Saturday, August 6, 2016

Will Historic Vermont Newspaper Bite The Dust?

The Rutland Herald in better days, winning
the Pulitze Prize for editorials in 2001. 

The situation still is mirky at the Rutland Herald, with management still not really explaining what's going on.

As you saw before this update, pay checks for reporters and staff bounced, and there are other signs of a sinking financial ship at the nation's oldest family owned newspaper.

A newspaper that stresses transparancy sure isn't demonstrating it.

Management finally did have a meeting with staff Monday. Such a meeting had been previously delayed

Editor in chief Rob Mitchell would only release a statement to the media, and not take further questions.

Mitchell said the financial picture "looks worse from the outside than it is," and "At this point, there are still things we can't talk about, for a variety of reasons."

Mitchell said the Rutland Herald has a future.

Let's hope so.

Meanwhile, Alan Keays, the editor who was fired for wanting to pursue the story of what's going on with the Herald's finances over the objection of management, spoke out to Vermont Public Radio.

Keays said:

"This is actually the first day since I left college that I haven't had a job in journalism. I had to do the story, I just wish there was a way that the management would have trusted us to do it in a fair way and in a credible way.  I wish they would have trusted me and the staff to do that."


There's a soon-to-be not so daily, once venerable newspaper in Vermont called the Rutland Herald that might be tottering on the edge of its existence.

If it is about to close, it'll be one of the nation's oldest newspapers to fold.

It started in 1794 and has been a fixture in central Vermont ever since. It even won a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for its editorials on civil unions, which was a precursor to gay marriage.

It's plain, though, that the iconic Rutland Herald is in trouble. Like many newspapers nationwide, the Herald has been suffering for years.  
The Rutland Herald recently announced it was only going to be published  four days a week, instead of every day.

Even worse and more ominously, staff payroll and expense checks bounced, and the management of the family-owned newspaper has not yet explained why, says a front page article in the Rutland Herald this week.

Worse, according to the Burlington weekly paper Seven Days, the Rutland Herald's editor in chief, Alan Keays, was fired Friday afternoon, either for approving running the story, or for OK'ing another follow up story he'd planned for today's paper.

The people doing the firing were Rutland Herald owner R. John Mitchell and publisher Catherine Nelson.

Seven Day says so far, Mitchell and Nelson are not returning their phone calls and emails.

That Keays  might have been fired for OK'ing reporting on something that was definitely of interest to readers of the Rutland Herald is a no-no.

True, no business likes their dirty laundry aired to the public, but newspapers are a special case. Journalism is supposed to be all about transparency. When the owner of a newspaper interfered with editorial decisions like this, it's not good. 

Keay's dismissal prompted a walkout by much of the rest of Rutland Herald's staff, says Seven Days, but I think enough people returned to put out a paper. Seven Days, at last check was calling it a "fluid situation" at the Herald. said staffers were convinced to come back after Mitchell said he might un-fire Keays. But it was unclear as of this writing if that actually happened.

Morale must be SO wonderful at the Rutland Herald. A popular editor is canned, the staff wants to revolt, and they are not getting paychecks, at least not in a timely manner.

The payroll problems that started in July seem to be ongoing, too. VTDigger,org says no direct deposit payroll checks were available Friday, but the Herald issued checks without full payroll deduction information.

Some employees cashed their checks at the company bank because they worried about getting bounce fees if they tried it at their own banks, says


By the way, the Rutland Herald might get in trouble with the Vermont Department of Labor because of this payroll mess if it keeps going on, says VTDigger.

As was the case with Seven Days reporter, the publisher and owner of the Rutland Herald did not return numerous calls from VTDigger.

Reporters and other staffers at the Herald also said they have been kept in the dark about the financial crisis, too.

There's journalistic transparency for ya!

In general, newspapers have not figured out how to stay profitable when everything is available at the click of a mouse.

Like it or not, it gets more and more apparent every year that newspapers are passe.  At least in traditional forms, like, you know, actual newspapers.

The newspapers are on line, too, but being online apparently isn't profitable for the papers.

In 2013, I was booted from my position as a reporter for the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press as part of cost cutting moves by Gannett, the Free Press parent company.

You don't realize when you're in it how bad things get amid repeated cost cutting until the issue is forced, like in my case when I was finally laid off. I actually felt better after being let go.

I still miss the daily rush of trying to meet deadlines, explaining in written words the issues of the day in a way that was compelling and interesting to people, directly questioning and holding accountable state and even national leaders, and being among the most informed people I know.

The reason I still write blog posts like this one is I like to have that writing outlet still in play

I also know toward the end of my reporting days that  I was glorifying things.

I noticed the difference right away after I left the Free Press and still do. I've changed careers and now work at Gardener's Supply and also do independent work as a gardener.

No offense to the people at the Burlington Free Press, (though some offense intended at the parent company Gannett) I frankly have to say that since I left the Freeps three years ago, I now sometimes come home from work tired, but I never come home from work angry.

Still, I feel pangs of sadness when I see the Burlington Free Press as a shadow of its former self. Even worse watching the Rutland Herald implode.

I grew up around Rutland, Vermont, so that paper was a daily part of my existence for decades.

The world changes, industry changes, some things fall by the wayside. But I'm already think I should start mourning a Vermont institution that's been around for something like 220 years.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Matt
    Great wrap up. Growing plants is better than growing anger. So glad you are happy now. Vyto Starinskas. job elimniated at the Rutland Herald three years ago. Living in Sedona now