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May 20, 2010

Burlington Free Press Publisher to Leave Post

F-freepress-illustration Brad Robertson, the publisher of the Burlington Free Press, is moving on after just 2-and-a-half years on the job.

Robertson is leaving to become president of Gannett Local and vice president of business development for the U.S. Community Publishing division. This division oversees Gannett's 81 daily newspapers, or "information centers," as they are now dubbed by corporate HQ.

According to the Freeps, Gannett Local is "a new business model focused on working with small- and medium-sized business to provide them a high-touch marketing consultation and a suite of multiplatform solutions (search engine marketing, email, digital display, website and geo-targeted print/flyers) delivered by a team of dedicated experts over the phone."

Gannett Local is based in Phoenix, Ariz.

Hmm. Sounds like the in-house consulting group Robertson launched last year,  "191 College" — named for the physical address of the state's largest daily.

In all honesty, Robertson was never likely to become a long-term fixture in Burlington. Born and bred into the Gannett family, the guy is sharp, likable and full of ideas.

He was being groomed for bigger and better things than running a small-circ daily in Vermont.

"I was really bummed to hear that he's leaving. He's been obviously going back and forth to Phoenix a lot in the past year, and it was probably inevitable," said Ted Adler of Union Street Media, who met Robertson when the publisher first arrived to town.

"It's a huge loss," added Adler. "I think he really turned the paper around and made it personally a lot more relevant to me in my daily life."

The paper's revamped website, and other digital media offerings such as live webstreaming and live blogging, even enticed Adler to subscribe to the paper on Thursdays and Sundays.

The new publisher should continue Robertson's focus and enthusiasm for digital media and connecting with local people and businesses, he said.

"Despite being an outsider, he had a real passion for telling the story of Burlington, Chittenden County and Vermont," said Adler.

According to a press release from the Freeps, the paper will search for a replacement in the coming month as Robertson prepares to settle into his new job.

Robertson joins another Freeps alum in the upper rungs of Gannett's corporate ladder. Jennifer Carroll, a former executive editor in the 1990s, is now vice president and senior editor of Content One. She previously served as vice president of Gannett Digital.

As Seven Days' Cathy Resmer noted in her profile of Robertson (High Noon for the Burlington Free Press), the youthful publisher helped to steer the daily into the digital news age by encouraging reporters to engage with readers on such social-media platforms as Facebook and Twitter, while at the same time creating several new niche sections and publications.

Those include Green Mountain, a weekly environmental section, and Savorvore, a weekly food section.

The Freeps is also publishing a weekly college-oriented Free Press Express that contains, among coupons and inserts, a mishmash of national and international news.

Like many daily newspaper publishers in recent years, Robertson has been forced to steer a listing ship — overseeing a decline in daily print readership and implementing several rounds of employee layoffs and furloughs.

In recent years, the Freeps also moved its circulation call center to Kentucky, and then outsourced some of its graphic design to India. This year the Freeps is expected to pare down its remaining in-house ad production as Gannett centralizes that work, too.

In a note to staff Robertson said that, alongside the changes he's overseen, Vermont has altered him, too.

"My 2 1/2 years living here has changed me in ways that I never thought were possible. Vermont has made such an impact on me personally, sparking my entrepreneurial spirit, teaching me how to care for the planet, supporting local food producers, learning to love a great bottle of wine. But what continues to stand out for me are the people in Vermont that I have had the pleasure of sharing these experiences with," wrote Robertson in an email to the paper's roughly 200 employees. An excerpt of the email was posted on the paper's website.

"I arrived here in October 2007 with a goal of making an impact, a big contribution to the Burlington community and as I am preparing to leave I realize that it is I who have been changed, who has been impacted by Vermont," he added.

As a sign of the times, the Freeps announced the news on its website Thursday morning, rather than in the paper's print edition.

(Illustration by Marc Nadel)

Word on the vine is that BFP citywide subscriber rate is less than that of BT.

That's good news for Comcast when they buy BT

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