Printing problems are causing chaos at the Times Argus and Rutland Herald newspapers, holding up home deliveries and annoying readers who count on getting the paper at the same time every day.
“Our newspapers have not been getting into the hands of our motor route carriers on time,” editor Steve Pappas wrote on November 29 to Times Argus readers, explaining the problems. A similar editorial ran in the Rutland Herald. “Certain inserts have not been in the papers, or delayed beyond their usefulness, which is unacceptable to us.”
Pappas works for Sample News Group, the Pennsylvania-based parent of the Times Argus, Rutland Herald, and the Vermont Journal in Ludlow. He’s asking readers to be patient while the printer, Upper Valley Press in Haverhill, N.H., finds a way around the supply chain and worker shortage crises that are delaying production.
Meanwhile, Pappas has found another printer to produce some of the company's papers, and he’s contemplating a wholesale move to another press. However, no Vermont companies do the kind of printing he needs, and Pappas said suitable ones in New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Québec tend to have their hands full.
Pappas has also asked Sample whether the Times Argus and its other publications should start printing their own editions. The Times Argus printed its paper until its Barre pressroom was knocked out by a flood in 2011. Sample hasn’t given him a firm “no,” he said.
If other newspapers joined the effort, “we could cover our own costs with a print facility here,” Pappas said. “If you’re looking at supply and demand, this is an obvious one.”
Of course, a new venture could run into some of the problems Upper Valley Press is facing. “Does that mean it’s easy to find people who can run a print facility? Maybe not,” Pappas said.
The Burlington Free Press announced in February 2020 that it would stop printing papers and moved production to Portsmouth, N.H. Seven Days, a former client of the Upper Valley Press, has been printed by Quebecor Media Printing in Laval, Québec since 2018, and hasn't experienced any delays.
The Upper Valley Press delays have also hit the Stowe Reporter and the four other newspapers published by the Vermont Community Newspaper Group. Janice Heathman, vice president of customer service at Upper Valley Press, confirmed that at least some of those papers have stopped using the printer.
Community Newspaper Group publisher Gregory Popa did not return a phone message Monday. But in a note to readers November 24, news editor Tommy Gardner said the company had discussed moving to online-only production for a few issues to cope with printing delays. It decided not to, in part because the company publishes legal notices for 20 communities.
And “it’s important to remember that not everyone has adequate access to the internet, and they rely on getting their news in their mailbox or from the newsstand,” Gardner wrote.
Ray Small, the publisher of the Hardwick Gazette, is all for starting a Vermont printing company. He stopped printing that paper’s broadsheet in the spring of 2020, but he’d like to put out a print edition again someday.
Small announced earlier this month that he was selling the Gazette’s building to save money, and the paper, now online-only, will be produced remotely. He then heard from many readers, including some who asked when they could expect to see a copy in print again.
Vermont has one of the oldest populations in the country, and Small thinks many Gazette readers still prefer to hold their reading matter in their hands.
“And because it’s Vermont, a lot of people don’t have internet, and they sure as heck don’t have smartphones,” he added.
Meanwhile, Heathman said Upper Valley Press is coming up with a plan to get things working properly again. She noted a recent COVID-19 outbreak in the plant made problems worse. A needed machine part was stuck in transit from Switzerland for weeks. But the worker shortage is having the greatest impact on assembling the papers for delivery.
“We’ve had to whittle down to only two shifts a day instead of three because of staff shortages,” Heathman said. “The weekend is not a catchup time for us. It’s straight work time.”
The Caledonian Record, which publishes six times a week, and the Cabot Chronicle, which publishes nine times a year, are printed at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire. Chronicle editor Jeanne Johnson said she tried to find a printer in Vermont before choosing the Monitor, which so far has printed the Chronicle’s 1,600 copies without delays.
“We are all struggling through this pandemic with labor and supplies,” was all that Harry Green, production director at the Monitor, would say of work there.
The Chronicle surveyed its readers two years ago to see whether the paper should move online, and 70 percent said no, Johnson said. The small paper survives on ads, an annual $15,000 town appropriation, and the efforts of loyal locals who work for nearly nothing. New copies of the Chronicle travel from the printer for free on a truck carrying the Caledonian Record. Johnson is grateful for the help.
“It seems like the people in the industry really care about small-town papers,” she said.