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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Walters: A Shield for Vermont Media

Posted By on Wed, May 17, 2017 at 1:15 PM

Gov. Phil Scott, surrounded by journalists, signs the shield bill into law. - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Gov. Phil Scott, surrounded by journalists, signs the shield bill into law.
Here's a valuable lesson for politicians: The best way to get maximum media coverage for a bill signing is to sign a bill that affects the media. The governor's ceremonial office was unusually crowded Wednesday morning as Gov. Phil Scott signed S.96, the media shield bill, into law.

The bill, which sailed through the legislature with very little opposition, will protect journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources or release unpublished material. Vermont becomes the 41st state to afford such protections to reporters.

"[The bill] creates a new statutory privilege protecting journalists from the compelled disclosure of confidential sources or other information received in confidence," Scott said. "This protection enables sources, from whistleblowers to victims of a crime, to feel confident in their ability to speak freely to the press."

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Walters: 'Dog Gone?

Posted By on Thu, May 4, 2017 at 2:27 PM

Lou Varricchio, former Vermont Watchdog bureau chief - COURTESY OF LOU VARRICCHIO
  • courtesy of Lou Varricchio
  • Lou Varricchio, former Vermont Watchdog bureau chief
Sad news for consumers of partisan right-wing journalism. The online outlet called Vermont Watchdog appears to be in suspended animation — its future subject to the plans of its distant benefactor.

On March 29, we brought you the story of Vermont Watchdog's new bureau chief, Lou Varricchio, a veteran newsman who had been running the Middlebury-based weekly Vermont Eagle. He joined the Watchdog in January with plans to make the website a serious player in Vermont journalism.

Must be a Seven Days curse. Less than four weeks after the story was published, Varricchio had left Vermont Watchdog and returned to the Eagle. What's more, the online outlet hasn't posted an original story since April 13.

"Watchdog is being reorganized, and I left," said Varricchio when reached by phone at the Eagle offices. He referred me to Watchdog's national headquarters and said, "Beyond that, I can't tell you anything."

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Walters: Vermont Shield Bill Passes Key House Vote

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 5:55 PM

VTDigger's Mark Johnson interviews Paul Heintz of Seven Days and the Vermont Press Association after Wednesday's House vote on S.96. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • VTDigger's Mark Johnson interviews Paul Heintz of Seven Days and the Vermont Press Association after Wednesday's House vote on S.96.
A bill that would protect reporters from being forced to divulge confidential sources and hand over unpublished work material is one step away from the governor’s desk.

On Wednesday, the Vermont House approved S.96, the “shield bill,” on a lopsided voice vote after minimal debate. The chamber must reaffirm its approval in another vote Thursday, but barring a very unusual event, the bill is on track for final passage.

S.96 had earlier passed the Senate on a unanimous vote. Gov. Phil Scott’s office did not immediately return a call for comment; but during the gubernatorial campaign, Scott expressed support for a shield law with some qualifications — including an exception for cases where information cannot be obtained elsewhere. That exception is included in S.96.

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Media Note: Herald Retreats to Rutland County

Posted By on Thu, Mar 30, 2017 at 5:49 PM

The Rutland Herald building - FILE: CALEB KENNA
  • File: Caleb Kenna
  • The Rutland Herald building
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.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Vermont Senate Unanimously Passes Media Shield Bill

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 4:35 PM

Freelance journalist Hilary Niles testifies in favor of a shield law in the Senate Government Operations Committee. - FILE: ALICIA FREESE
  • File: Alicia Freese
  • Freelance journalist Hilary Niles testifies in favor of a shield law in the Senate Government Operations Committee.
The Vermont Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to provide protections for local journalists — and their sources.

Under the media shield bill, journalists could not be compelled to reveal confidential sources or the information that those sources provide.

S.96 also limits when a reporter can be forced to disclose information provided by a nonconfidential source to situations in which the material is highly relevant to a significant court case, unattainable by other means and when there's a "compelling need for disclosure."

"Lately, as we have seen, the press has come under assault like never before," said Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham), who cosponsored the bill. "It is therefore timely that we review their role and how to protect it."

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Media Note: Vermont PBS Reaps $56 Million in FCC Spectrum Auction

Posted By on Fri, Feb 17, 2017 at 1:16 PM

Vermont PBS board chair Patricia Gabel, left, and station president Holly Groschner - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Vermont PBS board chair Patricia Gabel, left, and station president Holly Groschner
Vermont PBS announced Friday that it sold one of its four broadcast licenses for $56 million, money it plans to use to fund new programs and expand services for years to come.

The station said the loss of the license would not cause any reduction in over-the-air coverage. Instead, the windfall could transform the sleepy station into one of the most financially powerful media organizations in Vermont.

Vermont PBS, which airs syndicated shows such as "Sesame Street" and "NOVA," along with local productions "Outdoor Journal" and "Vermont This Week," says it plans to use the bulk of the money to provide expanded offerings in both over-the-air and digital platforms. It has no plans to use the money for "brick and mortar" improvements, Vermont PBS president Holly Groschner said during a press conference inside the station's Colchester studios.

"We are doubling down on the Vermontness of our broadcast," Groschner said. "We are hoping to be able to produce more Vermont content and [explore] more Vermont issues."

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Media Note: Connecticut Couple to Buy the Hardwick Gazette

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2017 at 1:32 PM

The Hardwick Gazette office - FILE: COURTESY OF HARDWICK GAZETTE
  • File: Courtesy of Hardwick Gazette
  • The Hardwick Gazette office
After a long search for a buyer, Ross Connelly is selling the Hardwick Gazette to a couple from Stamford, Conn. Ray and Kim Small will purchase the 128-year-old weekly newspaper for an undisclosed price.

Ray Small entered Connelly's essay contest — an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to give away the Gazette — and visited the paper multiple times while waiting for the results. Although Connelly failed to get enough entrants to follow through with the giveaway, he reached out to the Smalls afterwards and negotiated a sale, which is scheduled to close Friday.

According to a news release, the Smalls have worked at "various corporations in both the United States and Europe. His specialty is business reporting and management and hers is business development." They are in the process of moving to Hardwick, Connelly said, and one of their two adult sons may join them in the venture.

Connelly, who bought the community newspaper with his late wife in 1986, estimates he put out 1,550 issues during his tenure. "The newspaper just needs more energy than I have," he said.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Editors’ Note: After Ashe’s Election, Seven Days Updates Conflict-of-Interest Policy

Posted By and on Wed, Jan 4, 2017 at 3:28 PM

Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe delivers remarks Wednesday on the Senate floor. - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe delivers remarks Wednesday on the Senate floor.
When Paula Routly and Tim Ashe began dating in 2002, she was the publisher and coeditor of Seven Days and he was a union organizer for United Academics. Nearly 15 years into their relationship, her job title remains the same. His, however, has changed.

In 2004, Ashe won his first of three races for the Burlington City Council. Four years later, he won his first of five bids for the Vermont Senate. In 2011, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for mayor of Burlington.

Throughout Ashe’s political ascent, Seven Days has addressed Routly’s potential conflict of interest in a variety of ways, depending on Ashe’s role at the time. When he ran for mayor, Routly recused herself from assigning and editing stories related to the race — and prepared herself for the possibility that he would run the city her newspaper covered so closely.

“I had to ask myself: What if Tim wins?” Routly wrote in a March 2012 story about other so-called “power couples” in Vermont.

He didn’t — and she returned to her role managing the Seven Days news team, recusing herself when his name came up and running a one-line disclosure when it appeared in print.

On Wednesday morning, Ashe did win — this time a race for president pro tempore of the Vermont Senate.

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Media Note: After 31 Years, Dave Gram Leaves the Associated Press

Posted By on Wed, Jan 4, 2017 at 8:37 AM

  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Dave Gram
When Vermont’s political press corps files into the Statehouse Wednesday for the start of the legislative session, it will be missing one of its most veteran, talented and beloved scribes.

Associated Press reporter Dave Gram quietly left the newswire’s Montpelier bureau Monday after more than 31 years on the job.

“I’m just feeling very grateful for the career I’ve been allowed to have,” the 60-year-old Montpelier resident said in a brief interview that afternoon. “Grateful especially to the people of the state of Vermont, which is a pretty unique place — and which I think can offer some real value to a country figuring out how to get back to its democratic roots.”

He paused. “And it’s been a lot of fun.”

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Media Note: Associated Press Layoffs Hit Montpelier Bureau

Posted By on Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 9:24 PM

  • Associated Press
  • AP logo
The Associated Press’ dwindling Montpelier bureau is set to lose one of its three remaining reporters, according to a spokeswoman for the news cooperative.

The AP announced Friday that it was cutting 25 positions throughout its worldwide news division, but it did not immediately disclose which offices would suffer layoffs. CNN’s Brian Stelter first reported Friday in his “Reliable Sources” newsletter that Montpelier would join New Orleans, Albany, N.Y., and Charleston, S.C., on the list.

Lauren Easton, the AP’s media relations manager, told Seven Days Monday that in Montpelier, “One position is affected.” She declined to elaborate.

A decade ago, the AP’s Vermont staff included at least five reporters and a photographer. As of last week, only three employees remained: bureau chief Wilson Ring and veteran reporters Dave Gram and Lisa Rathke.

Reached Monday, Ring and Gram declined to comment, referring inquiries to New England editor Bill Kole, who also declined to speak. Rathke could not be reached for comment.

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