The Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus have eliminated the position of editorial page editor and laid off its longtime occupant: Pulitzer Prize-winner David Moats.
Moats had worked for the papers since 1982 and helmed their editorial pages since 1992. He won the Pulitzer in 2001 for a series of editorials about the debate over civil unions, during which Vermont came to grips with a state Supreme Court decision mandating official recognition of same-sex relationships. He remains the only Vermonter to win a Pulitzer for journalism, according to Sean Murphy, digital content manager for the Pulitzer Prizes organization.
"This is a business decision that has more to do with the future of the organization than the present," the papers' general manager, Rob Mitchell, wrote in an internal email obtained by Seven Days. "As we constantly re-evaluate legacy positions, we must make decisions on which ones to keep over the next several years as we transition to a new model for local newspapers."
VTDigger.org first reported news of Moats' departure. The outgoing editor could not immediately be reached for comment.
"We had to make a decision about a legacy post at the papers," editor Steve Pappas explained in an interview. "We've talked about a transition to a part-time role. David has embraced that."
Pappas pointed out that many newspapers no longer have an editorial page editor. "We've protected that position for a very long time," Pappas said. "David recognizes the challenges facing the industry, and he wants to help us adapt."
The cost savings, he added, would be invested in strengthening the papers' newsrooms in ways he would not specify.
The Herald and Times Arguscame very close to shutting down in the summer of 2016 before being sold to out-of-state owners, Reade Brower of Maine and Chip Harris of New Hampshire. They arrived with promises of a revitalized operation. To the outside observer, they seem to have adopted the industry's standard response to dwindling circulation and advertising revenue: cut staff, expect those remaining to do more, and hope to generate new revenue with a skimpier product.
Pappas defines the process differently. "We have reined in our coverage area, put new emphasis on local sports and arts, and built back our community news — weddings, births, obituaries, honor rolls and high school sports," he said. "We are shifting our emphasis to being the local paper as much as possible."
With that emphasis in mind, Pappas said, Moats' "20,000-foot view" of issues in a broad context became less useful. Pappas and night editor Roger Carroll will now manage the opinion pages and share most of the editorial writing duties. "Roger and I oversee our local content," Pappas explained. "We want to write about hyperlocal things in our community."
For newspaper readers and Vermont's media industry, Moats' departure is a sad note in the decline of our daily press. He has been a beacon of quality through his employer's long, painful decline, and an articulate voice of reason in Vermont’s marketplace of ideas.