HOME
          
LATEST STORY
At Datalore, data plus storytelling means empathy, humor, and games
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Feb. 3, 2010, noon

VT Digger: How a layoff spawned a nonprofit site in less than a year

Anne Galloway didn’t know anything about nonprofits or websites when she was laid off from Vermont’s Times Argus last January. She once believed the web was more distracting than resourceful. But a layoff has a funny way of upending your perspective, and now Galloway sits at the helm of her own nonprofit news site.

Galloway launched VT Digger in September 2009 with designs on filling a coverage gap in her home state of Vermont. Take a look through the offerings and you’ll see much of the content reads like the nitty-gritty stuff that used to grab column inches. That’s the point. During months of pre-launch interviews and research, Galloway concluded that the demand for enterprise reporting isn’t being met by the reduced staffs of Vermont’s newspapers.

VT Digger isn’t a hobby or a side project. Galloway is all in. She works full-time on the site, often starting at 4 a.m. and finishing up well after dinner. When I talked to her, she had just settled in at the Vermont statehouse. She’s commuting 45 minutes each way while the legislature is in session.

On the content side, Galloway tries to post 5-7 pieces a week. That’s a tough task for what’s basically a one-person operation. It’s made harder by the time-intensive nature of her content, which often requires interviews and background research. But in a savvy bit of efficiency, she’s boosting coverage by dialing back her editorial filter. That’s not to say she’s posting shaky articles. She’s just letting readers parse information for themselves.

Here’s an example: In November, Galloway received a state memo outlining proposed school budget changes. Instead of cranking out a piece that hit the high points, she simply posted the text. “I decided I didn’t need to write a story about this,” she said. “People can judge for themselves. That saves me time, but it also enables me to say to our readers, ‘Look, we know you’re smart.'”

The benefits of putting it out there

Galloway spent considerable time pitching her business plan to prospective investors and picking the brains of nonprofit trailblazers, like Paul Bass from the New Haven Independent. Those meetings helped her assemble a board of advisors.

Galloway credits grunt work with pushing her through the reticence that blocks would-be entrepreneurs. “It’s hard to put yourself out there,” she said. “I’m able to talk about this semi-coherently because I’ve spent months talking to people about it. I’ve been perfecting the ideas and the language.”

Of course, there’s a moment when intense preparation becomes a detriment: The wheels spin but you don’t go anywhere. “At some point I said ‘I think I just need to do this,'” she recalled. “I don’t want to spend more time thinking about it and writing plans.”

Just doing it (apologies to Nike) is part of a mindset often found in smart online startups. These organizations know that the act of launching something — anything — is liberating because it turns theory into practice. Galloway experienced this herself. VT Digger’s first iteration was important because it existed outside of a business plan, which allowed it to become a tangible reference point for readers and potential donors. “It’s much easier for people to see what it is we’re trying to accomplish because we’re able to put new elements out all the time,” Galloway said.

Also in the tradition of smart startups, VT Digger got refreshed quickly. A recent redesign smoothed out the edges and gave Galloway access to web-based donations. That mechanism has already proven fruitful, with a December donation push bringing in $400 to $500. Combined with an assortment of gifts and grants, VT Digger’s current tally stands around $21,0000. There’s a long way to go before Galloway hits the $75,000 to $125,000 she’s hoping for, but it’s a start.

POSTED     Feb. 3, 2010, noon
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
At Datalore, data plus storytelling means empathy, humor, and games
At the MIT Media Lab, teams of designers, developers and storytellers pulled stories from eight different data sets.
Tied up at home? Have some Nieman Lab #BlizzardReads
Many of our readers on the East Coast are cooped up in their homes. To rescue them from boredom, here are a few recent Nieman Lab stories you may have missed.
U.S. journalists, the clock is ticking: January 31 is the deadline to apply for a Nieman Fellowship
It’s a chance to spend a year at Harvard and change the shape of your career.
What to read next
2588
tweets
Don’t try too hard to please Twitter — and other lessons from The New York Times’ social media desk
The team that runs the Times’ Twitter accounts looked back on what they learned — what worked, what didn’t — from running @NYTimes in 2014.
728From explainers to sounds that make you go “Whoa!”: The 4 types of audio that people share
How can public radio make audio that breaks big on social media? A NPR experiment identified what makes a piece of audio go viral.
705Q&A: Amy O’Leary on eight years of navigating digital culture change at The New York Times
“In 2007, as digital people, we were expected to be 100 percent deferent to all traditional processes. We weren’t to bother reporters or encourage them to operate differently at all, because what they were doing was the very core of our journalism.”
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
New West
Demand Media
Groupon
Reuters
Wikipedia
Creative Commons
Ars Technica
The Daily Telegraph
OpenFile
Hacks/Hackers
Hearst
TechCrunch