Letter to the editor: Vermont’s print media deserve readership, support

I was interested to read a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post (Jan. 27, 2019) by Margaret Sullivan titled “Cancel in protest? Or stay with a local newspaper that’s being strip-mined for profits?” Sullivan, a former editor of the Buffalo News, explores this question by interviewing a reader of a regional newspaper in California. I was fascinated to learn that this reader’s complaints about his newspaper are exactly the complaints I have with our regional newspaper, the Burlington Free Press: no articles that start on page one, limited local and state coverage, day-old sports reports (even when the games occur in the afternoon or early evening), repeated feature stories, a random mixture of state and national news in the first few pages, and recently, having to have digital access to read USA Today.
What’s more, Sullivan reveals that Digital First Media, an industry leader in buying local newspapers and squeezing profits out of them, wants to buy the Gannett Company, the owner of the Burlington Free Press. So, what is the best course of action for a reader like me? Should I drop my subscription to the Burlington Free Press since I complain about it constantly — or should I continue to buy it, if only to support the few local journalists it employs? Sullivan points out in her editorial that 80 percent of the subscription price goes to journalism and the production of the newspaper and only 20 percent to the parent company as profit. This fact, that 80 percent of my subscription price stays local, convinced me to keep my subscription to the Burlington Free Press: in this day of fake news (news that is not multi-sourced and fact-based) it is more important than ever to support trained journalists, reporters, editors and photographers, who are working in the interest of the public. Who else but these people will accurately report the happenings of our government from the most local to the state and national levels? If we lose newspaper reporting at any of these levels, we lose accountability.
What about recent free access news sources like VTDigger, Politico or the Front Porch Forum that I also read? Do they detract from daily papers like the Burlington Free Press? I say no in the case of VTDigger and Politico. These news sources are nonprofits and they employ professional journalists, who, in the case of VTDigger, used to be employed by the Burlington Free Press. As a believer in a free press I believe that more journalists are better for the public good. The Front Porch Forum is for profit and it receives money from many Vermont towns as part of its financial model. The Front Porch Forum is popular because of its immediacy, and at its best, it connects neighbors with their lost pets, offers advice on buying firewood, and serves as a platform for local elected officials to connect with constituents. But the Front Porch Forum serves as well to take revenue away from local newspapers. Here’s an example: whereas previously locals used to support the Addison Independent by posting classified ads for their yard sales, rentals, etc., they now can do this for free on the Front Porch Forum.
Equally concerning, local communities and nonprofits post news on the Front Porch Forum that previously would have been reported and put in proper perspective by trained journalists from the Addison Independent. My final concern is that the Front Porch Forum is available only in digital form and as such doesn’t support folks who still prefer or depend on printed media for their news. Let’s remember that the journalists at the Addison Independent are our neighbors. As such we should want to support them but also, we need them to accurately inform us of what is going on in Addison County’s towns and to keep accountable the people who run the institutions in them. I believe supporting journalism at the most local level is just as important as at the state and national level. For that reason, I subscribe to the Addison Independent, the Burlington Free Press and a couple of national papers. I urge all my fellow Addison County residents to do the same — and to consider buying the occasional classified ad in the Addison Independent to keep it healthy. And lastly, when you post for free to the Front Porch Forum, please pause to think: am I doing my part to support local journalism?
Lucy Schumer

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