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Vermont Newspapers Forced To Cut Back During Coronavirus Outbreak

A newspaper front page.
Nina Keck
The Rutland Herald from Friday, the same day publisher Steven Pappas announced staff layoffs and a reduction in publication days for both the Herald and the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Papers across Vermont have had to cut back due to the coronavirus.

Updated 1 p.m. 3/26/2020

Vermont’s newspapers are in a tough spot. Already facing enormous financial challenges, the economic fallout from the coronavirus has made it even harder for them to cover what may be the biggest story for decades.

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With restaurants closed for all but take-out and stores no longer touting big sales, there’s much less need to advertise. And that’s hit newspapers hard. Nearly every day in the past week, a newspaper in Vermont has announced cuts.

Waterbury Record

The headline in this week's Waterbury Recordannounced it would be the community weekly’s last issue. The paper said it had struggled financially since its inception 13 years ago, but that the coronavirus pandemic had forced them to suspend operations.

New England Newspapers

Fred Rutberg is president of New England Newspapers, which publishes the Brattleboro Reformer, Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal.

“All the newspapers are in the same boat,” he said. Last week, Rutberg said, customers began canceling ads they'd already booked.

“It started cascading, so the beginning last week, we made some decisions," he said. "We asked everyone to take a five-day furlough, and we’ve adjusted some of our page counts.”

Rutberg said the decision will impact everyone in the organization over the next five weeks.

“From the press room, mail room, right up through the newsroom, right up through the executive wing, everyone,” he said. He added this will mean less local news at a time when communities need it even more.

Valley News

In a letter to readers Tuesday, Valley Newspublisher Dan McClory announced the West Lebanon, New Hampshire newspaper was reducing expenses, with layoffs and a reduction in hours for some employees.

"In the newsroom, we'll have less staff as we begin producing some news pages in coordination with the Concord Monitor, our sister publication in Concord, New Hampshire," he wrote.

Seven Days

Seven Days announced this week that it was laying off seven employees, pointing out in a story that the temporary cuts amounted to close to 15% of the paper’s staff of roughly 50 people.

Publisher and co-founder Paula Routly said in a separate Seven Days story last week that some 30% of the paper's ads comes through events, restaurants and "different ways that people gather." 

"Those advertisers have just dropped off overnight," Routly said.

Routly noted that in the company’s 25-year history, the paper had previously laid off just one employee, during the 2008 recession.

Addison County Independent

Angelo Lynn, publisher of the twice-weekly Addison County Independent, announced the paper will temporarily suspend its Monday edition. 

He said it has traditionally relied heavily on sports and entertainment news, content that doesn't exist right now.

“So we’re taking the other pages and just putting them in the Thursday paper, and at the same time, using the staff time to create more digital news," Lynn said.

He added that email newsletters will better cover how the rapidly changing coronavirus crisis is affecting local businesses and the community.

Lynn said a decline in advertising revenue may force them to implement short-term furloughs as well.

Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus

Last week, the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus laid off 20 staffers for a two-week period. And publication has been reduced from five to three days a week.

Publisher Steven Pappas told readers the papers would publish print editions on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, while continuing to provide news on the off-days (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) on their websites.

Yvonne Daley, a veteran journalist who worked for the Herald in the past and still contributes occasional stories, said considering what papers are up against, she’s grateful for the continued coverage.

“I hope their reporters are staying safe, and the editors and the rest of the staff," she said. "I know it’s a really difficult time for journalism.”

Williston Observer

The Williston Observer has launched a GoFundMe page to help the paper through the COVID-19 crisis. As of Tuesday afternoon, they've raised more than $1,300 of the $45,000 goal.

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