Marking a Journal milestone

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Dear Readers,

"Democracy requires citizenship, and citizenship requires a town square." This sentence set in motion the process that led my colleagues and me to buy the company that publishes this newspaper and return it to local ownership.

The purchase was one year ago, and this milestone is an opportunity to review our progress and outline our plans as we strive to make it the finest community newspaper in America.

While ownership has made significant investments of time and resources, everyone in the company, from the editors and top management through the pressmen and customer service reps have committed themselves to our mission, and they have worked hard to move us closer to our goal.

Change, both inside and out, has been the hallmark of our first year. The most obvious to you, our readers, is the redesign of the newspaper. Aside being pleasing to the eye, the pages of the newspaper are about 10 percent larger than they had been previously. Enlarging the size of the paper allows to use bigger type which, in turn, makes the paper easier to read. Moreover, it made the bold statement that we were growing and expanding at a time when almost all other newspapers in this country are busy contracting. Your response to the redesign was nothing short of overwhelming, for which we are very grateful.

The redesign of the paper was the tip of the iceberg. We also redesigned our websites to make them more attractive and user-friendly. Internally, we built a newspaper design hub, a circulation and subscription call center, and a finance office. With these functions being performed locally, we are able to be more responsive and act more nimbly, while bringing many full-time jobs back to our community. We also seamlessly replaced the three major computer systems that manage our news content, circulation and advertising.

As we announced last year, our business plan is quite simple: We will increase the quality and quantity of the content we publish, which we hope will lead to increased readership that will, in turn, guaranty our sustainability. In keeping with that plan, our major emphasis has been directed toward building and supporting our newsroom. We are truly proud of the progress we have made in this area, and I believe that pride is justified. At a time when newsrooms throughout the nation are shedding reporters and editors, we have been adding to our numbers. We have not only added the size of our newsrooms but we have managed to attract people of extraordinary talent and experience to our publications.

To name a few new faces in the newsroom: Greg Sukiennik, an alumnus of the sister newspaper The Berkshire Eagle, has returned to our company after stints with the Associated Press and ESPN to become the editor of the Manchester Journal; we recently hired Bennington native Cherise Madigan as a new reporter covering the Northshire; and Michelle Maher will soon be bringing her newspaper expertise from a stretch at The Berkshire Eagle to our southern Vermont papers, including the Journal, as news calendar editor.

What happened during the last year is a prologue to the future. We know there is much more to accomplish before our goal can even come into sight. During the last year, our company, which includes the Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Berkshire Eagle, added 53 new employees, of which 30 are filling newly created positions and we are in the process of filling more. This is a statistic that my colleagues and I point to with pride.

Our efforts over the past year, along with those we are undertaking, have added value and meaning to the "town square." I believe the need to strengthen the town square has become compelling during the last year when terms like fake news and alternative facts have become part of the lexicon. A strong local newspaper, either print or online, can be an effective antidote to these types of distortions; however, it must be read to be effective. My personal goal for the next year will be to find ways to engage that portion of our citizenry that has stopped reading, or never read, a local newspaper, especially younger people who have grown up relying primarily on the internet as their source of information. Success in achieving this goal holds the future of our entire industry, not just this newspaper, and I could use some help in reaching the next generation.

During the past year, I have repeatedly invited you to tell me what you like and do not like about the paper, and my email address and phone number appear daily. However, we have announced a series of Coffees so you can talk with Alan English, our publisher, and me, and we can swap ideas and thoughts - plus, the coffee is on us. We have announced a couple of these Coffees, but more are coming and they will happen throughout southern Vermont. We hope to buy a lot of coffee.

Finally, I would like to say how honored I am to be one of the people responsible for returning this newspaper to local ownership. I know my colleagues Judi Lipsey, Hans Morris and Bob Wilmers share my sense of pride and responsibility. We are on our way to making the Journal and its sister publications the finest community newspapers in America. For the time being, I would like you to be proud to call the Journal "my hometown paper."

Sincerely,

Fred Rutberg

Fredric D. Rutberg is president of New England Newspapers Inc.


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