Smart Investment: Local Journalism

Explore one of the most widely used ways that people are connecting and staying informed in the Valley: hyperlocal online journalism.

A thriving community depends on its members having immediate access to credible and relevant information. One of the most widely used ways that people are connecting and staying informed in the Valley is through hyperlocal online journalism.

The Lower Naugatuck Valley was once a hotbed of competition for local coverage among three metro and several weekly publications. But that era is long gone.

Fortunately, for many communities wishing to secure access to local news, philanthropy has stepped in to bridge the gap.

A Foundation Center report shows that between 2009 and 2011, media-related grantmaking grew at a higher rate than overall domestic grantmaking (21 percent increase vs. 5.8 percent, respectively). During this period, more than 1,000 foundations made grants totaling $1.86 billion to more than 12,000 media

The Knight Foundation was one such national foundation that was approached for funding by the collaborative efforts of the Online Journalism Project (OJP), the Valley Community Foundation (VCF) and The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven (TCF). The local partnerships paid off when Knight awarded a $500,000 grant in 2009 through the Knight Community Information Challenge program to launch the Valley Independent Sentinel ( This nonprofit, online-only news site delivers professional-quality hyperlocal online journalism focused on Ansonia, Derby, Oxford, Seymour and Shelton.

"The Valley was one of the first places in the U.S. to embrace nonprofit online local journalism," recalls the Sentinel's Editor
Eugene Driscoll.

Driscoll says that "people come to for high quality, hardhitting local journalism. They stay with us because we offer the people of the Valley a place to express opinions and share ideas - whether it is on, or on our social media accounts, or through our podcasts, which is a geek word for 'radio talk show.'"

For the past two years, the Valley Indy has live streamed a podcast during The Great GiveĀ®, a 36-hour online fundraising event for area nonprofits, created and supported by TCF and sponsored by VCF and others.

Driscoll and reporter Ethan Fry interview nonprofit leaders to raise awareness about the organizations' services and to seek funding from the community.

The focus on quality local reporting has been worthwhile; Driscoll says he has seen a 37 percent increase in traffic in the last year alone.

In addition to writing, editing, and posting stories online, Driscoll and Fry also use radio as a means to discuss the issues of
the day.

He and Fry have created a weekly podcast, "Navel Gazing," which Driscoll says "was a smash right from the start." According to Sound Cloud, a website that hosts podcasts, "the Valley Indy podcast was played 12,326 times between March and October," Driscoll says.

The Valley Indy recently launched a second podcast, "Valley Sports Rewind," which Driscoll says had 1,651 listens during the
first two weeks of October.

VCF board member Jen Magri is a major supporter of the work of the Valley Indy: "In today's society, where the need for accurate information is critical, and the demand for it is almost instantaneous, the Valley Independent Sentinel has managed to successfully provide essential news and a vehicle for community conversation via the tools of the 21st century. Eugene and Ethan continue to amaze me with their ability to produce compelling content via both the written word as well as through their 'Navel Gazing' podcast."

Despite the popularity of online media, the use of hard copy is still vital to keeping members of the community informed and engaged.

That's why VCF continues to circulate a printed newsletter, Legacy Matters. The Legacy Matters newsletter is mailed to a majority of VCF fund holders and distributed to local libraries and senior centers.