Friday, October 7, 2022

Two More Vermont Newspapers Cease Printing

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Two more Vermont news organizations have ceased printing paper editions this month, citing the costs and rapidly changing habits of readers.

The Waterbury Reader, a free weekly community newspaper produced in partnership with the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus since 2020, will print its final copy this Friday. The move follows a similar decision by the editors of the Vermont Cynic, UVM’s student newspaper, to cease printing and focus on its online report.

“As nostalgic and wonderful as it is to see our work in print, it is not the future of media,” wrote Ella Ruehsen, the Cynic‘s editor in chief, and Eric Scharf, its managing editor, in a note to readers earlier this month.

The decisions underscore how the pandemic has accelerated the decades-long decline in print journalism. Online news sources — many of them free — have proliferated.

The news site Waterbury Roundabout was founded in May 2020, two months after a community weekly, the Waterbury Record, was shuttered by its owner, the Vermont Community Newspaper Group.

The group’s publisher, Greg Popa, said at the time the pandemic had exacerbated the already challenging advertising environment for the paper. The group also owns the Stowe Reporter and the News & Citizen in Morrisville.

To fill the void in local news, Lisa Scagliotti, a former Burlington Free Press reporter, founded Waterbury Roundabout with the help of UVM journalism students. A few months later, the Times Argus began mailing a free paper called the Central Vermont Reader to readers in Waterbury and parts of Duxbury and Bolton. Scagliotti took note and started talking to Steve Pappas, the paper’s executive editor, about partnering to make a Waterbury-focused edition of the Reader.

The Times Argus paid $500 a week for stories and photos from the Roundabout’s staff, which included coverage of schools, government and development by a harried Scagliotti paired with scenic images by photographer Gordon Miller. Though appreciated by residents, Waterbury Reader never developed the advertising revenue needed to make the edition viable, Scagliotti said.

“It was just costing them money every week,” she said.

Pappas acknowledged losing about $900 a week for most of the nearly two years the Reader was printed, or nearly $100,000. While the partnership with 

Scagliotti was strong and the reception by readers overwhelmingly positive, the business community did not share their enthusiasm, he said.
“There was a disconnect there that is still a little befuddling to me,” Pappas said.

Some local businesses felt that the nonprofit organization Revitalizing Waterbury did a sufficient job of marketing the town to tourists, while national advertisers found the community to be between the population centers of Burlington and Barre-Montpelier, Pappas said.

But mostly, he owned the failure to drum up local advertising support.

We did not have boots on the ground there and were not raising the flag there on a long-term basis to build the relationships you need for ad support,” he said.

The decision is unrelated to recent changes at the North Haverill, N.H.-based commercial printer Upper Valley Press that have affected the printing of some others papers in Vermont, Pappas said.

The weekly Journal Opinion in Bradford recently switched delivery from Wednesday to Thursday after parting ways with Upper Valley Press. The printer is shuttering one of its presses, which forced the Journal Opinion to shift to a Maine printer, that newspaper reported.

The Times Argus and its sister paper, the Rutland Herald, shifted their production away from Upper Valley Press last year and are now printed in Québec, while the three remaining Readers will continue to be printed in Elizabethtown, N.Y.

Pappas encouraged readers to continue to support the Roundabout news site. The final edition of the paper, due Friday, September 23, will feature hard news about the hiring of a new town manager and a retrospective of some of the best covers, Scagliotti said.

“I got a little teary when I saw the cover, and I said ‘Oh, no! Is this the last print paper I work for?’” she said.

A recent surge in donations to the Roundabout was encouraging, and 

plans are afoot to build the site’s advertising base, which it will need following the loss of the revenue from the Reader, she said .

Meanwhile, the Vermont Cynic, founded in 1883, has halted its print version twice before. The first time was the spring of 2020, when  the university switched to remote classes during the pandemic. It resumed in the fall, only to stop printing “for financial reasons and due to a lack of print readership,” the editors wrote.

Printing resumed again in the spring, but fewer and fewer copies were being picked up.

“We do not want to see our hard work accumulating in the depths of campus waste receptacles,” the editors wrote in a September 6 note to readers.

The staff has shifted its focus to the paper’s web presence and social media accounts, which will relieve them of the pressure to “fill the pages” and allow them to focus more on “quality over quantity.”

“There are innumerable opportunities for growth online, and we are excited to carry on the spirit of the Cynic’s journalistic tradition whilst keeping up with the times and meeting readers where they’re at,” they wrote.


(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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