WATERBURY - Community newspapers aren't just about high school sports scores and ice-cream socials. David Goodman, brother of radio-host activist Amy, will have a column in the new Waterbury Record, which hits the streets January 25. Liz Schlegel of Spike Advertising also plans to have a biweekly business column in the free, 4000-circulation weekly. Both are residents of the town the new paper's spokesperson calls "the place to be right now in central Vermont."
For years the weekly Stowe Reporter has covered news and events in its namesake town while its second paper, The Valley Reporter, took on Waitsfield, Warren and points south. Waterbury was being underserved, according to Maria Archangelo, the Record's new editor and publisher. Stowe Reporter Publisher Biddle Duke finally decided to spin off a separate newspaper that, while still owned by Stowe, would be devoted exclusively to the "crossroads of Vermont" - Waterbury's reclaimed downtown designation. Starting Thursday, when the Record hits the streets, the burg will have its own distinct voice.
That said, Volume 1 Number 1 is not exactly a first edition. In 1895, the town had a paper of the same name managed, edited - and later owned - by Harry Whitehill. The Waterbury Record spawned the Stowe Journal, and the two papers coexisted until 1947. They closed together, and then, 10 years later, "somebody started the Stowe Reporter," says Archangelo. "It's funny because Waterbury started Stowe, and now Stowe is starting Waterbury."
What's more intriguing is that Duke hired Archangelo, who used to edit the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, to launch a traditional media property in the digital era. The Record will be mailed to 3200 homes in Waterbury, population 5000. Additional copies will be available around town.
The approach sounds old-fashioned, but it's pretty savvy, too. Archangelo points out that print journalism is actually thriving in niche and local markets. "You can get a lot of national and international news from other places, but nobody else is going to be writing about the chicken pie supper or what's going on at that building," she says. Not to mention births, deaths, weddings, locally focused letters to the editor - "all those things you would expect. That's what we are trying to focus on."
Of course, there will be digital elements, too. "We'll have blogs, and a website. We're going to do the whole electronic media thing," Archangelo explains.
Waterbury has come a long way from serving as a poor sister to Stowe. The town is growing, Archangelo points out. "Green Mountain Coffee has made a huge investment in Waterbury. Unlike a lot of communities in central Vermont, there's actual construction of housing. People are actually moving there." She says the Stowe Reporter's ad rep for Waterbury has staked out the business territory. Advertising will be the free paper's sole source of revenue.
Ken Squier, who owns Waterbury-based WDEV radio, might be first to pick up the inaugural issue on Thursday. His father worked for Whitehill at the original Record, when it was "a highly motivated political paper," Squier recalls. "Harry Whitehill was a stout Republican who wrote his own editorials and had an opinion. There were letters to the editor. That's what these papers are for."
Squier doesn't expect the same political ideology from the new Record. But based on what Archangelo did for the Times-Argus, he's convinced that she "really does understand what local news means."
"Everything we've known about democracy from the beginning says we must have a free press," Squier continues. "These days the greater issue is: We must have a press, and it has to have divergent opinions and has to get right to the core of the community. That's why the local town paper is so important."