The Rutland Herald is pulling two veteran reporters off their beats in Bennington, Windsor and Windham counties in order to refocus on Rutland County, the paper announced Thursday.
"We're going back to our roots," editor Steven Pappas said in an interview. "We're going back to where these papers built their cores initially. Some people are saying we're pulling up stakes, but we have a business decision to make."
The retrenchment comes nearly eight months after a Maine publisher and New Hampshire printing executive agreed to buy the financially struggling Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus from a local family. At least eight reporters, editors, photographers and paginators left the Herald newsroom last summer and fall. In recent months, just three full-time reporters have remained.
That, Pappas said, "left us feeling a little vulnerable" in the two counties where the Herald and Times Argus are based.
"We are really going to be making a concerted push in Washington and Rutland counties," he said.
According to Pappas, reporters Susan Smallheer and Patrick McArdle have been reassigned to the Herald newsroom, where they will join reporter Gordon Dritschilo in covering the Rutland area. Smallheer, who lives in Springfield, has covered Windsor and Windham counties for decades. McArdle, a Bennington resident, has long covered his home county. Neither immediately responded to requests for comment.
"Those communities will definitely feel it," Pappas said.
The Times Argus has had fewer staffing challenges than its sister paper in recent months. It continues to employ three local reporters, plus a Statehouse reporter, according to Pappas.
The papers announced several other management changes Thursday. Pappas, who has run the Times Argus for eight years and the Herald since last summer, was formally named editor of both papers. Former Herald editor Rob Mitchell, whose family owned the paper until last summer, was named its general manager. Shawn Stabell, a former director of circulation and information technology, was named GM of the Times Argus. All three will report to Vermont Community Media CEO Christopher Miles.
Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer David Moats will help coach staff in the newsroom, according to Pappas, and calendar editor George Nostrand will become a community reporter and produce podcasts.
Pappas conceded Thursday that the papers' new owners — Reade Brower of Camden, Maine, and Chip Harris of Center Harbor, N.H. — would likely not restore their newsrooms "to the level you saw prior to the sale." But he said they were providing the support the Herald and Times Argus need.
"They are definitely committed to local journalism," he said. "For the last six months, we've been making pretty well-thought-out business decisions that have the long-term goal of sustainability in mind — and this company definitely seems committed to retaining a team that is very strong."