The Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus are officially under new ownership. For the Mitchell family that owned the papers, the sale marks the end of an era that that spanned three generations and seven decades.
Reade Brower, owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes a number of newspapers in Maine, including the Portland Press Herald, and Chip Harris, co-founder of Upper Valley Press in New Hampshire, bought the financially-troubled Vermont papers for an undisclosed sum.
The story of the Vermont papers began with Robert Mitchell, who took ownership of the Herald just after World War II. He served as its publisher from 1947 until his death in 1993.
Bob’s son, R. John Mitchell, has been publisher of the Times Argus and later the Herald since 1979. And John’s son, Rob Mitchell, is the current editor-in-chief of the two papers.
Tom Slayton, editor-emeritus of Vermont Life Magazine and a VPR commentator, worked for the Mitchells for 20 years beginning in 1964.
“The legacy of the Mitchell family in my mind is that they were committed to community journalism," Slayton says. "And they saw the community not as just their circulation area, but as Vermont, as a statewide entity.”
Adds Slayton: “They committed a lot of money and resources to building up a reportorial and editorial staff that covered that community vigorously, and that’s an important part of a vital community.”
In 2001, the Herald won a Pulitzer Prize for David Moat’s controversial editorial series on civil unions. It was the first Pulitzer won by a Vermont paper.
Steve Costello, vice president for generation and energy innovation at Green Mountain Power, got his start at the Herald in 1985 as an intern. He worked as a reporter at the Times Argus as well.
Costello says in Rutland, the importance of the Herald can’t be overstated.
“It really is one of the key parts of the community, and the loss of it would have been a devastating thing for Rutland and for Rutland County," Costello says. "So I think now there’s just an incredible sense of relief that the paper will stay and that it's going into independent hands as opposed to a big chain.”
Like many papers, the Herald and Times Argus have faced increasing financial difficulties. In July, the papers cut back to a four-day a week publishing schedule, angering many subscribers. Financial problems worsened, however, leading the Mitchells to sell.
According to reports in the Herald, the new owners are considering resuming a seven-day-a-week publishing schedule.
The Herald was first published in 1794. Its sale ends the paper’s tradition as the oldest family-owned newspaper in continuous operation published under the same name in the same city in the United States.