BRATTLEBORO, Vt. -- There's a novel approach to sustaining journalism being tried in Brattleboro, Vt. (pop. 12,000), which provides an example of one form of public subsidy for journalism. What do you think?
Brattleboro's daily is owned by MediaNews Group, the Denver, Colo.-based group which just emerged from a quick-fix bankruptcy-court filing. Brattleboro is also the home of iBrattleboro.com, of of the earliest examples of a local online news community, iBrattleboro, begun Feb. 20, 2003.
Also back in 2005, a group of Brattleboro-area citizens started publishing a monthly, tabloid called the Brattleboro Commons. Initially distinctly unjournalistic, it has progressed under a new editor, Jeff Potter, to the point where the owners -- now organized as a non-profit corporation -- are going to weekly publication in June.
ORIGINAL LAUNCH IN 2005: http://www.ibrattleboro.com/article.php/20050503130306488
The Commons applied under a community-development program to the town for a $25,000 loan, at 3-percent interest, to help finance the move from monthly to weekly publication. At a May 3 meeting of the town's selectmen, the grant application was approved.
iBrattleboro noted the decision here:
The daily, The Reformer, also covered it as one short item buried in a May 5 account of the board's meeting, leading with another issue. Here's all it said:
"Vermont Independent Media, which operates The Commons, Brattleboro's alternative monthly newspaper, received a $25,000 loan from the town's Small Business Assistance Program. Jeff Potter, editor, said the loan would be used to ease the paper's transition from a monthly to a weekly publication. 'We have seen a period of rapid growth in both circulation and advertising,' said Potter.
The changeover will also include daily Web site updates, he said. The loan would be 'a win-win for the newspaper and the community as well,' he said, because it would help The Commons to make the most 'of everything that a true independent newspaper in the area could be.' The interest rate on the loan is 3 percent. The program is funded through interest payments made by those who receive a loan."
Finally, on May 26, Vermont Public Radio weighed in with about a two-minute audio report, also printed on it's website, by reporter Susan Keese, which at least asked the question of whether public funding of a news organization was appropriate. No problem, said one selectman.
"Jeff Potter is the paper's executive editor. He says The Commons represents a new, non-profit model that could help newspapers emerge from the economic struggle that many have faced in recent years.
(Potter) 'And I think more philosophically a model that really embraces the concept that newspapers should be: more of a public utility and less of a commercial enterprise.'
(Keese) Potter says there's no pressure to make a profit, and that frees reporters to take the time to dig more deeply into local stories and local people that might not otherwise make the news. It also allows the paper's editorial staff to work with people who may never have written a story before, but who have a story they want to tell.
(Potter) 'And that's what a true community newspaper can do, is to chronicle what matters to people. Particularly in some of the small towns that are beyond the reach and scope of the daily that covers the area.'
(Keese) Potter says the $25,000 loan the paper has received from the town of Brattleboro is part of a revolving loan fund that's available to businesses throughout town.
Brattleboro Select Board Chairman Dick DeGray says the loan will not make The Commons obligated to the town editorially. (Degray) 'We viewed it as a small business loan. It didn't have any bearing that it was a newspaper. Since I've been on the board we've given money to a local brewery we've given money to a bagel start up. So as long as they meet the criteria, which they did.' "