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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Media Note: VTDigger Fires Political Columnist John Walters

Posted By on Thu, May 28, 2020 at 4:42 PM

John Walters - FILE
  • File
  • John Walters
Updated at 7:31 p.m.

The nonprofit news site VTDigger.org has fired political columnist John Walters, and its staff union is planning to fight the dismissal.

In an email sent to employees last Thursday, VTDigger founder and editor Anne Galloway informed her colleagues that Walters was "no longer an employee at VTDigger. We wish him the best in his future endeavors."

Galloway did not elaborate on the reasons for Walters' departure and declined to comment to Seven Days.

Walters did not respond to a request for comment Thursday morning, but he subsequently wrote on Twitter that he'd been "abruptly fired" a week prior. In a series of tweets, Walters went on to allege that the termination was "a blatant violation of labor law" because it occurred after VTDigger agreed to recognize the newly formed union and before the two sides reached a contract — a period during which staff reductions are generally not permissible.
Walters also suggested his firing might be related to his newfound leadership role in the union, called the VTDigger Guild, and political pressure from Gov. Phil Scott's office.

"The timing is unpleasantly coincidental. It came less than a week after I was named to our unit council, a leadership position in the union," Walters wrote, "and only three days after officials in the @GovPhilScott administration privately complained to Digger management about my social media posts."

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Friday, May 8, 2020

Media Note: Community News Project Kicks Off in Waterbury

Posted By on Fri, May 8, 2020 at 9:02 AM

Waterbury Roundabout home page - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Waterbury Roundabout home page

A new online community journalism project has emerged to fill the void left when the Waterbury Record folded in March as coronavirus restrictions gripped the state.

The Waterbury Roundabout is a collaboration between area journalists, University of Vermont students and the Valley Reporter in Waitsfield.

The volunteer effort aims to cover the kinds of community news that made the Waterbury Record, a free weekly paper, a popular though financially troubled publication, said Lisa Scagliotti, a former Burlington Free Press reporter spearheading the effort.

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Friday, May 1, 2020

Media Note: Vermont PBS Chief Holly Groschner to Retire

Posted By on Fri, May 1, 2020 at 3:06 PM

Vermont PBS president and CEO Holly Groschner - FILE: GLENN RUSSELL
  • File: Glenn Russell
  • Vermont PBS president and CEO Holly Groschner
After five years at the helm of Vermont PBS, president and CEO Holly Groschner is planning to retire at the end of June, the station announced Friday. She will be replaced on an interim basis by chief operating officer Steve Ferreira until the nonprofit's board of directors completes a search for her successor.

"I have to say it's been very rewarding to bring so many people into the station, but as rewarding has been reconnecting Vermont PBS with Vermonters," Groschner said Friday afternoon. "We're really here to serve the state, and I think that connection has been reestablished."

A 63-year-old attorney from Corinth, Groschner previously served as general counsel for the Vermont Telecommunications Authority and was a partner with Downs Rachlin Martin. She took over Vermont PBS in a time of turmoil, following the ouster of longtime president and CEO John King.

Groschner has overseen a number of major changes at the station, including the sale of a broadcast license that netted $56 million at auction and the organization's relocation from Colchester's Fort Ethan Allen to downtown Winooski.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Media Note: VTDigger Recognizes Newsroom Union

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2020 at 12:26 PM

VTDigger.org founder and editor Anne Galloway - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • VTDigger.org founder and editor Anne Galloway
Three weeks after reporters at VTDigger.org went public with a union drive, the nonprofit behind the online news site has agreed to recognize the newly formed VTDigger Guild.

In a statement posted to VTDigger.org late Tuesday, founder and editor Anne Galloway announced that the Vermont Journalism Trust had recognized the guild and was "prepared to engage in negotiations that will strengthen the mission of VTDigger."

Education reporter Lola Duffort, a member of the union's organizing committee, hailed the decision by management. "This is great news, and I'm really proud to work at Digger," she said in an interview. "We are trying to create a model for sustainable nonprofit news, and our employers showed they believe that's absolutely compatible with creating a good workplace for employees."

According to Duffort, lawyers for the nonprofit and the union reached an agreement this week over the bargaining unit's membership. Two non-supervisory editors were deemed eligible and one fellow was deemed ineligible. In total, eighteen newsroom employees will now be represented by the Guild, which is affiliated with the NewsGuild and its parent organization, the Communications Workers of America. The group includes reporters, photographers, interns and staff columnists.

When the Vermont Journalism Trust agreed to voluntarily recognize the union through the card check process, the Guild withdrew its petition for an election with the National Labor Relations Board, according to both sides.

"It was not contentious," Duffort said of the negotiations. "It was very respectful the entire time."

Reached by phone Wednesday, Galloway said her written statement "pretty well speaks for itself." She added, "We're eager to get to work on further cementing VTDigger's position as Vermont's leading news site and as a place where employees can thrive and do their best work."

When Seven Days attempted to ask follow-up questions, Galloway called it "a personnel matter" and hung up the phone.

The union has yet to begin negotiating a contract with management, but Duffort said Guild members were "eager" to do so. They had previously expressed a desire for better and more consistent pay, benefits and time off. According to Duffort, she and her colleagues recognize that the news outlet faces financial stress brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. In March, VTDigger laid off three full- and part-time employees.

"A lot of what we asked for will be conditioned on what the financial picture of Digger looks like and what we can or can't count on," Duffort said. "There's a lot of uncertainty in this context."

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Monday, April 6, 2020

Media Note: VTDigger Staff Move to Unionize

Posted By on Mon, Apr 6, 2020 at 11:19 AM

VTDigger's homepage on Monday - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • VTDigger's homepage on Monday
Journalists at VTDigger.org, the statewide nonprofit news outlet, have agreed to establish a newsroom labor union. They informed editor Anne Galloway and members of the organization's board of directors Monday morning of their decision and asked for voluntary recognition.

According to education reporter Lola Duffort, a member of the union's organizing committee, 15 of VTDigger's 17 editorial staffers have signed a petition seeking recognition. The bargaining unit, called the VTDigger Guild, represents full- and part-time reporters, photographers, interns and fellows, as well as staff columnists.

Galloway, who founded VTDigger in 2009 and also serves as executive director of its parent organization, the Vermont Journalism Trust, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Duffort said her colleagues have been organizing since last fall and had intended to announce their decision last month but held off so that they could focus on covering the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on Vermont.

"We're doing this because we think it will strengthen VTDigger," she said. "This organization will be better positioned to weather this crisis and and to begin growing once again afterward if the newsroom has a seat at the table."

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Thursday, April 2, 2020

Flake News: Vermont Site Features Coronavirus Conspiracy Theorist

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2020 at 9:23 PM

This woman has ideas about things. - SCREENSHOT OF THE VIDEO
  • Screenshot of the video
  • This woman has ideas about things.
Conservative Vermont website True North Reports published a video with some shocking claims Monday night under the headline “Citizen journalists visit coronavirus hospitals, find no ill patients or crowds awaiting testing.”

True North bills itself as “The other side of Vermont’s News,” and this was certainly another side. The 13-minute video features a voiceover by a YouTube conspiracy theorist who calls herself Dana Ashlie. She cheerfully announces at the top of the video, while strolling outdoors and smacking a ball into a baseball mitt, that citizens have scurried around to investigate the mainstream media's hoopla about people lining up for coronavirus tests and treatment.

Well, game on. Cue the scenes that question media accounts.
From True North Reports - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • From True North Reports

“People, look at the testing centers,” an unidentified woman says as her camera spans a makeshift building somewhere with no people and little more than a few empty chairs. “This is where they’re telling you the testing is going on in. Where’s the testing?” Her voice becomes urgent. “They’re empty. They’re abandoned, people. There is no testing going on.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Media Note: 1,100 'Super Readers' Donate to Seven Days

Posted By on Tue, Mar 31, 2020 at 10:36 AM

Seven Days' 2019 staff photo - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Seven Days' 2019 staff photo
As Seven Days grapples with a steep drop in advertising revenue caused by the coronavirus outbreak, readers are stepping up to support the Burlington-based newspaper.

According to publisher and cofounder Paula Routly, more than 1,100 people have signed up as one-time or recurring donors. "We've been floored by the response," she said. "The donations that have poured in over the past few weeks have helped us to keep going — figuratively and literally."

In March 2018, Seven Days soft-launched its Super Readers program, which allows supporters to donate to the locally owned newspaper. In the program's first two years, roughly 250 people signed up to contribute. That number doubled in the early weeks of the outbreak. And in the week since Seven Days announced that it had laid off seven employees, another 600 enlisted as Super Readers.

Contributors have included Vermont journalists, such as Jane Lindholm, host of Vermont Public Radio's "Vermont Edition"; Jeff Potter, editor of Windham County's The Commons; and Lola Duffort, education reporter for VTDigger.org. A number of Seven Days alumni have also signed up, including former political columnist Shay Totten, former staff writer Katie Flagg and former digital media manager Tyler Machado.

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Monday, March 30, 2020

Media Note: Layoffs at VTDigger, Furloughs at Gannett

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2020 at 7:13 PM

VTDigger.org founder and editor Anne Galloway - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • VTDigger.org founder and editor Anne Galloway
Two more Vermont news outlets are facing budget cuts as the coronavirus outbreak continues to decimate the local journalism industry.

VTDigger.org — a statewide nonprofit news organization — laid off three employees on Monday, according to founder and editor Anne Galloway. Meanwhile, Gannett, the Virginia-based owner of the Burlington Free Press, announced that most reporters and editors at the chain's newspapers would be furloughed for one week per month through June.

The layoffs at VTDigger are the first in its 10-year history. They include one part-time newsroom employee, as well as one full-time and one part-time member of the organization's business staff. VTDigger has also frozen three new business positions that have yet to be filled. Prior to the layoffs, the nonprofit had 29 employees.

"Like all businesses in Vermont, we were caught by surprise — and the very necessary social distancing and stay-home initiatives that the government has taken have had an immediate impact on our business," Galloway told Seven Days. "It's painful, but we have to recognize reality, and we think that we can move through this stronger than we were before."

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Media Note: Waterbury Record to Close

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 11:51 PM

The final edition of the Waterbury Record - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • The final edition of the Waterbury Record
Updated Thursday, March 26, at 8:32 a.m.

Thursday's edition of the Waterbury Record will be its last.

In a front-page story announcing its own demise, the weekly newspaper explained that the coronavirus pandemic had "accelerated what we hoped would never happen."

"Clearly, this decision is precipitated by the coronavirus crisis, but it's also about economics," the story quoted publisher Greg Popa as saying. "The Record has never been profitable, but we were in this for the long haul."

Though a newspaper with the same name was published from 1895 to 1947, the current incarnation was founded in 2007 by Biddle Duke, who then owned the Stowe Reporter. Since 2014, it has been held by a publishing group now called the Vermont Community Newspaper Group.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Media Note: Vermont Newspapers Halt Print Production, Lay Off Staff

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 11:09 PM

AXEL BUECKERT | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • Axel Bueckert | Dreamstime.com
Several more Vermont newspapers are taking drastic measures to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Three Chittenden County weeklies — the Milton Independent, Essex Reporter and Colchester Sunannounced Tuesday that they will cease publishing print editions "until further notice." The papers will continue reporting local news online, executive editor Michelle Monroe wrote on their respective websites.

"This is a fast-changing and developing situation so we will be assessing our publishing plan real-time to determine the next print publication date," she wrote.

The papers are owned by Jim O'Rourke, who also publishes the St. Albans Messenger. It was not immediately clear Tuesday night whether the Messenger, a six-day-a-week paper, would follow suit.

In her note, Monroe said that the three weeklies have no plans to lay off employees "as we work through the crisis."

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