by David Gordon, Board Chair and Associate Editor, Chippewa Valley Post
The Chippewa Valley Post is a relative newcomer to the local media landscape, but it’s one that is trying to make a difference.
The locally-focused news and information website was launched in February of 2015 to fill some of the growing gaps in local news coverage, particularly those that leave out the nonprofit community. Those gaps, stemming from cutbacks in the size and experience of mainstream media news staffs, and in the space and airtime available for news, have created a possibility that the Chippewa Valley could become a “news desert.”
This would mean that citizens—no matter how interested they might be—would lack access to various kinds of information they need to engage knowledgeably in the life of their communities.
To help prevent this, the CVPost intends to “connect the dots” for our audience (and, in some cases, to discover where those dots actually are). The ultimate goal is to help build a stronger community by strengthening its information infrastructure.
This goal stems from our mission statement, which says that the CVPost aims “to help develop informed and engaged citizens who will strengthen the fabric of an effective democracy.” This commits us to providing as complete a picture as possible of life in the Chippewa Valley—both what works and what isn’t working – and to explaining how complex that picture really is.
To pursue these goals, the CVPost is focusing heavily on the nonprofit sector, where many organizations and activities that are important to the community go unreported. We intend to inform the community about the roles nonprofit organizations play, why these groups are needed, and the challenges faced by the people they serve.
This approach presents us with the considerable challenge of gathering and reporting this news. The CVPost, incorporated as a nonprofit organization, depends heavily on volunteers, with a particular need for community journalists who will take responsibility for covering some aspect of Chippewa Valley life.
Although we will not duplicate coverage provided by the existing media, we will report on community-wide topics and issues which those media either don’t cover or ignore after doing a one-time story.
The CVPost has followed in part a successful community journalism model in Grand Rapids, MI that began after the local daily paper reduced its publication schedule. Unlike Grand Rapids, however, the CVPost board insists that whatever appears on our website will be reported and edited to at least minimum professional standards.
To accomplish this, we will mentor our community journalists and help them become better reporters and writers as they continue to provide content for the CVPost website. We have lined up several veteran journalists, now working here in other fields, to serve as mentors.
Environmental and Other Stories
Coverage of Chippewa Valley groups engaged with the environment is high on our priority list. We are currently seeking at least one community journalist who will provide regular coverage of these organizations along with reports on general environmental issues that impact the local community. As part of this effort, we will regularly cover a community-wide group headed by the Grace Lutheran Church pastor, whose goal is to promote awareness of climate change and other environmental issues through the lens of religious faith and spirituality.
We already have a list of overlooked community-wide stories that deserve coverage. Among other topics, these include an article on where/whether the businesses displaced by the Confluence Project have relocated and how well they’re surviving the move; a series on how the Affordable Care Act and changes in Wisconsin regulations have affected both local health care providers (including the Chippewa Valley Free Clinic) and patients; and stories that look at the impact of United Way’s new funding formula on nonprofit organizations that have benefitted from the change and on those whose funding was reduced or eliminated.
Civility and Partnerships
We hope to provide a forum where reasonable people with differing viewpoints can hold civil discussions of those viewpoints. We will strongly encourage people to use that forum to offer new or competing thoughts from across the ideological spectrum, and will try to facilitate their debate and discussion in the so-called “marketplace of ideas.” (See, for example.)
We also would like to make available an opportunity for audience members to comment on the stories we run. However, the CVPost board has decided not to provide this option until we are able to monitor those comments closely, and remove any that lack civility.
The CVPost has formed partnerships with Wisconsin Public Radio and with Northern Spirit Radio, an Eau Claire-based nonprofit that syndicates educational and inspirational radio programming focused on peace and social justice to more than 20 stations. We have informal working arrangements with the student paper at UW-Eau Claire and with the university’s journalism program, to display some student-produced news stories during the academic year. We have also held preliminary discussions about cooperative arrangements with Chippewa Valley Community TV and with one of the commercial TV stations in town.
Our revenue model, which is slowly being implemented, includes securing public memberships ranging from $50 to $500. We are developing plans to recruit 200 nonprofit organizations that would become members of the CVPost at a minimum annual level of $50. We also need to secure underwriting and sponsorship for the CVPost website from the for-profit sector. These efforts have been hindered by the lack of a development coordinator to oversee them.
If learning journalistic style, or improving what you already know, appeals to you, we’d love to hear from you. If helping to provide information that’s now missing from the “marketplace of ideas” appeals to you, please get in touch. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the CVPost’s Gmail address, at email@example.com.