By Guy Page
Publishing a daily newspaper is a grind.
Weeklies are different. For every day of intense deadline pressure, there’s at least one day of “I think I’ll spend the morning in the garden.”
Not so, the daily. “Yesterday’s newspaper is today’s fish wrapper,” Burlington Free Press ace reporter Alan Abbey told me when I was an intern reporter there in 1979.
Yesterday’s labors are irrelevant. What matters is getting a great paper out today. And tomorrow. And the day after that….. Ask not for whom the buck stops – it stops with thee.
News item from May 23 VTDigger: “Anne Galloway founded VTDigger in 2009 after she was laid off from her position as Sunday editor of the Rutland Herald and Times Argus. Under her leadership, VTDigger has grown from a $16,000-a-year nonprofit with no employees to a $2.8 million nonprofit daily news operation with a staff of 32. On Monday, Galloway announced she was stepping down as executive director of VTDigger’s parent organization, the Vermont Journalism Trust, to serve as founder and editor-at-large.”
I had left the declining world of newspapers for the better-compensated and far less demanded life of non-profit communications director when I ran into Anne in the Cedar Creek Room of the Vermont State House. The energetic news entrepreneur described her vision for a media platform that would be, to quote the as yet uncoined slogan of the Chester Telegraph, “All News, No Paper.”
“And no chance,” I thought to myself. Others had tried. Where would the money come from?
Turns out Anne had cracked that tough, heretofore-impervious nut. She oversaw the creation of the Vermont Journalism Trust, a well-heeled, well-regarded gaggle of Vermont movers and shakers committed to not-for-profit news. Grant requests went out. Letters of approval came back, with checks attached.
At first it was just Anne writing the news “with chutzpah and no capital,” she wrote in Monday’s edition. Soon, other bylines appeared. New VTDigger reporters lobbed questions at the governor’s press conferences.
In those early days, as a very third-hand observer of VTDigger, I admired Galloway’s seemingly unerring instinct of hiring terrific talent. She recruited one strong reporter after another.
Her hire of IT guru Stacey Peters led to a strong digital daily newsletter, robust reader recruitment, fundraising, and less and less “friction,” the IT term for making readers work harder than they should have to to access the news and other offerings. IT directors are the online media equivalent of the newspaper’s printing press foreman – you never see them, but without them, you’d never see the news. James Kirk had Scotty, Anne Galloway has Stacey Peters.
Even seen from the outside, clearly Galloway’s tenure wasn’t perfect. Some of her picks for editor rubbed reporters and readers the wrong way. And if the website was relatively friction-free, the same perhaps was not always true of her leadership style, according to comments made when the staff unionized in April, 2020. Growth is always difficult. As a general rule, not all great entrepreneurs achieve lasting success as managers.
In recent years, Vermont Daily Chronicle readers have faulted VTDigger for 1) news coverage and commentaries turning left and 2) cutting the hugely-popular comments section. The first is subjective, the latter explained as a cost-saving measure and by Galloway herself as a response to supposedly racist comments in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing. VTDigger also was criticized for donating free advertising to a pro-legal abortion group this February, the day before a big House vote on a constitutional amendment enshrining an unrestricted right to abortion.
More recently, Galloway has decried the demise of the traditional newspaper, while also arguing before the Vermont Senate that municipal legal advertising – a staple revenue source for community newspapers – be made available to online news media.
But it’s easy to quibble. What’s hard is turning your dream into a nationally-recognized success story. That’s not hype. VTDigger was the toast of a national online news gathering I attended in Chicago in 2019.
Digger’s A.G. leadership team is in good hands with interim publisher Jim Welch – the benevolent, god-like managing editor of the Free Press in 1979 – and Editor Paul Heintz, a pro’s pro and a good guy, too.
So enjoy the garden, Anne. Watch a Mountaineers game without having to worry about tomorrow’s paper. The buck no longer stops with you.