News hounds living near the Canadian border in northeastern Vermont are flocking to a hyper-local online site called Newport Dispatch News. In two short years, it’s garnered a surprisingly international following.
Bryan Marovich, a graduate of Goddard College, launched Newportdispatch.com two years ago, after trying and failing to write a novel.
Ironically, at first, he didn’t even have Internet at home. So sometimes he worked on his laptop in his parked car, picking up WiFi and occasionally arousing suspicion near the U.S. border port of entry on Main Street. At other times he set up shop in the Haskell Free Public Library, which straddles the boundary and where he stumbled on his very first big story.
“I built the website and I really had no idea where to start,” Marovich recalls, “and I was coming through the border, actually back into Derby Line, and I could hear Native American drumming and chanting. And there was a protest going on, it was anti-fracking day, and they were protesting fracking that was happening in Canada. So this was my shot.”
His and his alone. Even though there are several reporters in Orleans County whom Marovich respects, none of them happened to catch that protest. He posted the breaking story on the brand new site.
Social media picked it up and within a month he had 500 people checking his site regularly. Now, about two years later, he says there are about 30,000 users each month from almost every country in the world. He accepts donations and also recruited enough advertisers to pay himself close to what journalists earn in more traditional local newsrooms. One of those businesses is the Ginni Lynn beauty salon in Derby Line.
Ads blare on a radio inside the salon, but owner Ginni Gray spends her marketing money on the Newport Dispatch. She reads it online every day and so do most of her customers, usually on mobile devices as they wait for their hair appointments.
“Being on Facebook, online in general, that’s our ‘in touch’ around here now,” Gray says. “And a lot of people are using that and going towards that instead of maybe the newspaper, or even … the radio. They are not always as apt to as they are to have their phone in their hand and their computer in front of them.”
Gray says people in this remote corner of Vermont want fresh, daily news about their friends and neighbors on both sides of the international boundary. That’s why Marovich has just launched the Magog Dispatch, serving the Canadian Eastern Townships.
He still generates all the content himself, eavesdropping on police and fire scanners, writing from press releases and, when possible, doing person-to-person interviews and covering local events. He posts a lot of video as well as photos by his Canadian girlfriend, Tanya Mueller.
Marovich now works out of a tiny second floor apartment – with Internet, finally. The newsroom is spartan: a tabletop computer in an immaculate galley kitchen. On this warm day, he keeps the door open.
“So, yeah, we get local news out to the world. But what’s more important is that we get local news out locally, online,” he says. “And that’s, I think, going to just continue. Not to say that there’s no place for print, but online can’t be ignored either.”
Newport Dispatch News proves that an entrepreneurial journalist willing to work hard and use social media can make a living in a rural area, because local advertisers still need to reach local markets.
Marovich admits that he needs to please those advertisers, and that relationship sometimes shapes the news he chooses – or chooses not to post. But it’s not all frothy features. Some of his stories have triggered threats, which is why we aren’t disclosing his address — except on the World Wide Web.