MONTPELIER — One of the most venerable and well-known bylines in Vermont journalism departed Monday with the ending of Christopher Graff's tenure as head of the state's Associated Press bureau.
The reasons for his sudden exit Monday were not released by Larry Laughlin, the chief of the AP's bureau in Concord, N.H., and Graff's boss.
"Chris Graff is no longer with the Associated Press," Laughlin said in a brief telephone interview from the AP's Montpelier offices Monday. "It's a personnel matter, and I can't talk about it any further."
Graff, whose byline has appeared over some of the state's biggest stories in the past quarter-century, also did not comment on why he has left the bureau. Reached by telephone at his Elm Street home in Montpelier, Graff said that he was shocked and still digesting the news.
"I'm trying to figure it out myself," he said.
Considered one of the deans of the Vermont press corps, Graff had been with AP since 1978 and had been Vermont bureau chief since 1980. In his 25 years at the helm of one of the state's most influential news gathering operations, Graff interviewed and wrote about practically every person in any position of power in Vermont.
Because of the nature of the Associated Press — it is a news-gathering cooperative owned by its member newspapers, radio stations and television stations — Graff's work appeared in most media outlets in the state. With that kind of readership and viewership, Graff was one of the handful of reporters whose calls are almost always returned.
News of his sudden departure stunned members of the media and political communities Monday.
"Chris Graff is an extraordinarily well-qualified and well-respected journalist who has been serving the people of Vermont for many, many years," said Jason Gibbs, press secretary for Gov. James Douglas, who, as a Middlebury College undergraduate, worked on that college's radio station with Graff.
"His departure from the Associated Press is a real loss to the state and to journalism as a whole," Gibbs said. "The governor is saddened by the news."
John Mitchell, publisher of the Rutland Herald and the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, also was caught by surprise Monday morning. Even though he is a member of the AP board of directors, Mitchell said he had no advance word about Graff's departure.
"I am still absorbing the news," Mitchell said. "It is hard to imagine a Vermont news scene without Chris at the AP."
Graff also has briefly tangled with national politicians and pundits, most recently during the controversy surrounding Chittenden Superior Court Judge Edward Cashman and his sentencing of a child sexual offender.
Graff wrote a story based on the actual sentencing transcript that fueled the ire of Fox News talk show host Bill O'Reilly for several days.
Graff also is widely known to Vermont television viewers as the amiable host of "Vermont This Week" on Vermont Public Television, a job he's had since 1992. That show's executive producer, Joe Merone, said he was shocked at Graff's departure from the AP.
"Chris has been a valued partner and colleague of mine and of Vermont Public Television," Merone said. "He is someone who has always put the quality of the product he produced first and foremost. I don't think that there's a single journalist in Vermont with as much historical perspective, institutional knowledge and most importantly a love of our state than Chris."
Whether Graff was fired or resigned was unclear Monday, although Laughlin's presence in Montpelier was unusual. Laughlin did not return later calls for comment, and an AP spokesman in New York e-mailed a reply that simply said, "In response to your media query, I can confirm that Chris Graff is no longer with the company but we routinely do not talk about personnel issues."
Laughlin did say in his earlier interview that Graff will be replaced, and the bureau's complement of four reporters would not be cut.
Sabina Haskell, managing editor of the Brattleboro Reformer and president of the Vermont Press Association, did not know about Graff's departure until a reporter called seeking comment.
"I am stunned," she said. "The AP in Vermont has always been on the lookout for the small papers in the far-flung corners of the state and worked hard for us."
It was also unclear Monday how his departure would affect Graff's other media jobs, like his regular contributions to WDEV-FM's morning news broadcasts, his "Vermont This Week" hosting duties or his regular roster of specials for VPT.
One other media veteran said she hoped Graff would continue serving the news consumers of the state in some form or another.
"Chris has such a deep knowledge of this state and, in the last 25 years, particularly of its political history that I personally will really miss the depth and context that he brings to his reporting," said Candace Page, a long-time reporter for the Burlington Free Press and a frequent guest on Vermont This Week. "I was stunned by this news, and I'm just very sad that he won't be writing for the AP anymore."
Contact Darren Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org.MORE IN NewsPORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Sen. Full Story
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