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Slayton: Vermont Life Eulogy

To my mind, the passing of Vermont Life Magazine is a sad and sobering cultural milestone.

It was founded in 1946, when Vermont needed to promote itself more effectively. At that time, the state was an economic backwater and wanted to pump some life into its economy by attracting tourists and new residents. The most popular American magazine of that time was Life magazine, which practically invented photo-journalism. And so the idea of creating a Vermont version of Life magazine to tell Vermont’s story, richly illustrated with color photography, was conceived, and Vermont Life was born!

Early issues were frankly promotional. But as the magazine, and Vermont, matured, the emphasis became more and more to capture the essence of Vermont, still putting the state’s best foot forward, but with depth and intelligence. It aimed to convince the outside world — and to some extent Vermonters themselves — that we were “a special world.”

A big part of the magazine’s appeal was that it celebrated Vermont’s incomparable countryside in beautiful color photographs. But it also published some of the best writers in the state and looked searchingly at environmental and social issues like town meeting and the future of farming.

Growing up here, Vermont Life made me proud to be a Vermonter. It defined us in a way that I and many others found pleasing and enriched our understanding and experience of our home state. Later, I was honored to serve for nearly twenty-two years as the magazine’s editor.

And for more than 7 decades Vermont Life defined the Vermont “brand” — that special something that makes this state distinctive. It helped deepen how both Vermonters and the rest of the world understand Vermont and was, at its best, an exploration and celebration of the many good places and people that are found here.

It was remarkably successful in promoting both tourism and in-migration. A recent reader survey shows that the magazine has had a direct economic impact on the Vermont economy of thirty-three-point-five million dollars annually.

If Vermont wants to encourage such things, the state needs to find a way to revive Vermont Life, revisit its definition as a magazine, and return it to its original purpose.

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