Southern Vermont: Journalism-free zone?

A while ago I was chatting with somebody from Seven Days, and I half-jokingly suggested that Vermont’s only financially healthy print publication should think about launching a Southern Vermont Edition. Or at least, including some southern Vermont content within the existing paper. (The Rutland Herald and Times Argus share stories, but what’s front page in one is often on page 5 in the other.)

Well, it might just be go time.

New England Newspapers Inc., has laid off 10 editorial employees in Vermont and Massachusetts.

The company laid off three newsroom staffers at the [Brattleboro] Reformer. Tom D’Errico, the manager of content marketing, Mike Faher, senior reporter, and Pat Smith, the newsroom clerk, were given notice on Friday. On June 12, Michelle Karas, the managing editor of the Reformer and the [Bennington] Banner left earlier to take a job at The Colorado Springs Gazette. The Banner laid off newly hired reporter Jacob Colone, and the [Manchester] Journal let go of Brandon Canevari.

Leaving two papers with “skeleton crews”: three reporters at the Banner and only two at the Reformer, whose coverage of Vermont Yankee has been invaluable to the entire state. And at the Journal, they’re facing a Zen question: what do you call a newspaper with no reporters? That’s right: zero.

All three papers are owned by the troubled Digital First Media chain, whose strategery of cutting, slashing, and at the same time trying to exploit the digital news space, has been an abject failure. A hedge fund backed out of a planned purchase of the entire DFM chain; since then, it has started selling off its more desirable properties.

Which, need it be said, do not include three newspapers in sparsely populated areas of a tiny state.

Apparently, DFM is borrowing a page from the Jigsaw playbook: dismembering their assets and selling the furnishings and property. Oh, wait:

The Reformer building is listed for sale.

Needless to say, this is a big dose of bad news for readers in southern Vermont — and for those of us in the rest of the state who care about events down south. Because our “statewide” media (VTDigger, VPR, Seven Days, the TV outlets, and the Burlington Free Prhahahahaha) pretty much ignore everything that happens south of Route 4.

DFM’s abdication could open the door for entrepreneurial efforts to claim the vacated news space, but that’s a long-odds proposition. The population is so spread out, that it’s hard to properly resource a journalistic enterprise and attract enough advertisers to cover the costs. The Commons is trying to make a go of it as an online-only news outlet* in Brattleboro, but it’s a hard row to hoe.

So how about it, Seven Days? One reporter each in Brattleboro and Bennington, plus a little bump in the stringer budget?

*Correction: I received a note from Randy Holhut of The Commons: “We’re not an onlne-only operation. We publish and distribute about 9,000 copies a week to all of Windham County, and the contiguous towns in Rutland, Windsor, and Bennington counties, plus a bit of Massachusetts and New Hampshire.”

My apologies. I hope DFM’s cuts will open more space for enterprises like The Commons to grow. Can we get a similar thing going in Bennington?

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4 thoughts on “Southern Vermont: Journalism-free zone?

  1. Bryan

    I suggest they start their own local news sites. That’s what I did up in Newport, and now have about 30K readers a month. In fact, if you know any reporters down in southern Vermont that want to do so, I can get them started easily, with a website, and about 1 and a half years experience building a flourishing hyperlocal. Seriously, pass that info on. Any reporter who wants to start a news site, contact me through Newport Dispatch.

    Reply
  2. Lee Russ

    When it comes to media–of any kind–it’s really desolate down here. It’s even worse in Bennington than it is in Brattleboro. It’s so bad that even distributing Seven Days down here would be an improvement, with or without actual coverage of events in “the bottom third” of the state.

    Reply
  3. jillm

    The Valley News, which is a good solid paper, is the appropriate paper for Windham (and Cheshire, NH) County — it would be the next “stop” as this well established paper on the Connecticut River continues its southward expansion. That said, having Seven Days recognize that this area on the western side of the river is a part of Vermont would also be great.

    Reply
  4. Shawn

    The Chester Telegraph is in its fourth year covering Chester and expanding to Andover, Grafton, Londonderry and Weston. It is exclusively online and page views have basically doubled every year. It’s still on a shoestring, but the readership growth says there are thirsty people in the news deserts.

    Reply

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