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Slayton: Newspaper Changes

A lifetime ago, fresh out of college, I went to work as a cub reporter at the Rutland Herald, and newspapering seemed like a great way to spend my life. The Herald newsroom was a noisy, churning hub of activity, cluttered with notes and old newspapers, typewriters and paste pots. And best of all, a collection of colorful characters — editors and other, more seasoned reporters — who live vividly in my memory to this day.

Out back, in the composing room, linotype machines clattered, and downstairs, in the pressroom, the printing press, a black, clanking behemoth, roared into action nightly, churning out newspapers with our stories — my stories! — that were bundled into a fleet of trucks and sent off into the night, headed for newsstands and front porches across Vermont.

It was exciting. It was the best.

And so the recent announcement that the newspapers I worked for, The Rutland Herald and the Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus, would no longer publish a print edition on Monday through Wednesday, but would rely more heavily on their website, was both shocking and depressing.

Yes, I know that times change, as the cliche has it. And it’s undeniable that the structure of the news business is undergoing a sea-change.

The growth of electronic media has hit daily papers especially hard. Over the past decade, advertising has migrated to the Internet, and readers have migrated to news websites on their cellphones. Electronic change, in other words, is taking away both circulation and advertising revenue — eating daily papers’ lunch, breakfast, and dinner.

Most Vermont newspapers have had to lay off reporters and editors, and as a result content has suffered. And new news sources, like the web-based VtDigger, have prospered in the resulting vacuum. The Burlington Free Press shrank to a tabloid some time ago, and now the Times-Argus and Rutland Herald are shrinking to four days a week publication.

Some print newspapers are flourishing, but often they have taken a different approach from the once-dominant dailies. For example the Burlington area weekly, Seven Days, just published a great piece by staffer Paul Heinz, who recounted the ease with which he bought an assault rifle in Burlington.

So there’s hope for those of us who still like the feel of newsprint in our hands, and ink on a printed page. But still, it’s hard not to grieve over the diminishment of the daily newspapers that now seem little more than shadows of their former lively, powerful selves.

Tom Slayton is a longtime journalist, editor and author who lives in Montpelier.
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