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May 19, 2010

VTDigger Hits Pay Dirt

Smallshovel The news website VTDigger has won a competitive two-year, $25,000 national grant from J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism.

What timing, too.

The site's founder — Anne Galloway — posted an item Tuesday asking readers to help raise more money so the site can cover the gubernatorial election.

Galloway told Seven Days that she was given notice last week that she, and eight other groups, had won the award, but she had to keep quiet until J-Lab made the official announcement. In all, 284 groups competed for the "New Voices" award.

That takes some effort: A journalist keeping quiet on a scoop!

"I'm still wondering if I should pinch myself," joked Galloway. The site will receive $17,000 this year and $8000 next year, she added.

Here's how J-Lab described Galloway's winning entry.

Tipster at -  This news start-up covering Vermont plans to build a crowdsourcing platform called Tipster to help develop stories. Using Tipster, readers and reporters will collaborate and exchange information to build in-depth reports. Future support is expected from business and college sponsorships.

Galloway said the idea is to create a Facebook-esque platform that allows readers and reporters to share information in a more collaborative way.

Like the journalistic journeywoman she is, Galloway wondered aloud during our conversation whether it was time to celebrate, or edit video segments from yesterday's post-session press conference with House Speaker Shap Smith and President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin.

While the cash will help to develop her crowdsourcing platform, Galloway said that J-Lab judges also encouraged her to invest money in reportage.

"That was music to my ears," said Galloway.

Along with the cash award, Galloway said, J-Lab plans to start an online forum for all nine to keep in touch as they develop their projects so they can share stories and lean on each other for advice and guidance.

From lengthy narratives explaining the nuances of complex pieces of legislation to raw video of the governor's weekly press conferences and other public events, Galloway produced some of the best in-depth reporting this past legislative session.

Along with VTDigger, J-Lab funded existing efforts in Baltimore and Maine and will help  launch news sites to cover an endangered river district in Charlotte, NC, immigrant communities in Lincoln, NE, urban communities in Newark and Princeton, NJ, and San Jose, CA, as well as government and politics in Washington state.

“This year’s winners presented striking analyses of the information needs in their communities.  All had plans to meet those needs with digital toolkits that involve mobile devices, social media and the Web,“ said Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab, which administers the New Voices program at American University’s School of Communication. “Notable this year is the growing presence of independent professional journalists seeking to fill the information gaps in their communities in new ways.“

The program's goal is to experiment with new models for sustainability, and is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

VTDigger is a great resource. Glad to hear someone with enough money to grant thinks so too.

I hope the project sticks around.

congratulations anne

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