LION member spotlight: Valley Independent Sentinel

By Matt DeRienzo | Mar. 14, 2016

Eugene Driscoll, right, with wife Autumn.

A Q&A with LION member Eugene Driscoll, editor of the Valley Independent Sentinel in Connecticut.

1. When did your site launch, what geography does it cover and why was it founded?

We launched in June of 2009. We cover Connecticut's lower Naugatuck Valley, specifically Ansonia, Derby, Seymour and Shelton. We launched thanks to a partnership between The Valley Community Foundation in Derby, Connecticut, The Online Journalism Project in New Haven, and The Knight Foundation.

The Online Journalism Project and The Valley Community Foundation demonstrated that because of the consolidation and corporatization of local news, our communities were being underserved by local media.

2. What was your background before becoming an independent local news publisher?

I've been a reporter since graduating college in 1998. I was involved in my high school and college papers. I started at a weekly in New York, worked at The News-Times in Danbury, where I was named the paper's first "online editor" in 2005. I also had a brief stint on the web staff at The Hartford Courant.

3. How would you describe your operation and business model?

We're lean. We're a two-person staff. Our office fridge was purchased on the street from a kid at Yale. Our business model is evolving.

We're trying to diversify our revenue beyond foundation support. The challenge is that our core communities aren't rolling in cash -- but they need local journalism the most.

4. What do you consider your competition as a local news or information source?

It varies from town to town, but, basically legacy media. Connecticut is a small state with many news sources. In our area we have multiple TV stations, daily papers, a weekly, and online for profit sites.

5. What makes your site unique?

Our Facebook page -- Facebook.com/ValleyIndependentSentinel.

We use social media like the rest of the planet. We answer questions.

We repost information. We share our thoughts. Readers know when we take a day off. They know when my kid has the flu. It's more than just dumping our content and praying for clicks.

We don't have the money to give away iPad watches and a trip to Martha's Vineyard to gain followers. They "like" us because it's a place to get information about their town or city.

6. What is something you wish you had known when you were starting out or would do differently now that could perhaps serve as advice for others?

I wish I had minored in ad sales.

7. What about your operation is your biggest source of pride right now?

Last year we participated in The Great Give, a national day of nonprofit fundraising. All told we raised about $10,000. Ethan Fry (the other reporter) and I did a 36-hour webcast. We were hallucinating at the end. I cried at one point. But we made a real connection with our neighbors and we were genuinely touched by their donations.

8. What do you struggle with the most?

Figuring out how to keep the lights on for the long term. And how to cover everything. We're down one person since we launched, so we're stretched thin like the rest of journalism.

9. What are some of your future goals for the site?

We're currently working with a consultant on a development plan. It's exciting and terrifying, and it's shaking me to the core because I'm learning new skills. Or at least thinking about new skills. You have to work on revenue. When I was hired, I said I didn't want to worry about that. I would just bring eyeballs. But in 2016 you have to try to do both.

10. Why are you a member of LION Publishers?

I respect Connecticut journalists Matt DeRienzo, Doug Hardy and Christine Stuart. They were members and I saw conversations they were having on Facebook. I joined to learn from others. Also, I was told there would be coffee. Where is the coffee?