Despite the constant claims that newspapers are dying, we respectfully disagree. The “we” in that statement is The Times Argus and the Waterbury Roundabout.
Last March, after the Waterbury Record folded, a “news desert” was created here in central Vermont. While The Times Argus had occasional coverage in its five-day a week publication, the Waterbury Record staff was providing that hyperlocal content that readers want from their hometown newspaper.
In the wake of the Waterbury Record’s demise, several local professional journalists began brainstorming. They felt strongly that the community needed local reporting and a clearinghouse for news, events and features. Through a collaboration with the University of Vermont, which is providing some student writers and the framework for a website, the Waterbury Roundabout was created.
Since May, the Roundabout has been posting local content every week, and doing so for free. It shares stories on social media and through a weekly email to more than 1,200 subscribers, evidence that the community is relying on this new source of news and information.
At the same time the Waterbury Roundabout was taking shape, The Times Argus also was going through changes. After laying off about half of the company, and cutting back its publication days from five to three, the paper (along with the Rutland Herald) had to tighten its belt when revenue dropped by nearly 60 percent as a result of the pandemic.
But in the course of its restructuring, The Times Argus/Rutland Herald not only brought back many of its employees and the two publication days it had lost, the company also was seeing an uptick in paid subscriptions and developed a program designed to get local businesses back into the paper with greater frequency. That ad match program provided $20,000 in support to struggling Main Street businesses. But The Times Argus also took a hard look at its free weekly, which was being mailed to homes in several communities across Central Vermont. (The publication contains local news, columns, community news, puzzles, as well as inserts from local businesses, including grocery chains and box-box stores.) Overnight, it went from putting The Times Argus Reader in about 6,000 homes to nearly 20,000 homes, including Waterbury.
A collaboration on an article between The Times Argus and the Waterbury Roundabout put Editor and Publisher Steven Pappas and Roundabout founder and Editor Lisa Scagliotti on the same Zoom call. Scagliotti had content; Pappas had a publication that was being printed and distributed into the Waterbury region.
Why not collaborate?
After several months of talks, community discussions, and the pursuit for advertising (to help pay for this venture), we are proud this week to be introducing the Waterbury Reader – a collaboration between The Times Argus and the Waterbury Roundabout.
It does not change the mission of either publication. In fact it enhances it, because it gets valuable, sought-after news into the hands of both the online audience for the Roundabout, as well as directly into about 4,500 homes of a Waterbury audience that may not have known about or regularly followed the Waterbury Roundabout online. And some readers who just prefer a print publication in fact, that’s the most frequent question the Roundabout gets asked.
Waterbury businesses have told us they are excited about this print collaboration, and appreciate greatly the opportunity to once again have its own a local publication where they can advertise and reach their customers.
Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote a book earlier this year titled, “Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy.” In it, she deftly outlines the struggles of the newspaper industry, and how various societal factors have literally forced newspapers of all shapes and size to rethink their business model and workflow.
One of the chapters focuses on new models and collaborations, including for-profit news organizations (like The Times Argus, which is owned by Sample News Group) and nonprofits (like the Waterbury Roundabout) responding to the needs of readers – and communities. Some of the models sound intricate.
This one is very simple, and shows that with a little courage and a lot of enthusiasm, news can still have a place at the center of community, and in our lives. Together, we are very proud to be able to support this resilient community in a truly meaningful way.
Steven Pappas is the editor and publisher of The Times Argus. Lisa Scagliotti is the founder of Waterbury Roundabout.