‘Stuck In Vermont’ Series Elevates The Everyday

Eva Sollberger has been producing her video profile series of Vermonters and their stories for Burlington alt weekly Seven Days for the past 15 years. Her empathetic, well-honed storytelling — and ultra-long tail features — have made her one of the state’s most recognized and beloved journalists.

Vermont has a mud problem. As grounds thaw from winter, warmer spring conditions help turn the many dirt roads that crisscross the state into sloppy, car- and truck-tire traps. However, this year’s mud season, according to one local publication, was on a scale of “biblical proportions.” Some fear global climate change was to blame, and may incite longer, more challenging area mud seasons going forward.

But the issue is not a new one, and locals have adapted in crafty ways, particularly in the state’s most rural stretches where blacktop is as rare as cell phone signals. In places like East Barnard, a village of a few hundred people, neighbors rely on neighbors for crucial information on the state of the roads. Crowd-sourced data is spread through an email newsletter, The Crier, while good ol’ word-of-mouth also keeps drivers of trucks and compact cars alike from getting stuck in the mud.

Sue Schlabach photo

It was the perfect story for video journalist Eva Sollberger to dive into. After all, her series chronicling local human-interest stories, which she’s produced for 15 years, is called Stuck In Vermont.

“I like stories that are complicated and have interesting people at the heart of them,” says Sollberger, 48, who was born in Upstate New York, then lived in Manhattan until the age of 7, when her single mom moved her to Vermont. She left for college and remained abroad through early adulthood, but returned to Vermont at age 30 in 2004.

Sollberger admits that the title of her series is a bit “saucy,” rooted in her early-teen boredom with the place, though she’s since grown to love what she calls the “cornucopia” of people in Vermont, which include “salt of the earth” traditional farmer types and hippie “weirdos” who flocked to the state in the 1970s.


Though Sollberger had been well aware of the area’s inescapable mud issue for years, the extreme nature of this year’s conditions compelled her to finally cover it the only way she could: by talking to folks who’ve been deeply affected by the situation and who have intriguing tales to tell — people of which Vermont has no shortage.

She turned to Facebook for help.

After posting a call for ideas, Sollberger connected with one user who acted as a portal into the East Barnard community, connecting her to the best sources. That can be a challenge for someone like her, who conspicuously swoops into small towns from Vermont’s biggest city, Burlington, armed with camera equipment.

“It’s just a good feeling when it all comes together,” Sollberger says of the final product. Her nine-minute segment teems with quality quotes from locals. (“Only the people that aren’t used to living here complain about it,” said one area driver about the mud in the clip.) There are also lengthier stays with The Crier newsletter publisher and the village’s de facto historian, an engaging old-timer named John Leavitt.

James Buck photo

It’s the type of production she’s pieced together nearly 700 times for publication across the digital wing of Seven Days, an independent weekly newspaper that often draws Village Voice-in-its-heyday comparisons. Stuck In Vermont videos are posted to Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, too, while the Gray Television CBS affiliate WCAX Burlington-Plattsburgh broadcasts trimmed down versions of Sollberger’s stories over the air as well.

Throughout much of her time producing Stuck In Vermont, Sollberger banged out one video per week, but she recently shifted to a twice-monthly model. She shoots between two and four hours of footage for each piece and spends 30 to 40 hours editing it. One too many all-nighters and the sense that she sometimes rolled out segments she herself didn’t find overwhelmingly fascinating inspired the downscale. Sometimes less is more, and Sollberger says she’s now “really picky,” choosing only “the best of the best” story ideas. She can shoot more B-roll and be more deliberate in the editing phase as well, making for tighter, better-crafted videos.

Sollberger has primarily operated as a proverbial “one-man band,” though sometimes she’ll hire an additional photographer or editor to help out on certain projects. Otherwise, the only budget for the videos is her salary.

Typically, she shoots — using a Canon C100 with a monopod, a GoPro HERO8 or an iPhone 13 Pro — and edits — with Adobe Premiere — everything on her own. There are few graphics in her stories, and on shoots she relies heavily on natural light. She’s also adopted the practice of hooking up a DJI Mic 2-person compact digital wireless microphone system to her iPhone when she needs to go extra small on the equipment, like if she’s touring the woods while filming. (Sollberger marvels at the iPhone 13 Pro technology, with its three lenses, and says the DJI mics she attaches to it take care of any sound issues that shooting with just the phone might create. The mics work great even in wind, she says.)

Publicists pitch Sollberger story ideas all the time, as do countless Vermonters via email and other means. Sollberger says she just goes with her gut on which stories she chooses — usually the ones she just jibes with the most.

“If I don’t like the people I’m editing for hours and hours, that’s going to be painful,” she says. “For me, the litmus test is I want people to be passionate about what they do.”

While Stuck In Vermont has a relatively modest following on social media, Sollberger says she rarely walks down the street without someone stopping her to talk about the series. They not only tell her how much they enjoy it, but oftentimes they also map out the few degrees of separation between themselves and one of her subjects. She says she gets emailed responses to her work from people who have left Vermont and miss it, people who are interested in living in Vermont and others who just appreciate good human stories.

If nothing else, her enduring partnership with Seven Days speaks to her series’ impact on both the community and the publication.

Seven Days’ investment in Eva has paid off in greater visibility for our free weekly newspaper and our brand, and her series has attracted a number of sponsors over the years,” says Seven Days deputy publisher Cathy Resmer. “But it’s impossible to quantify the value of 15 years of finely crafted footage, available for free and accessible on YouTube. Eva’s videos are an extension of what Seven Days does in print each week, and they’re undoubtedly part of the reason that a few thousand readers voluntarily pay us for content we’re providing. It matters to them. That’s a real achievement!”

Resmer adds that the state “doesn’t have many celebrities, but Eva qualifies,” and volunteers that Sollberger’s work has earned top honors from local news associations as well.

Jude Domski photo

“Eva’s videos succeed because she takes the time to get to know her subjects,” Resmer says. “She genuinely enjoys talking with 9-year-olds and 90-year-olds and everyone in between. She stays in touch, too, and follows up when a child performer makes it to Broadway, or onto American Ninja Warrior. She’s also produced obituaries for those who have died, and chronicled Vermonters’ collective grief and resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“It’s as colorful as it can be,” Sollberger says of Stuck In Vermont. “You get to know my subjects as well as you can in, like, seven minutes, and you walk away wanting to know more.”

Editor’s Note: This is the latest of TVNewsCheck’s “Newsroom Innovators” profiles, a series showcasing people and news organizations evolving the shape and substance of video reporting. These profiles examine the inception of their innovations, the tools they employ and how they’re reconciling experimental approaches to news storytelling within daily workflows. You can find the others here.

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply