The editorial staffs at a number of small-town newspapers in Vermont and Massachusetts are getting smaller still.
New England Newspapers Inc., has laid off 10 editorial employees at papers it owns including the Brattleboro Reformer, the Bennington Banner and the Manchester Journal. The layoffs leave skeleton crews at the three Vermont newspapers.
While there’s still no official announcement from the newspaper chain, Randy Holhut of the Brattleboro nonprofit weekly The Commons says he obtained a memo from the company that the layoffs were to make the paper more profitable.
“This was timed with the end of the fiscal year—and done with an eye toward making it more profitable for a potential buyer,” says Holhut.
Apollo Global Management, a hedge fund, was poised to purchase the national newspaper company in the spring, but backed out.
The layoffs come as a big blow to small-town media, and southern Vermont in particular lost some of its main sources of local news.
"When news becomes a commodity rather than public service, this is what happens,” says Holhut. “You’re there to satisfy hedge funds and stockholders instead of people who are readers, listeners, viewers.”
“When profit comes ahead of public service and this is what you get.”
The Brattleboro Reformer lost news clerk, Patricia Smith who had been at the paper more than 40 years; “she’s pretty much the institutional memory and soul of the newsroom.”
The Reformer also lost another reporter and a former editor who had moved into marketing. Bennington lost a reporter, and the Manchester Journal lost its only reporter—the paper is down to an editor only.
Holhut hopes The Commons can help to fill the void to some degree.
“With a nonprofit newspaper like ours, community participation is essential to making it work,” he says.
Vermont's VTDigger.org broke the news of the layoffs earlier this week.