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Monday, August 5, 2019

Opinion
Media Note: Gannett, GateHouse Will Merge to Form Print Giant

Posted By on Mon, Aug 5, 2019 at 4:48 PM

A recent  Burlington Free Press - FILE
  • File
  • A recent Burlington Free Press
Gannett, the parent company of the Burlington Free Press, has agreed to merge with New Media Investment Group, the parent company of the GateHouse Media newspaper chain.

Gannett and GateHouse are the two largest newspaper companies in America. The combined entity will be by far the largest, with 615 papers with a combined circulation of 8.7 million. (The second biggest chain will be McLatchy, at 1.7 million.) The Free Press is Gannett's only Vermont property; GateHouse has no holdings in the state.

New Media will reportedly pay $12.06 per Gannett share in combined cash and stock. News of the deal sent Gannett's share price up by 3 percent, while New Media's fell by nearly 8 percent.

The goal of the deal is to cut costs by combining operations. According to the Wall Street Journal, the companies hope to save up to $300 million annually.

Much of the savings will come from cuts in business and back-office operations. Consolidations in management, sales, printing and purchasing are likely to provide most of the savings. But newsrooms, as ever, will be under pressure.

The Poynter Institute's Rick Edmonds wrote last week that both companies have been consolidating editorial and layout functions and moving toward more regional journalism, with teams of reporters contributing to ambitious investigative projects. Which is fine, but it means even fewer resources for meat-and-potatoes local journalism — which is already in short supply at the Free Press

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Opinion
Walters: Holcombe Tries New Version of Voucher Attack

Posted By on Fri, Jul 26, 2019 at 4:49 PM

Rebecca Holcombe and Gov. Phil Scott - FILE: TIM NEWCOMB
  • File: Tim Newcomb
  • Rebecca Holcombe and Gov. Phil Scott
Former education secretary and current Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Holcombe has abandoned a key attack line about Republican Gov. Phil Scott's education policy.

The Friday announcement, via emailed press release, came after Seven Days and VTDigger.org published pieces critical of her original assertion, and the Scott administration categorically denied it.

For the first 10 days of her campaign, Holcombe had accused the Scott administration of promoting a statewide school-choice policy that would strip public schools of millions in state funding. In her new press release, she instead accused Scott of promoting a "vision" of a statewide voucher system.

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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Opinion
Media Note: Free Press Owner in 'Advanced' Merger Talks

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2019 at 8:00 PM

Sunday's Burlington Free Press
  • Sunday's Burlington Free Press
Gannett, the corporate owner of the Burlington Free Press, is reportedly close to agreement on a merger with GateHouse Media. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that GateHouse, the smaller of the two firms, would be the buyer and its CEO would retain his title in the combined enterprise. The New York Post quoted an unnamed source as saying the deal had a 75 percent chance of happening.

News of merger talks between the two companies first broke in late May, not long after Gannett's board rejected a takeover bid from hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

Gannett and GateHouse are the two largest newspaper chains (by circulation) in the country. As industry analyst Ken Doctor of the Nieman Journalism Lab wrote in May, "Totaled up, 267 dailies would fall under a single ownership and management. That's an unprecedented concentration of control in the history of the American press." (The combined firm would also own more than 1,000 weekly papers. None of GateHouse's properties are in Vermont.)

Doctor wrote of a "megaclustering" trend in the journalism industry, as newspapers suffer continuing declines in advertising and circulation and seek ways to streamline operations through regional sales and reporting efforts.

That's "regional" as in "not local."

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Friday, June 14, 2019

Opinion
Walters: Holcombe Considering Run for Governor

Posted By on Fri, Jun 14, 2019 at 5:51 PM

Rebecca Holcombe - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Rebecca Holcombe
Former Agency of Education secretary Rebecca Holcombe is seriously considering a run for Vermont governor as a Democrat in 2020.

"I'm in the exploratory phase," Holcombe said. "I love the state of Vermont. It has tremendous potential, but it needs a new direction." She added that she will make a final decision "within the next couple of weeks."

Democratic governor Peter Shumlin first named Holcombe education secretary in 2014. She continued to serve under Republican Gov. Phil Scott until March 2018, when she suddenly resigned, giving a mere one week's notice.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Opinion
Walters: Scott Defends His Veto of Gun-Purchase Waiting Period Bill

Posted By on Wed, Jun 12, 2019 at 4:22 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott devoted a Wednesday morning press conference to explaining his decisions on two major pieces of legislation: the veto of S.169, which would have required a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases, and the signing of H.57, which establishes abortion rights in state law. Both actions were announced in a written statement Monday evening.

Scott said he moved the presser from Thursday to Wednesday because he'd gotten so many requests for further comment.

On the waiting period bill, Scott offered a number of explanations, not all of them consistent. He began by recounting the gun measures he signed into law last year and his administration's efforts to improve the state mental health system.

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Thursday, June 6, 2019

Opinion
Walters: Gobeille to Depart as Secretary of Human Services

Posted By on Thu, Jun 6, 2019 at 12:48 PM

Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille
Al Gobeille is stepping down from Gov. Phil Scott's cabinet after two and a half years as secretary of the Agency of Human Services. His departure, which will occur before the end of June, was announced at Scott's weekly press conference Thursday morning.

Scott praised Gobeille for two signal accomplishments: straightening out the troubled Vermont Health Connect, which was a mess inherited from the administration of governor Peter Shumlin, and holding the line on the Human Services budget.

Gobeille will return to Gobeille Hospitality, the Burlington restaurant business he operates with his wife, Kim. "I'll be making creemees and washing dishes," he joked.

Gobeille said the decision had been in the works "for the last few weeks." When asked why now, Gobeille said, "There is no good time to leave, but it's not good to leave during an election year or legislative session, or when the agency is developing a budget. That leaves June and July."

Scott mentioned that he expected "a return to public service" by Gobeille at some point in the future, which prompted a question about plans to run for elective office. "Not against him," Gobeille said, pointing to Scott.

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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Opinion
Walters: VTGOP, Gov Welcome Scott Walker as Protesters Jeer

Posted By on Thu, May 30, 2019 at 11:49 PM

Scabby the Rat, an inflatable prop favored by union protesters, towered over the crowd outside the Hilton. - LEE KROHN
  • Lee Krohn
  • Scabby the Rat, an inflatable prop favored by union protesters, towered over the crowd outside the Hilton.
Gov. Phil Scott and former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker headlined a Thursday evening fundraiser for the Vermont Republican Party. About 160 people attended the dinner at the Hilton Burlington. (Twenty or so of them paid extra for a closed-door reception with the two governors.) Before the event, roughly 500 people held a protest across Battery Street from the hotel.

Scott has sought to distance himself politically from Walker, who pursued conservative, anti-union policies as governor. “I didn’t invite the speaker,” Scott said at a Thursday press conference in Waterbury. “But I felt an obligation to make sure that we welcome governor Walker to our state.

“Vermonters know me,” Scott added. “I’m a centrist and I’m open-minded and I’m willing to listen to other points of view, and that should be the message here.”

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Bernie Sanders
Opinion
Walters: Montpelier to Seek Payment for Sanders Rally Costs

Posted By on Thu, May 23, 2019 at 3:25 PM

JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
Updated at 9:18 p.m.

The City of Montpelier will seek voluntary reimbursement from Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaign for costs associated with his Statehouse rally on Saturday afternoon. It's Sanders' first major Vermont event since he launched his second bid for the White House and is expected to draw a yooooge crowd.

According to assistant city manager Sue Allen, the move is a first for the capital city, which has previously absorbed the costs of police, firefighters, traffic control and site cleanup for any event in town.

On Wednesday, the Montpelier City Council directed municipal staff to pull together cost figures after the rally and send a letter to the Sanders campaign requesting a donation to cover the cost.

"We love hosting events," Allen said. "They make Montpelier vibrant. But we do want to keep track of what all this vibrancy is costing us."

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Opinion
Walters: Vermont Senate Approves No-Nukes Resolution

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2019 at 5:07 PM

Sen. Anthony Pollina, speaking in favor of S.R.5 - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Sen. Anthony Pollina, speaking in favor of S.R.5
After a brief debate Wednesday, the state Senate voted by a 22-7 tally for a nonbinding resolution "strongly opposing the basing of any nuclear weapon delivery system in Vermont." 

Those in favor included 20 Democratic and/or Progressive senators plus Sen. James McNeil (R-Rutland) and Richard Westman (R-Lamoille). The other four Republicans voted "no," plus Sens. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle) and John Rodgers and Bobby Starr (both D-Essex/Orleans). Sen. Chris Pearson (P-Chittenden) was absent from the floor during the roll call.

The resolution, S.R.5, got a thorough overhaul in the Senate Government Operations Committee before heading to the floor. The original wording repeatedly mentioned the F-35 fighter jet, which the Vermont Air National Guard is scheduled to begin flying from its base at the Burlington International Airport this fall. A group called Citizens Against Nuclear Bombers in Vermont pushed for the resolution over fears that the F-35 is capable of carrying nuclear weaponry.

But the version approved by the Senate barely refers to the F-35 at all. Instead, it describes Vermont's history as "a national leader in opposing the spread of nuclear weapons" and recounts committee testimony describing instances where the military apparently based such weapons in Vermont.


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Friday, May 17, 2019

Opinion
Walters: Facing Deep Divides, Vermont Legislators Delay Adjournment

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2019 at 6:02 PM

Sen. Phil Baruth addresses the committee. Sen. Ruth Hardy is at left. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Sen. Phil Baruth addresses the committee. Sen. Ruth Hardy is at left.
House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on a bill to test for the presence of lead in the water supplies of all Vermont schools and childcare facilities. The last-minute accord came Friday after an argumentative process that saw each side battling for every inch of ground.

Still, the two chambers remain divided over many key issues, including a proposed increase in the minimum wage, establishment of a paid family leave program and a long-term funding source for cleaning up Vermont's waterways.

With these and other issues still unresolved, legislative leaders gave up on earlier plans to adjourn this weekend. Instead, lawmakers will return next week for what they hope will be a brief, two- or three-day session that would conclude before the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Legislators did manage to resolve some disputes before hitting the highway Friday.

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