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July 10, 2009

Dispensing the News

It may be sunny, but these are dismal days in Vermont's media.

Today The Eagle Times, based in Claremont, N.H., is closing down and its parent company filing for bankruptcy. Based just across the Connecticut River from Windsor, VT, the paper covered news from a number of towns in Windsor County and even had a bureau in Springfield, VT.

In addition to the Eagle Times, Eagle Publications published two weekly papers—The Message for the Week, based in Chester, VT, and The Connecticut Valley Spectator in Lebanon, N.H.—as well as a paper chock full of classified ads, The Weekly Flea.

One of the paper's alums, WDEV radio host Mark Johnson, eulogized the paper on his program this morning. Johnson started his newspaper career at the Times, later moving on to the Burlington Free Press.

Johnson rightly noted that the loss of the Times is troubling for two reasons: It truly was a locally owned paper that provided hyper-local news, and it was also part of the disappearing "farm league" for journalists. As smaller papers disappear, so do opportunities for younger journalists looking for their first job.

Yesterday, the Burlington Free Press joined its 84 newspaper colleagues in Gannett's Community Publishing Division in a mass layoff. In all, about 1400 employees are expected to be laid off nationwide. Including more than 125 people from six papers in New Jersey, and roughly 100 from the Cincinnati Enquirer. For a running tally, check out this site.

The numbers in Vermont are not yet clear, and we're waiting for more official word from Freeps Publisher Brad Robertson. Today, Robertson plans to hold two meetings with employees — one at 10 a.m. and the other at 5 p.m. — to discuss the layoffs.

To date, Seven Days has been told of at least five positions lost from the newsroom. Three people — a photographer, graphic designer, and online reporter — were let go. Also, two reporter posts—one each from news and sports—will not be filled.

Also purged from the payroll were five people from circulation. As "Fair Game" reported several weeks ago, the Free Press was halting home delivery to outlying parts of Vermont — namely the Northeast Kingdom. The paper has also outsourced much of its store-based paper deliveries to the Burlington News Agency.

It's not yet clear how many other unfilled positions will disappear from the payroll to save money.

It's been a tough year for Gannett. From being saddled with debt no one seems to want to refinance to experiencing a 32 percent drop in advertising, the media giant has had rough sailing.

On several newsblogs devoted to tracking the layoffs (GannettBlog and Gannettoid) there has been a lot of chatter about the lackluster severance package being offered employees affected by this round of job cuts.

Rather than providing one full week's pay for each year of service, Gannett is allegedly doling out only enough severance pay to cover the dollar gap between a laid-off worker's unemployment check and their last full paycheck.

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