The Vermont Community Newspaper Group, the parent company of the Stowe Reporter and four other weekly newspapers, laid off one-third of its editorial staff last Thursday.
Loss of advertising revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to the layoffs.
The company terminated two editorial staffers and the company’s top editor, Tom Kearney, who has been with the paper for most of the last 15 years. Since mid-March, the company has also laid off two graphic artists and combined two administrative positions, the latter due to a retirement.
Publisher Greg Popa said the cuts were necessary to ensure the newspapers’ long-term survival. Remaining top-level employees have also taken double-digit pay cuts.
Kearney most recently was editor of the Stowe Reporter and News & Citizen community weeklies, in addition to being executive editor of the company’s other three community papers, The Other Paper of South Burlington, The Citizen, and Shelburne News.
“The loss of Tom is a gut punch,” said Popa. “In addition to being a great friend, he kicked up the level of professionalism at the Stowe Reporter and News & Citizen more than a few notches. There are too many accolades to mention and too many glowing adjectives come to mind. Suffice to say, under Tom’s leadership an impressive number of our reporters have been recognized by their peers as the best of the best.”
Andrew Martin was named New England Weekly Newspaper Reporter of the Year, Tommy Gardner won the Mavis Doyle award, given to the best reporter in Vermont, Scott Monroe won a Master Reporter award from the New England Society of News Editors, Nathan Burgess was both Vermont and New England Rookie of the Year, and Jesse Roman was Vermont Rookie of the Year. In each of the past two years, the newspapers brought home three dozen awards in the annual New England Newspaper and Press Association awards contest.
The Stowe Reporter was twice named best small weekly newspaper in New England.
Kearney has also been very active in numerous industry groups, including those that fight for transparency and openness in government, such as the New England First Amendment Coalition, the First Amendment Committee of the Vermont Press Association, and the N.H. Committee on Judiciary and the Media. During his decades at The Keene Sentinel, Kearney pursued hundreds of cases to ensure the public’s right to know and to keep officialdom accountable.
He’s a member of the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame and a Yankee Quill award winner.
Josh O’Gorman, who was recently promoted to assistant editor at the Stowe Reporter and News & Citizen and a longtime Vermont journalist, and reporter Mike Verillo were also cut. A part-time editor in The Other Paper office, Carole Vasta Folley, has also been let go.
The Vermont Community Newspaper Group ceased publication of a sixth title, the Waterbury Record, in March, due in part to revenue erosion from the coronavirus pandemic.
Jessie Forand, who had been managing editor of the three Chittenden County weeklies, becomes managing editor of all five titles on July 30. All editorial operations for the community newspaper group will now be centered at its Stowe office, 49 School St.
The company still has offices in South Burlington and Morrisville.
“The coronavirus and ensuing shutdown and subsequent slow reopening of Vermont’s economy presents an unprecedented challenge for the state’s media, particularly community newspapers like ours,” said Popa. “As folks increasingly turn to mobile devices and social media, they accelerate the erosion of their own communities. Silicon Valley-based social media platforms — even local platforms — invest little into anything other than their bottom lines.
“I’m confident we’ll come out the other side and start to re-employ journalists,” he said. “Otherwise, I’m left imagining a Vermont without its fine tradition of community journalism — the Valley News, Valley Reporter, Seven Days, and so many more — and instead be left with online bulletin boards and vapid commentary and mean-spirited one-liners on TV station websites and Facebook posts.”
“In 30 years of newspaper management, I’ve never cut an editorial job,” said Popa. “I’d like to never have to do it again.”