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October 2009

October 31, 2009

Circulation Plummeting at Vermont's Daily Newspapers

Here's a headline no newspaper publisher wants to read:

Newspaper Circulation Dropping Like a Bomb; Biggest Six-Month Decline on Record

DSC04429 But that's what is happening at daily newspapers across the country and right here in Vermont. Nationally, circulation went down 10.8 percent between April and October, the biggest drop on record, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Vermont papers, in some cases, fared even worse — a decline of 14 percent in the worst instance. Newsrooms already battered by years of declining print readership face the prospect of more cuts as dailies watch the steady erosion of their subscriber base and single-copy sales.

The Burlington Free Press, Vermont's largest newspaper, sustained the worst hit. Weekday circulation dropped 14 percent during the six-month window, to 33,489 copies. Sunday circulation declined 9.7 percent, to 42,180.

Free Press Publisher Brad Robertson was apparently out of town on business this week, and did not reply to an email from Blurt seeking comment on the paper's circulation figures.

Around the state, the news was just as bleak.

  • The family-owned Montpelier/Barre Times-Argus saw a drop of 10.2 percent weekday, 8 percent Sunday
  • The Rutland Herald (same publisher as the Times-Argus) dropped 12.5 percent weekday, 8.2 percent Sunday.
  • The Brattleboro Reformer declined 10.7 percent weekday, 9.9 percent weekday.

Of the six Vermont papers that report their circulation to the Audit Bureau, the Bennington Banner posted the best numbers for weekday circulation: down 6 percent, from 6,390 to 5,952.

John Mitchell, publisher of the Times-Argus and Rutland Herald, says the numbers are "clearly disappointing." Mitchell's papers raised newsstand prices last February, from 75 cents to $1, and he suspects that contributed to the drop in sales.

"But we think that more people than ever are reading our newspapers," says Mitchell. The papers' web sites get 4 million hits a month, Mitchell says, they just can't make much money off that. Mitchell says the papers are still profitable, but "not by much."

The papers have reduced their staffs significantly over the  last three years, but the publisher says additional cuts aren't in the papers' immediate future.

Professor David Mindich, who chairs the  Journalism Department at St. Michael's College, says he'd be extremely surprised if most papers could avoid layoffs. "If you're seeing 10 percent average circulation decline, and even higher in some cases in Vermont, you're going to see layoffs, there's just no way around that," Mindich says.

"The most important question we as citizens can ask is, What is this going to do to our democracy? As important as blogging is, we need to pay people on a full-time basis to pay attention to government."The publisher's reports submitted to the Audit Bureau do not count online readership or give numbers for total audience, a key metric publishers use to  measure their products' reach.

(Full disclosure: Seven Days is a free newspaper and is audited yearly by Verified Audit. Seven Days increased its weekly circulation from 33,000 to 34,000 this past June in response to lower rates of papers coming back unread as "returns," according to Circulation Manager Steve Hadeka.)

Update: Incorrect 2003 Free Press circulation figures removed.

October 30, 2009

Grand Isle Slaughterhouse Closed Following Charges of Inhumane Treatment

A worker shocked this infant calf in an attempt to get him to stand. The HSUS

Some unfortunate news (or fortunate, depending on how you look at it) in animal welfare in Vermont — the Vermont Agency of Agriculture announced today that they and the USDA would be suspending the respective licenses of the Bushway Packing, Inc., in Grand Isle, the only abattoir in the state that slaughters infant veal, or "bob" calves, because of alleged animal abuse. 

The charges were leveled by the Humane Society of the United States after a lengthy investigation of the facility's practices. HSUS provided the state and federal agencies with undercover footage of apparent abuse, which led to the license suspension. The allegations against Bushway are pretty grotesque — shocking infant calves who couldn't stand with electric prods, kicking, slapping and throwing calves and "failure to ensure that stunned calves had been rendered insensible to pain." You can read more about that last allegation in the HSUS report below.

Noted animal behavior specialist Dr. Temple Grandin from Colorado State University apparently reviewed the undercover video shot inside the Bushway facility and called the practices "unacceptable." To read Grandin's letter in PDF form, click this: Download 10-17-09-grandin-vogel-letter-on-bushway

The links to the two undercover videos are here and here. Warning: it's graphic and disturbing.

Bushway is one of a dwindling number of slaughterhouses in Vermont. In 1984, there were 20 slaughterhouses in the state. At present, there are only eight facilities that kill animals for meat. Many of Vermont's meat animals get shipped to New York or Massachusetts for processing.

Apparently, the slaughterhouse is certified by Northeast Organic Farming Association-VT to process organic meat. It also does custom meat processing. Bushway has only been open for about a year, started by John McCracken and Terry Rooney in an effort to stanch the flow of calves out of state.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture is currently investigating the facility.

To read the HSUS report, click here.

To read the Vermont Agency of Agriculture report, click here. 

To read more about the veal industry in Vermont from 7D's Suzanne Podhaizer, click here.

Vermont Brownie Company Gets Flayed

At least according to Facebook. Shawna Lidsky, co-owner of Vermont Brownie Co. with Katherine Hayward, has signed a confidentiality agreement with the Food Network that prevents her from even sharing the name of the show on which she and Hayward appeared. However, given the circumstances of her experience, she admits, "you can pretty much guess what show it is."

As reported previously in Seven Days, Vermont Brownie Co. got a request from the cable channel to send an audition tape in August. "It was so quick," remembers Lidsky. "They called us on Wednesday and wanted the tape to them by the following Tuesday." The network told them they had never seen "anything quite like" the video and told the pair, whose company is based in South Hero, that they had been chosen to appear on a show. They would not, however, disclose which one. "They tell you something, but I certainly wasn't buying it," says Lidsky.

As viewers of "Throwdown with Bobby Flay" know, this is the very scenario that leads to the grilling guru trying to match his skills with specialists like the Vermont Brownie Co. or Bove's, who appeared on the show a couple of years back. Further evidence —Facebook posts by parties present at the October 28 competition itself. One audience member, who, also signed an agreement with Food Network reports that "the judges were torn."

Lidsky is thankful for the supportive crew working on the show, but hopes her episode doesn't air until after the holidays. Corporate orders are already piling up, she says, and hopes not to be overwhelmed with work spawned by their impending national stardom.

Got Burlington Telecom?

The ongoing debate in Burlington about the use of $17 million in city funds to keep its fledgling telecom utility afloat has taken up a lot of the political, and policy, discussion in the Queen City.

One frequent, and fun, question that comes up in discussions is: Of Burlington Telecom's 4600 subscribers, how many are city councilors?

I know that's not the biggest question people have, and the formation of two special council committees is a step into finding out answers to the bigger questions around how the money was spent, and whether or not the current governance structure is adequate. As this week's lengthy council meeting proved, there is no end to the angles that can, and will, be explored.

I thought it'd be a fun exercise to find out which councilors buy BT and which buy from other companies. Would they fall into neat political categories? Would the pro-BT voices on the council all have triple play? Would the anti-BT voices have Comcast or whomever?

So, I polled the entire council and with all 14 members responding, their answers may, or may not, surprise you.

Continue reading "Got Burlington Telecom?" »

Up Against the Wall

CAMROSE_DUMBO Tomorrow night, October 31, the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe is hosting a Halloween exhibit with jack-o'-lanterns made by members of the public, and also a special guest: NYC video projection artist Sean Capone. Don't know if he's a descendant of Al, but who cares?

Capone will cast arabesque patterns against the front of the building, which also houses the town library, both before and after the kiddies go trick-or-treating. No word on just what those images will be, but the picture at right is an example of his work — this one at the DUMBO Art-Under-the-Bridge Festival in Brooklyn last month. Cool, no?

HDAC exhibitions director Odin Cathcart invited Capone to Vermont and, in order to maximize his time here, arranged to get Capone another gig: tonight, October 30, in the alley next to Red Square in Burlington. Viewers leaving the new opening at the Firehouse (for another intriguing show called "Medicine & Mortality") and the Cirque Mechanics performance at the Flynn should stop by for what will likely be a visual feast on the eve before All Hallows.

So many things to see, 'tis a shame we don't have more eyes.

October 29, 2009

Mid-week Report from the VT International Film Fest

Precious The VIFF has one more weekend to go, and it should be a good one. When I attended the screening of The Men Who Stare at Goats last Friday, it was jam-packed. Fest board head Deb Ellis says that tickets for this Friday's screening of Precious, Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (pictured) are going fast.

Maybe you don't remember the novel Push, a sort of urban The Color Purple for the 1990s. Maybe you do, in which case it won't surprise you that the movie is a huge chunk of desperation and gloom. Word from the fests is that the actresses' performances are worth the price of admission, though.

Ellis also recommends the Saturday 2:30 screening of RFK in the Land of Apartheid: A Ripple of Hope, a documentary about a neglected chapter in the life of the man who might have been president — his inspirational 1966 trip to South Africa. Directors Tami Gold and Larry Shore will be there.

And let's not forget Saturday night's Halloween program, which I previewed in State of the Arts this week.

All the filmmakers in the Vermont Filmmakers Showcase are eligible to win cash prizes, which will be handed out at a ceremony at 6:15 on Friday. All the local ones, that is.

Continue reading "Mid-week Report from the VT International Film Fest" »

Special Council Panels Created to Review Burlington Telecom

Burlington City Council President Bill Keogh Thursday formed two special panels to look into various aspects of Burlington Telecom, the first step in trying to get a handle on how it came to be that the city loaned the fledgling utility as much as $17 million without explicit public knowledge.

That loan came without explicit approval from the city's Board of Finance or the City Council, and because none of the money was repaid within 60 days it's also a violation of BT's certificate of public good.

Mayor Bob Kiss and Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold have said the loan was both appropriate and necessary. Leopold apologized to councilors last week for not being clear in his presentations that money from the city's so-called "cash pool" was funding BT, and said it was a mistake to keep them in the dark about the CPG violation. Leopold said he first became aware of the violation in November, but didn't disclose it to the council until May.

The panels were approved during a long and contentious council meeting that began Monday night and ended early Tuesday morning. Despite the acrimony over whether to put Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold on paid leave, the resolution calling for further investigation into how money was approved and spent on BT's behalf passed unanimously.

Continue reading "Special Council Panels Created to Review Burlington Telecom" »

October 28, 2009

Beware Dead Creek

Dead-Creek-Splash Horror flicks can be really cheap to make, which is why so many indie filmmakers choose that genre. But scary horror films are also really, really hard to make. Pacing is key. Also, avoiding anything campy. (I love the Evil Dead movies, but scary they are not.)

With that in mind, I just watched Dead Creek, a 16-minute film by Northfield director Mike Turner. He'll be screening it at the Vermont Horror Fest on Friday, October 30 at 7 p.m. at Outer Space Café in Burlington.

Continue reading "Beware Dead Creek" »

Of Puppies & Death Metal: Video Version

As announced on SolidState on Monday — and cleverly reported here by Lauren Ober yesterday — Scumlords of the Universe, GWAR, judged Burton's 14th annual "Howl-O-Ween Doggie Costume yesterday afternoon in the lobby of the Burton factory. And let me tell you, it was just about as awesome as it sounds.

What follows is a video I compiled documenting the afternoon's proceedings. No dogs were harmed in the production of this film. Except one, maybe …

Adventures in Elder Wii— Playing Nintendo with the Aged

Bobwii As I become increasingly aged and decrepit, I need to look beyond contact sports like walking and checkers for my exercise. Recently, I happened upon a fitness system I could get my old bones behind — Elder Wii. For the uninitiated, Elder Wii is the sport of crushing seniors  at Nintendo's Wii Sports. They're old, plus they don't know how to operate technology, so, how hard would it be to destroy them?

Photo at right is of me annihilating an older person. Well, trying to annihilate him.

Well, it's proved harder than I anticipated. Those oldsters are feisty. Plus, they have zero compunction when it comes to smugly telling you exactly what it is you're doing wrong. And by you I mean me.

I found Elder Wii at the Champlain Senior Center on N. Winooski St. in Burlington. Of course it's not called Elder Wii. That's my name for it. The center got a Wii machine about a year ago, and since then they've been using it for their group fitness programs, as well as for general entertainment. It's more active than jigsaw puzzles and requires fewer fine motor skills than crocheting, so it's perfect for the senior set.

Continue reading "Adventures in Elder Wii— Playing Nintendo with the Aged" »

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