Morning Read: The Gray Lady on the Freeps | Off Message

Morning Read: The Gray Lady on the Freeps


The Burlington Free Press made news Monday morning — but not on its own pages.

With the headline, "In Vermont, a Venerable Paper Fights for Readers," the Freeps found itself the subject of a New York Times B1 story covering its June makeover — and the reaction from its Queen City readers.

Following the obligatory Ben & Jerry's-flavored lede, media writer Christine Haughney briefly outlines the recent changes at the Freeps — from its press rebuild and format change to its online paywall and subscription price hike — before taking the reader straight to the action: Burlington's August First bakery and cafe. There, teachers Lynne Hefferon and Candice Swenson are splitting a brownie and complaining about the Freeps' "reduced content in print, sporadic delivery and long customer-service waiting times."

Ms. Swenson said she was considering canceling the subscription she has had since 1974. Ms. Hefferon said she had canceled after 22 years and dropped it a second time after The Free Press offered her a Walmart gift card to come back. Both women have been reading Seven Days, a free alternative weekly, instead.

That highlight aside, Haughney's story won't tell Vermonters much they don't already know: that, at the direction of corporate parent Gannett, the Freeps is trying to breathe new life into the 185-year-old paper during a tough time for legacy dailies. And that change does not come easily — either to newspaper editors or to longtime readers.

But the story does include some interesting Queen City voices, including Freeps executive editor Mike Townsend, veteran reporter Mike Donoghue and publisher Jim Fogler, the latter of whom says the paper has held on to 88 percent of its 600,000 unique web visitors since it started charging for online access.

The story also quotes former Freeps advertisers Will Vinci of the North Face Store and Alex Crothers of Higher Ground, along with go-to local journo prof David Mindich of St. Michael's College and — of all people — one Shay Totten, a flack for Chelsea Green Publishing. Oddly, the story identifies Totten as a former Freeps reporter, but not as a former columnist for that other Burlington paper.

Anyway, enough from us. Go read the story for yourself. And if you find yourself hungry for more navel-gazing media-on-media content, feel free to check out our July story on the Freeps changes while you're at it.

[One last thing: The Rutland Herald and the Barre Montpelier Times-Argus also ran the NYT story in their Monday editions, though they subbed-in their own, less "venerable" headlines. On their websites, the two papers went with, "Free Press Losing Ground in Vermont." But in its print edition, the T-A headlined the story with, "State's Biggest Paper Criticized for Changes." Perhaps the Mitchell family-owned papers didn't like Mindich's contention that, "In terms of hard-hitting daily news, The Free Press is the best in Vermont."]


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