Well, geez. I go out of town for a few days, and the Easter Island Statue of Vermont media gets up and leaves.
Veteran Vermont journalist Mark Johnson announced Monday he will be leaving WDEV radio to take a position as senior reporter/editor at the online news site, VTDigger.
Johnson has hosted the popular public affairs, call-in program for 25 years, 16 years with WDEV in Waterbury and for nine years before that with WKDR, a Burlington station that Johnson also co-owned.
His last program is scheduled for Aug. 28.
Disclosure: I’ve been an occasional substitute host on Mark’s show for several years. But this has no bearing on my comments here.
This is a fantastic move by VTDigger, and a tremendous loss for the radio audience and for WDEV.
First, Digger. It’s the #1 news site for Vermont policy and politics, but its big weakness is the constant turnover in its reporting staff. The senior journalists, basically Anne Galloway and Tom Brown, work incredibly hard, but Mark will significantly strengthen their efforts in keeping things on track and making the journalism even stronger. Heck, maybe they can even find ways to slow the turnover rate.
Second, us. The Mark Johnson Show has been THE meeting place for ideas, people, and politicians in Vermont. VPR’s “Vermont Edition” just doesn’t compare, because it’s a tightly-formatted, scripted enterprise. Mark takes the time to explore. He has the time to push and prod when it’s called for. He’s really good at creating an open, welcoming platform for guests and callers, even as he retains the right to bring the hammer down. Sure, there were days when nothing much was going on; but there’s great value in having that consistent, daily presence.
Third, WDEV. I hope they realize what they’re about to lose. WDEV is a modern marvel: a locally-owned, locally-programmed radio station, an invaluable community resource. But Mark was their ticket to credibility on the broader stage. He gets the big guests. He breaks news. His show gives WDEV cachet among the movers and shakers.
I hope WDEV plans to continue the show. And I hope they can find a new host who’s at least in the same ballpark as Mark Johnson for quality and integrity. If they don’t, it’ll be a huge loss for his audience and for the station itself.