The Rutland Herald has a new publisher, its fourth in a 10-year period.
Ed Coats, 64, took on his new role Jan. 4.
“I originally grew up in Canandaigua, New York, which is just south of Rochester, but I’ve been just across the lake over at Denton Publications for the last 30 years, so this is pretty much home,” he said on Tuesday.
For the past six months, Coats has been a consultant for the Times Argus, which is owned along with the Rutland Herald by Brunswick Publishing LLC, part of the Sample News Group.
Coats has been working in Vermont since 1995, he said, having been the associate publisher at Denton Publications and co-owner of the Addison Eagle in Middlebury. Denton Publications runs a group of weekly newspapers called Sun Community News, which span from the Canadian border to Glens Falls, New York.
He said he came to The Times Argus and the Herald looking for a new challenge.
“I wasn’t ready to retire just yet, so I thought I would take on the challenges of putting the Herald back into the epicenter of the community and making it be the daily that I remember it was back in 1995 when I first came to Vermont to run newspapers,” he said, recalling days when the Rutland Herald and Burlington Free Press were the dominant print news organizations in the state.
Coats said he thinks he can bring some of that influence back.
“It’s all about community involvement, and coming from a group of community papers I know what local content and what local news means to a community and how successful they can be, and we have to look in that arena.”
He said national news is available constantly from sources that can deliver it instantly and for free, leaving local news a niche papers like the Rutland Herald can fill by being more vibrant and community oriented.
“The first thing we did, we just initiated a front-page banner to allow our advertisers to have front-page advertising as well as front-page news on the front cover of the Herald,” said Coats. “They’ll be seeing more aggressive rates, they’ll be seeing more color in the paper, they’ll be seeing us get involved in more community events, being out front in the community, which we’ve been lacking in for several years.”
He said he aims to improve circulation and deliver and to modernize the paper’s format, along with the Rutland Reader.
The pandemic has made his task more difficult, but it’s doable still, he said. Local, daily newspapers have found ways to survive.
“There’s plenty of examples of that, and in almost every case the newspapers that have turned around have gone back to their roots; most of them are relatively locally owned, or in small groups, and they focus on the local community with things people can’t get from the 24/7 news cycle,” he said.
Steven Pappas was publisher of the Rutland Herald prior to Coats. Pappas remains publisher of The Times Argus and is executive editor for both publications.
Pappas said Tuesday that Coats has a long history in the business side of newspapers and was able to improve practices at The Times Argus and identify areas where money was to be made.
“This is a guy who actually knows how to do this pretty well, and he can throw different ideas out there. … He’s all about ideas, he’s always cultivating what other papers are doing and seeing if he can morph it into something he can do,” said Pappas.
At The Times Argus, Coats was able to form a partnership with the Waterbury Roundabout, an online publication, and form the Waterbury Reader. Pappas said that’s worked so well it’s become somewhat difficult to manage.
“It’s in a time where the industry has been feeling really low and kind of dreadful, it’s been really nice to do things where you’re seeing people really appreciate the paper and wanting to invest in us,” said Pappas.
People do like their local daily newspaper, something Coats will be able to use to his advantage, said Rutland City Mayor David Allaire on Wednesday.
From 2011 to 2016, Allaire worked under Coats selling advertisements for the Addison Eagle.
“He was a great boss and treated me fairly, and had a successful run with the paper,” said Allaire. “He was always very… open to new ideas, he took a lot of input from us because we were out there on the ground.”
He said the pandemic will make achieving Coats’ goals challenging, but he’s up to the task.
“I think there’s a lot of potential here in the Rutland City area,” he said. “People still like to get their local news from their local paper. I think in general people want the Rutland Herald to be successful, so I think that is something he can use to his advantage.”