Media Note: VTDigger Fires Political Columnist John Walters | Off Message

Media Note: VTDigger Fires Political Columnist John Walters


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Updated at 7:31 p.m.

The nonprofit news site has fired political columnist John Walters, and its staff union is planning to fight the dismissal.

In an email sent to employees last Thursday, VTDigger founder and editor Anne Galloway informed her colleagues that Walters was "no longer an employee at VTDigger. We wish him the best in his future endeavors."

Galloway did not elaborate on the reasons for Walters' departure and declined to comment to Seven Days.

Walters did not respond to a request for comment Thursday morning, but he subsequently wrote on Twitter that he'd been "abruptly fired" a week prior. In a series of tweets, Walters went on to allege that the termination was "a blatant violation of labor law" because it occurred after VTDigger agreed to recognize the newly formed union and before the two sides reached a contract — a period during which staff reductions are generally not permissible.
Walters also suggested his firing might be related to his newfound leadership role in the union, called the VTDigger Guild, and political pressure from Gov. Phil Scott's office.

"The timing is unpleasantly coincidental. It came less than a week after I was named to our unit council, a leadership position in the union," Walters wrote, "and only three days after officials in the @GovPhilScott administration privately complained to Digger management about my social media posts."

Walters appeared to allude to the alleged complaints from Scott's office two days before his firing when he posted an image of Elmer Fudd on Twitter and wrote, "Be vewy, vewy quiet ... Someone's monitowing my Tweets."
Rebecca Kelley, a spokesperson for Scott, did not directly address the alleged incident in question but confirmed that she had raised multiple objections about Walters' work, including when he was a columnist for Seven Days.

"We’ve had persistent concerns about the accuracy and veracity of John’s reporting and commentary — dating back to his time at Seven Days and extending into his role at Digger — and I do reach out to express those concerns and seek corrections," Kelley said.

Following initial publication of this story, two people affiliated with VTDigger told Seven Days that Walters’ dismissal was related to yet another tweet he wrote — a day after the Elmer Fudd post and a day before he was fired. In the second tweet, Walters commented on a Vermont Public Radio story about Scott’s economic recovery proposal with an allusion to Saturday Night Live’s infamous “dick in a box” sketch.
According to Lola Duffort, an education reporter and co-unit council chair of the VTDigger Guild, Walters was told he had been fired for violating the news organization's social media policy. She said the union was "almost certain" to file an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

Duffort said the union had not formally communicated with management about the situation, and she declined to speculate about the reasons for her former colleague's termination.

Walters, a veteran journalist and blogger, wrote the Fair Game political column for Seven Days from January 2017 until August 2019.

At the time of Walters' departure, Seven Days news editor Matthew Roy declined to comment on what prompted it. But Walters wrote on his personal blog that he had "been given the choice of quitting or being fired" by the newspaper. Walters explained that he "had trouble achieving the paper's exacting standards for accuracy" and "had trouble distilling all the information and producing a strong point of view on deadline."

In covering Walters' departure from Seven Days, VTDigger calculated that 51 of the 396 columns and articles he had written for the newspaper had been corrected after publication. Six months later, VTDigger announced it had hired Walters as political columnist.