Tag Archives: Rutland Herald

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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State business grant gets flushed down the crapper

Bad news from down Bennington way, courtesy of The Banner:

With a two-paragraph note Thursday afternoon, a major Bennington employer for decades — Energizer — confirmed that the local factory will close.

Well, there go some nice manufacturing jobs in a community that’s taken more than its share of body blows. How many jobs is apparently a mystery; Energizer didn’t say, and The Banner couldn’t immediately find out. In 2015, the factory was downsized to an undisclosed extent (companies have learned to conceal the grim details of cutbacks and closings); at the time, per VTDigger, it employed “between 100 and 250 people.”

Sen. Dick Sears of Bennington learned of the plant’s closure — after the fact — in an email from a corporate stooge who offered hollow words of praise for “the years of productive engagement we have had with you and your office.”

That “productive engagement,” by the way, included a Vermont Training Program grant issued in April 2018 — only a year and a half ago. VTP provides taxpayer funds to cover up to 50 percent of training new workers or teaching new skills to existing workers.

I’m not sure, but I’m gonna guess here that Vermont had something a little more… uh, permanent in mind when it gave Energizer those dollars. Instead, the company didn’t even bother to inform state government until after it had publicly announced the plant closure.

Nice.

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Minter gets media boost

Didn’t see that coming.

The Burlington Free Press has endorsed Sue Minter.

As have the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.

Both are surprising; the latter because the ex-Mitchell Family papers are published in (1) the heartland of Vermont Republicanism and (2) Phil Scott’s home turf respectively. I mean, c’mon, Thunder Road.

The former because, well, I thought the Free Press’ endorsement of David Zuckerman sent clear signals that the paper would split its ticket and go with Scott.

Instead, we have the state’s three biggest newspapers going with Minter.

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Arrivederci, Mitchells

Big splashy headline in my morning paper: “Mitchells Agree to Sell Times Argus.” Actually, they’re selling the whole megillah: the Times Argus, Rutland Herald and associated print and online media entities.

You see that headline and you fear the worst: a big national chain like Gannett that’d commodify and multiplatform the papers into mush, or a low-budget media outfit that would strip-mine the papers into irrelevance.

But no, the Mitchell Empire is being sold to a guy. One guy, not some faraway corporation. The guy is Reade Brower, who seemingly owns just about every newspaper in the state of Maine. From a 2015 account of his purchase of MaineToday Media, which cemented his dominant position in Maine journalism:

MaineToday Media publishes the print editions of the Maine Sunday Telegram, the Portland Press Herald, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, and The Coastal Journal in Bath. MaineToday Media also operates the news websites MaineToday.com, PressHerald.com, and CentralMaine.com.

Brower, a longtime resident of Camden, currently owns The Free Press and Courier Publications – which publishes the Courier-Gazette in Rockland, The Camden Herald, and The Republican Journal in Belfast.

That passage, you should know, appeared in The Free Press — owned by Reade Brower. And there’s the rub: when you do a Google search for “Reade Brower,” you get a whole lot of links to articles from Brower-owned media operations.

As far as I can tell, which isn’t far, Brower is no Sheldon Adelson. He didn’t wade into the newa business to further his own interests. He built his empire bit by bit, and his origins are in printing and marketing, not casinos or fossil fuels. He seems to have a legitimate desire to preserve print journalism and find ways for it to survive the modern era.

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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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Son of Racism Is Bustin’ Out All Over

You think the deadly combo platter of two seemingly needless police killings of black men plus the Dallas killing of police officers by a black man has kinda lanced a boil on America’s psyche? Because everywhere there’s talk of racism — and the denial of same by white folks who are way too defensive about the whole thing.

Last week, I wrote about a bunch of racially-tinged incidents tainting the pure and blessed landscape of Vermont, and now we’ve got some more to share.

Coming up, signs that the authorities in Bennington Still Don’t Get It, even in the face of a potentially expensive lawsuit… and further evidence of cowardice in Vermont’s second city.

But first, the Burlington Free Press reports that some locals have their knickers in a knot because Ferrisburgh’s Rokeby Museum had the audacity to put up some “Black Lives Matter” placards.

The Rokeby is a small museum dedicated, in part, to Vermont’s role in the Underground Railroad. The Robinson family, who lived on the property, were Quaker abolitionists who sheltered runaway slaves. The signs were hung in May to honor “the legacy of the Robinsons as social justice activists.”

In the aftermath of the Dallas shootings, it’s gotten a little tense down Rokeby way.

A young man who came in to ask about the signs, became angry, thinking they supported violence against police and white people — himself included.

One person called and another posted a Facebook message on the museum’s page demanding the signs be taken down… By the end of the day on Friday there were at least five response that left staff feeling vulnerable.

(Note: yes, it’s incorrectly spelled “response” in the Free Press story. No proofreaders need apply.)

Funny, isn’t it, how a single incident of black-on-white violence can shatter the automatic assumption of safety that’s part of White Privilege in America?

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The decline of the newspaper continues apace

Sad, but entirely predictable, news from the world of Vermont media. The Mitchell family newspapers, the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, will no longer be daily papers as of early next month.

Both organs are jettisoning their Monday through Wednesday print editions, and will publish physical newspapers Thursday through Sunday. Thursday and Sunday are the biggest advertising days of the week, with Friday not far behind. The news was reported first by Seven Days; a few hours later, both papers posted stories about the change online.

Many newspapers around the country have already abandoned daily delivery. My old hometown paper, the Ann Arbor News, publishes only on Thursday and Sunday. Which is a disgrace, because Ann Arbor is a prosperous city of more than 100,000 with masses of affluent suburbs on every side.

The Mitchells and their minions have been doing yeoman’s work in maintaining a daily schedule AND providing decent coverage of local news AND a two-person Statehouse bureau. The T-A and Herald do a lot more with less than, say, the Burlington Free Press.

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