermont rocks! Feel the Bern.

Tom Barnes interviews high school English teacher Alison O'Brien

link to interview on Medium

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Alison O'Brien. I'm a high school English teacher at an independent school in Saxtons River, VT.

How do you get your local news?

My primary news sources are NPR and its affiliates, VPR (Vermont Public Radio out of Windsor) and NHPR (New Hampshire Public Radio out of Keene). I probably turn on VPR in the car once a week, as I'm not in the car much (I live at work) but I also follow their Facebook page and see their updates probably at least twice a day. 

I also follow straight up NPR on Facebook, but have lately been disappointed by the quality of the posts showing up on my newsfeed (fluff pieces). I also follow Bernie Sanders for election updates and Al Jazeera for my daily dose of global news. In terms of non-internet local news, my boyfriend is a huge fan of "The Shopper," which is one of those tiny local newspapers you see as you're walking out the door of the gas station. We usually only pick it up when he or his coworkers are featured in a story, which is actually kind of often (so proud!!). 

I also follow two Facebook pages associated with the little town I live in and the village adjacent, both of which include posts about things like lost dogs and whatnot, but also local construction projects, town elections, promotion of local businesses, etc. I guess I get my truly local news primarily from Facebook and, of course, word of mouth. I get a lot of great news from my local bartender, to be honest!

A significant percentage of people in Vermont don’t have high speed internet. If you don’t have high speed internet or know someone who doesn’t, how do you/they get their news?

I am very lucky to have VTel fiber internet, which is faster than any internet I've ever had at home! It'd pretty remarkable that we have access to such excellent internet in my little village when we have almost no access to cell service. I know that many Vermonters do not have this luxury, especially in the Northeast Kingdom, and it's a significant obstacle in these people's access to both local and national news. 

TV is something I think the majority of Vermonters will still have access to, and I'm sure many rely almost solely on TV news programs for their news (which is problematic for a variety of reasons). I know that, even in my area, people also still rely heavily on newspapers, newsletters, magazines, and good ol' posters on telephone poles and flyers stapled to cork boards outside the local market. 

I love that I live in a place where people actually take notice of that kind of media, and where a person might stop and genuinely check out a flyer or attend an event they know little about because they heard about it from their mailman or from some guy at the pub. I think that there could be serious improvement in communication and awareness of larger news stories occurring outside of our little bubbles, but we find a way to continue to build our small communities through the means we possess.

What story are you following locally that more people should know about?

I do my best to follow local news stories through friends and neighbors as well as through VPR. On the very local level, I've been following the proposed plan to build a $23 million "Criminal Justice Center" in an old mill in Bellows Falls, and am hoping to hear more information on that project soon, as it could have an enormous impact on my community if it is approved. 

On a larger, Vermont-wide scale, I think our biggest problem that needs much more attention is the growing rate of drug abuse in our state. Peter Shumlin and other lawmakers have done a good job of giving our state's opiate problem more visibility, but heroin continues pouring into the state at shocking rates. I live right off of Rt-91 and next to Bellows Falls, a town well-known for heroin trafficking and abuse. 

The town and the state are both working extremely hard to provide more supports and addiction services; in fact, my boyfriend, Will Fritch, works for the Department of Health and is on the advisory board of our local prevention coalition called Greater Falls Connections. Unfortunately, he has his work cut out for him as the prevalence of addiction and the accessibility of hard drugs in our district are truly alarming. Our population is small but our wellness issues are enormous, and are demonstrative of a state-wide crisis in drug and alcohol abuse.

What’s the best thing about living in Vermont?

On a much lighter note!! There are a million reasons to live in Vermont. I moved here almost two years ago, to "the middle of nowhere," and although relocating to Vermont had its unique adjustments, I adore living here. First of all, it's beautiful. That may be the single best thing about living in Vermont. I'm a skier, hiker, swimmer, and general outdoor explorer, so of course I enjoy the natural beauty of the forests, mountains, farms, and rivers of the Green Mountain State. 

I think, aside from that, the best part about Vermont is the people. Vermont seems to attract a certain type of person, whether you were born here or moved here in adulthood, that makes for a wonderfully kind, open, and tight-knit community of Vermonters. It's not that every stereotype about Vermont is true (we're not just a bunch of pot smoking farmers in flannel with Phish playing softly in the background...although they certainly exist).

My experience has been that the vast majority of people in Vermont are friendly to their neighbors, devote themselves wholeheartedly to the work they do, and are proud to represent our state. Also, Vermonters make damn good beer.

What’s the worst thing about the news?

The worst thing about the news is when it's painfully obvious that a news source is promoting a manipulated, twisted story as "the truth." It's very difficult, if not impossible, to find news stories with little to no bias, whatever their vested interest might be. Pandering to viewership and spinning stories have rendered TV news sources completely useless. I would not even consider watching TV news, local or national. 

The worst thing about the news is that you need to be on such high alert for bullshit; every day I'm reading through the news with a cynical eye, assuming that most news sources have some hidden agenda I need to watch out for. Maybe I'm paranoid, but I feel I need to interrogate my news sources before I can believe a word they say. I've certainly found news sources I do feel I can trust, for the most part, and I've listed them above. I don't think I'm at all alone in my suspicion of news media, but I think I'm sadly in the minority, as so many Americans blindly accept the news, any news, as "the truth."

Andrew Nelson reaches out to Bennington's funkiest, cool art gallery owner Joey Kuklin

Who are you and what do you do?

I was a newspaper reporter and editor for 23 years from '89 to '12. Worked the local sporting scene mostly then jumped over to news side and the editor's chair. Now I manage Vermont's funkiest coolest art gallery in Downtown Bennington. But I still report and write stories. You can take the boy out of the newsroom but...

How do you get your local news?

I report it and when I don't I scour the web.

A significant percentage of people in Vermont don’t have high speed internet. If you don’t have high speed internet or know someone who doesn’t, how do you/they get their news?

  • I have high-speed Internet. We’re on the border of New York and Mass.

What story are you following locally that more people should know about?

  • Corrupt, crony local governance
  • Contamination at the old landfill, next to 2 schools
  • Marijuana Legalization
  • Several others

What’s the best thing about living in Vermont?

  • Crisp, clean, fresh air
  • Low crime
  • America’s best skiing, syrup, suds (and hopefully smoke, not that I smoke anymore)
  • Rural but still close to Gotham, Montreal, Boston
  • History
  • Outdoor recreational activities
  • Terrific hardworking people
  • Chill vibe
  • Oh, and the cheese. Definitely the cheese.

What’s the worst thing about the news?

News is great

Nick Andersen talks to Emily Alfin Johnson, a digital producer at Vermont Public Radio

Who are you and what do you do?

Emily Alfin Johnson, Digital Producer at VPR. What is a digital producer? It’s all the wonderful things a producer does, with an extra focus on the digital (my definition.) Currently, I am working to get push notifications set up with the VPR mobile app, running our Instagram account (VPRnet), working on a bunch of special projects and am responsible for giving some of our broadcast content a digital life.

How do you get your local news?

I am all about Apple News. One of my 2016 goals is to get back into Twitter for news and information (and overcome how distracting I find it by nature,) but for now it is Apple News. I have VPR, 7 Days and the Burlington sections on my phone, mixed in with my national and international stuff. That usually means I get some stuff from the local tv stations in there too. I am still learning (today is my 100th day at VPR/in Vermont!)

A significant percentage of people in Vermont don’t have high speed internet. If you don’t have high speed internet or know someone who doesn’t, how do you/they get their news?

I am not the greatest resource on this one: I live in Winooski (Somerville to Burlington’s Boston) and have internet (pay WAY too much for it K.) I will say the fact some Vermonters go without high speed internet gives me a renewed appreciation for our broadcast radio product: For those without regular access to digital content, it makes up a huge part of their news consumption.

What story are you following locally that more people should know about?

Thanks to a project with @taylordobbs, I am a little over-interested in the ongoing development of Vermont Gas’ pipeline project.

I am desperate to better understand the state’s school consolidation law (Act 46.) There are 200+ school districts in Vermont, and fewer and fewer people under the age of 18. I missed out on a great local public school growing up because of consolidation, so it peaked my interested when I first arrived. But what I have learned is that it is so much bigger than that; what it will mean for Vermont tax payers, students and communities, as a whole is fascinating, and in many ways still up in the air. 

What’s the best thing about living in Vermont?

Vermont is the perfect balance of familiar and foreign to sooth my transient tendencies. I am originally from NH, so the region feels rural in a familiar, homey way, but I never feel bored or isolated. Burlington is filled with incredibly cool places to walk, eat and hangout, and my co-workers have been amazing about making sure I acclimate and enjoy the area. It does feel like a secret urban enclave in a rather rural place sometimes though.  

Honorable mention goes to getting to live with my dog, Echo, which could’ve never happened in Somerville. Vermont is incredibly dog friendly. Like you wouldn’t believe.

[My question :D] One funny thing about Vermont life:

There is such a thing as the “Vermont 15.” There’s so much great local produce, beer, cheese and so many amazing places to eat, that you can easily over-indulge when you first get here!

Also you must, must, must have snow tires. Which is crazy to me. But it’s true. Some even have spikes, making me feel like winter is a war waged between nature and Vermont. For the rest of the year they exist in perfect harmony, but when winter arrives… it’s basically Game of Thrones (I have no idea if that’s true, I haven’t seen Game of Thrones… it’s about winter coming, right?)

What’s the worst thing about the news?

…I really like the news? I guess the hard part is working through the occasional urge to shout: “Pay attention! This is important!” and instead think about how to best serve the user. How can we make it so that the content does the shouts for itself?

The great thing is that because I work in public media, my job is to serve the community. So as soon as we work out how to best present valuable information, we’re encouraged and empowered to go out and make it happen. I also just realized I turned that whole question around into an example of why public media is great… Sorry (sort of :D)

Dave Shaw spoke to Lena Gordon, a marketing director at an architecture firm

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Lena Gordon and I am a Marketing Director at an Architectural Firm

How do you get your local news?

Web and Radio - Radio (VPR) mostly

A significant percentage of people in Vermont don’t have high speed internet. If you don’t have high speed internet or know someone who doesn’t, how do you/they get their news?

F*ckin god damn right we don't have high speed internet (DSL only) it reeeeeallly sucks. It runs fast enough to get news on the web at home though - we use our cell phones (data) a bunch to browse. We have "bunny ears" for our TV that we use for the major news affiliates and have a local paper that is delivered weekly for our town news. Again - lots of radio in the car while I commute to work.

What story are you following locally that more people should know about?

The Keurig/Green Mountain sale recently was interesting - I think the local impacts of VT companies selling to large corporations could be looked at more in-depth.

What’s the best thing about living in Vermont?

So much space, not too many people. Beautiful landscapes and amazing hiking close by. Friendly people/sense of community, winter sports. Food, glorious, locally focused food. Great beer.

How’s the weather?

Matt and I don't really downhill ski but the weather has been cold enough we have started to get some snow - It may be a slow year to start but it's picking up. If we have slightly milder temps than last year it will be great!

What’s the worst thing about the news?

In general? I feel like often stories are covered to death. The same basic facts are hashed and re-hashed over and over. There is some insightful reporting but it's harder to find on major news outlets.

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