I’ve got nothing bad to say about Emilie Stigliani, the now-departed executive editor of the Burlington Free Press. She’s smart, energetic, open-minded, and apparently a poet as well, who knew. She’s now departed for Sacramento after nine years at the Freeps, the last three as ExEd.
Stigliani’s job was the professional equivalent of pushing the boulder up the mountain and waking up the next morning back at the bottom. She presided over the paper at a point well into its decline phase, as ad revenue and subscriptions dwindled away, newsstand sales essentially disappeared, and her corporate bosses continued to expect handsome profits off the ever-diminishing operation.
None of that was her fault. Nor was it her fault that, during her tenure, I canceled my online subscription because the Free Press had become all but irrelevant to my work and my interests.
The good people of Brattleboro must be wondering “What in hell happened to our local newspaper?” Because the Reformer’s owner, Belarusian native and skillionaire currency trader Paul Belogour, has begun exercising Rich Guy’s Prerogative over the paper’s content.
Last week the Reformer published a despicable opinion piece by Belogour entitled “War is the Answer” in which he explained why the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a good thing. Well, actually, he didn’t say “invasion.” He said “the war between Russia and Ukraine,” which is exactly like saying “the battle between lion and antelope.”
That was bad enough, but at least it was labeled “opinion” and carried the usual disclaimer “The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.” But now the paper has published a “news” article that’s essentially a handjob for the boss.
The story, entitled “Refugees to be housed at Belogour’s Bulgarian hotel; his pro soccer team opens doors to displaced women, children.” Said soccer team is also in Bulgaria. It doesn’t even try to connect the story with Brattleboro, because there is no connection.
And it carries the weakest possible disclosure. Belogour is identified, deep in the article, as the owner of Vermont News & Media. Astute readers will know that’s the parent company of the Reformer, Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal. The rest of the reading public will not make that connection. It’s a deceptive, inadequate disclosure. But I bet it made the boss happy.
Those pieces are bad enough. What we don’t know is how many pieces have not been published. Newspapers have wide latitude when it comes to running wire service copy and syndicated columnists. If there was a ban on coverage of the global communitys reaction or the humanitarian disaster or Russian aggression or the heroism of Ukraine’s president, we wouldn’t be able to tell.