Spreading the News
|L-R: Sally E. Bahner, Mary Johnson, Bill O’Brien, Diana Stricker & Marcia Chambers. Image Source: Branford Eagle
The Branford Eagle cleaned up at this year’s Society for Professional Journalism (SPJ) Awards, receiving 15 awards for its local coverage of town news and community life. It was just the latest achievement for the local nonprofit news organization that has become an integral part of daily life along the Shoreline.
Now a decade old, the Eagle brings a level of quality reporting and writing not often seen in small towns.
“This is a labor of love,” said editor and founder Marcia Chambers. “We all love journalism,” Chambers said of herself and small staff.
The Branford Eagle started as a column that Chambers wrote for the online nonprofit news site, The New Haven Independent. A former reporter with the New York Times and Associated Press, Chambers had been looking for a professional change when her friends and neighbors convinced her that Branford needed more in-depth coverage of local politics. So she began attending meetings with a tape recorder and created a column focused on reporting rather than opinion.
Then in 2009, just before Christmas, the parent company of the Branford Review announced it was shuttering the weekly community newspaper. The weekly’s editor, long-time reporter and Branford resident Sally Bahner, called Chambers to discuss launching an online news site. With the help of New Haven Independent Editor Paul Bass, the Branford Eagle was expanded to provide daily coverage on its own site.
“We began to grow and cover the town in a way that it was not being covered,” Chambers said. “It’s been very tough to keep a high level of journalistic integrity. Anyone can put up a press release. It takes me two days to do a story. I have never just put up a press release. And I never will.”
Part of Online Journalism Project, the nonprofit parent of the New Haven Independent and Valley Independent Sentinel, the Branford Eagle relies on private donations and grants, including funding from The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.
The Eagle benefits from having a team of veteran reporters who are able to work part time in order to keep the costs down.
Chambers’ approach to her role as an editor is to let her reporters follow their own interests, which enriches the Eagle with a small town flavor. Bahner, for example, is passionate about cats, and reports on the feral cat community every winter.
“I know my reporters have certain likes and dislikes, so I appeal to their likes,” Chambers said.
Now at a stage in life when many would consider retiring, Chambers will not hear of such talk.
“It’s been an incredible ride,” she said. “I have never thought of retiring. I don’t believe in it. I like doing what I do.”
For more information about the Branford Eagle, visit its profile on giverGreater.org.
Did you know?
Nonprofit news organizations increased total site traffic by an average of 75 percent between 2011 and 2013. Source: The Knight Foundation
This story is part of the Inspiration Monday story series produced by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.