Earlier this week, the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus newspapers eliminated the position of editorial editor. This ends the tenure of David Moats, who has been with the Herald since 1982. In 2001, he won a Pulitzer Prize for editorials he wrote in favor of same-sex civil unions in Vermont.
Moats was considering retirement, but it was not his decision to leave.
"It came about after some discussions about what I might want to be doing and trying to figure out how it fit with their plans under new ownership and their plans for getting the paper back on its feet and so on," Moats said. "I had been looking towards something different. They sort of gave me a nudge toward what I was contemplating anyway."
David Moats spoke to VPR's Henry Epp. Listen to their interview above.
In 2016, 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 from the Mitchell family, who had owned them for 70 years.
Moats says he's fine with the decision to eliminate his position, but he's heard from others who are feeling a sense of loss.
"I think it's mostly about what's happening in the newspaper industry. You know, I'm one person, but the newspaper industry as a whole all across the country has been contending with these economic forces that are causing newspapers to shrink and people to lose their jobs even," he said.
"I have a good friend who was a reporter of national stature at a paper out in California. And he saw the handwriting on the wall and took a buyout. The people at big papers take buyouts and they move on, other people get laid off here in Vermont. A lot of people have lost their jobs as things, you know, shrink down and it's all a matter of newspaper economics which are tough."
"I think it says that they have to allocate their resources where they most need them, and I think what the Rutland Herald and Times Argus are thinking is they need local coverage of local news and the editorials can be written by other editors," Moats said. "Maybe they'd like to have an editorial page editor but it may be a luxury that they can't afford."
Moats said newspapers traditionally have maintained a divide between editorial page editors and news editors, which allows news editors to maintain their objective view. When news editors are charged with writing editorials, as the Rutland Herald plans to do, Moats says it can be challenging. The Rutland Herald told readers that news editors Steve Pappas and Roger Carroll will write editorials and select letters to the editor for the papers' editorial pages.
When asked about the highlights of his career, Moats said winning a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for his editorials on civil unions was a great moment of accomplishment. It was the first Pulitzer for a Vermont newspaper. He followed up with a book on the same subject, Civil Wars: A Battle for Gay Marriage.
But Moats says he was also particularly proud of his editorials following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I really sort of dived into writing editorials about 9/11 for a few weeks afterwards, and those editorials won a New England first place prize for 9/11 editorials. And I thought 'OK, I've still got it.'"
Disclosure: Moats is an occasional VPR commentator.