14 Vermont Counties In Four Months: What We Learned On VPR's Tell Me More Tour

Feb 22, 2019

You listen to us, so we should make a special effort to listen to you. That was the idea behind VPR’s Tell Me More Tour, to travel the state with no agenda — just a determination to listen to whatever you have to say.

Also, Scott Finn, our new president & CEO, had just moved here from West Virginia. He knew he had a lot to learn about VPR and Vermont.
 

Scott Finn talks with a VPR listener at a Tell Me More Tour event in Stowe.
Credit Herb Swanson / For VPR

Over four months, we met more than 700 people at events in every county of the state. Nearly the entire VPR staff attended at least one event, where we asked three questions:

  • What should people know about where you live?
  • What issues are important to you?
  • How VPR can serve your community better?

Since then, we’ve combed through pages of notes from our conversations, as well as the thoughtful notes you left for us at each event.

While every event was unique, we were surprised at how many themes resonated across the state.
 

How Can VPR Serve You Better?

  • Local coverage: There’s been a big decline in the number of local newspaper journalists in Vermont and you asked VPR to help fill the gap with more coverage of news in your local communities.
  • Solutions, not just problems: Many of you reported feeling news fatigue, or feeling like you only hear bad news about your community (The good people of Newport are tired of the “hole in the middle of downtown” stories.) We were inspired by your pride in your communities, whether it was economic revitalization or a community-funded arts project, you expressed a desire for VPR to provide more coverage of the solutions to the problems we face.
  • More arts coverage: You’re proud of your local artists and arts economies and wish you heard more about the arts on VPR. We heard disappointment that Art Hounds is no longer part of VPR’s weekly lineup.
  • Help me know my neighbors: You told us you rely on VPR to connect you to interesting people doing interesting things, people you may not come across in your daily lives.
  • Come back soon: We heard universal appreciation that VPR took the time to travel to so many communities around the state to meet you and hear feedback. We plan to come back often!
  • Diversity: You told us you wished for greater diversity of voices on VPR - in age, race and ethnicity and geographic location.
  • Chittenden County is so close to Vermont: This feedback, unsurprisingly, became more common the further away we got from Burlington. And it’s not just about VPR - there’s definitely a perception that the media doesn’t care about anywhere in Vermont except Burlington and Montpelier.
  • Improve reception: Even with 27 broadcast sites and options for streaming, many of you reported challenges with reception. Our beautiful mountains make this a challenge, but you reminded us that broadcast radio is very important, especially in more rural communities.

VPR's Tell Me More Tour visited all 14 counties in Vermont between June-October 2018.
Credit Herb Swanson / For VPR
What Issues Are Important To You?

  • An aging and shrinking population: Especially in rural areas, there’s a concern about population loss and the perception of youth flight (check out the ‘Is Vermont Really Losing Young People?’ episode of Brave Little State.) What’s causing it, and how can we respond?
  • Affordability: With the cost of housing and property taxes, and comparably low wages - how can the average person make ends meet in Vermont?
  • School consolidation: We heard pride in local schools and a lot of concern over the state’s plans for consolidation.
  • Climate change: You’re concerned about the environment and the effect of climate change on Vermont and the world.
  • Addiction: We heard personal stories and general worry over alcohol and drug addiction, including access to treatment in rural areas.

Story Ideas

We received more than 75 specific story ideas throughout the tour. These have been catalogued and shared with our newsroom for review and possible further reporting. Our reporters said the Tell Me More Tour events introduced them to potential sources and reminded them of stories they want to cover.

VPR listeners at a Tell Me More Tour Event in St. Johnsbury
Credit Herb Swanson / For VPR
Isn't This All Anecdotal Evidence?

Granted, this is not a scientific survey of our audience or all Vermonters. So, as part of our tour, we conducted two scientific surveys of our audience and all Vermonters.

Our VPR/Vermont PBS Poll asked a representative sample of Vermonters what the biggest issues are facing our state. Their answers were similar to the ones we heard on the tour - jobs, affordability, and addiction led the list.

Also, we recently conducted an assessment of our public with our own survey of our members, our audience and the general population. We learned that our supporters value both our locally-produced programs and national shows in equal measure, and they want us to be present in all parts of our region.

We met more than 700 people throughout the four-month tour - and in true public radio fashion, gave away a lot of tote bags!
Credit Herb Swanson / For VPR
So...Now What?

It would be infuriating for VPR to ask you how we can improve...and then ignore you completely! Here’s how we are beginning to respond:

  • Events/outreach around the state: We are committed to hosting more events in all parts of our state. For example, hundreds of kids and their families saw But Why? at the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro in January.
  • Diversify: We will continue to challenge ourselves to diversify our sources, programming, staff and audience. Diversity includes race, ethnicity, age, rural vs. urban, income, ideology and political affiliation, to name just a few.
  • Feature and promote solutions: News fatigue is a real thing. We have a responsibility to cover and tackle the hard stuff, but we also can uncover potential solutions to our biggest problems.
  • Story ideas: We could do a better job of asking for news tips and story ideas from the communities we serve. In our social media and on our website, we should make it clearer how you can share story ideas with us.
  • Tap into local sources for reporting: We can work to fill the “news gap” by collaborating with local groups, including educational institutions, local media and community groups.
  • Focused coverage: Report more on the issues our listeners have said are important to them and their communities.
  • Convene conversations: Yes, we do this daily, but given the deep divides in our country we can use our statewide reach and the power of audio more intentionally to bring people together to find solutions to our biggest problems and build trust, empathy and understanding.

It’s amazing what a media organization can learn by being quiet and taking a moment to listen instead of talk. Here at VPR, we are working to continue the listening beyond one tour, and make it something we incorporate into our daily lives. Please feel free to contact us anytime with your ideas and feedback!