The parent company of the Brattleboro Reformer and Bennington Banner has shuffled the leadership of the two southern Vermont newspapers.
New England Newspapers, Inc., announced Tuesday that Tom D'Errico, who has served as executive editor of the Reformer since 2008, has been named to the new position of content marketing manager for the regional publishing group. The Banner's managing editor, Michelle Karas, will now lead both papers.
The changes come as NENI's corporate owner, Digital First Media, attempts to sell off its 76 daily and 160 weekly newspapers. According to industry analyst Ken Doctor, DFM is close to requesting final bids from several national chains and private equity firms interested in all, or just a handful, of its papers.
The masthead shift at the Reformer and the Banner will leave the papers with one fewer top editor, but Karas says she can handle running both.
"I'm hoping so," she says. "When I'm here at the Banner, I can still be in good contact with the people at the Reformer — and vice versa."
Karas, who came to the Banner in January 2013 from the Mercury in Pottstown, Penn., says she expects others in the newsrooms to take on additional management responsibilities.
According to D'Errico, empowering a single editor to run the two papers will help reduce overlap between the newsrooms, whose coverage areas border one another.
"I know here in Brattleboro, everyone who's been working under me I really trust with the way they handle local coverage, and that's not going away," he says.
NENI's decision to consolidate its editor positions follows a similar one among its publishers. Ed Woods, who became publisher of the Banner and the Manchester Journal in 2005, added the Reformer to his portfolio in 2008 and then the Massachusetts-based Berkshire Eagle last July.
Woods did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday but told the Reformer and Banner, "These two changes in our Vermont news staff represent the forward direction that our company is taking."
In his new position, D'Errico says, he'll be charged with coordinating content between the company's four papers and "bridging the disconnect that exists in a lot of news organizations between the editorial department and the advertising world."
Like most daily newspapers in Vermont and throughout the country, readership at the Reformer and Banner has dropped precipitously in recent years. Between September 2009 and September 2014, print circulation at the Reformer declined from 7,516 to 4,883, according to data provided by the Alliance for Audited Media. The Reformer reports digital circulation as 2,720.
At the Banner, print circ has dropped from 5,952 to 3,790 in that same period, according to AAM. The Banner says it has 2,535 digital readers.
In that time, readership at a Reformer competitor has grown. TheCommons, an independent, county-wide weekly based in Brattleboro, has expanded its circulation from 5,500 to 8,400 since 2010, the paper reports.
Even before it put its newspapers up for sale, Digital First Media announced plans to sell 51 of the buildings that house them, including the Reformer's and Banner's.
According to D'Errico, the Vermont buildings have not been sold.
Doctor, the newspaper analyst, reported last week that GateHouse Media, Tribune Media, Hearst Corporation and Gannett Company, Inc., which owns the Burlington Free Press, are among the potential buyers of DFM's various newspapers. He says the company would prefer to sell all its papers to one company, but would consider splitting them up and selling them in regional packages.
Disclosure: Paul Heintz worked at the Reformer from February 2007 through March 2008, during which time D'Errico was his editor.