Tag Archives: Rob Mitchell

A Gloomy Day for Vermont Newspapers

There were two pieces of bad news on the state’s media front today — one substantive, the other more symbolic.

The latter is the departure of Rob Mitchell from the Rutland Herald and Barre Montpelier Times Argus. The former is the fully-consummated merger of Burlington Free Press owner Gannett with GateHouse, forming the largest (by far) newspaper chain in the country. The combined entity, now saddled with $1.8 billion in debt and facing continued declines in circulation and ad revenue, is set to go on a cost-cutting spree that could eliminate more than 10 percent of its workforce.

Mitchell had continued to serve as general manager of the papers after their 2016 sale to Pennsylvania-based Sample Newspapers. His resignation marks the end of more than 80 years of Mitchell family involvement in the two papers.

If he’s being in any way forced out by the new owners, he’d doubtless keep that to himself. He did say that “I started to realize that I wasn’t growing in this role anymore,” which could be taken to mean that he didn’t see a future under outside ownership.

The Mitchells’ tenure wasn’t perfect, but they were at least local owners answerable to their own communities. Sample, whose properties include a few dailies and a lot of weeklies and free shoppers, has no such ties. So far, its tenure has not seen noticeable cuts — but neither has there been any tangible sign of strengthening the Herald and Times Argus, which have been bare-bones operations for years.

The Gannett/GateHouse deal creates a true industry monster that will control 18 percent of America’s dailies. Ken Doctor, news industry analyst who writes the Newsonomics column for the Nieman Foundation, expects that one in eight G/G employees will be out of a job by the end of 2020. And that’s on top of a fresh round of layoffs expected to come even before the GateHouse bloodletting begins.

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At my daily paper, questions are many and answers few

You know what I think? I think daily newspapers, even in this era of shrinkage, have an obligation to their “consumers” and the communities they serve. It’s an obligation more honored in the breach than in the observance, as a smart guy once said.

In my opinion, daily papers have a duty to be as transparent in their own operations as they expect other institutions to be.

They aren’t, of course. Oh, they have an excuse: they are private entitles, not bound by the same standards as public organizations (plus whoever they choose to hunt down with their journalistic blunderbusses). But to my eye, daily papers are a different animal. They occupy a unique and valuable parcel in our public common. This is especially true of the daily paper, but it’s also true of, oh, say, VPR, for instance.

If you don’t like the way a retail store does business, you go down the street. But a daily paper, even a failing one, occupies an unassailable position in its community. It is a de facto monopoly. In the way it operates, it is more like the Burlington Electric Department than, say, Walmart.

Plus there’s the principle of the thing, that newspapers expect others to abide by standards they themselves ignore.

Which brings us to today’s Mitchell Family Runaround at the offices of the Rutland Herald.

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