When Seven Days returned from its annual holiday break this week, we found a crapload of snail mail waiting for us. Within that pile was a curious pitch from the publisher of the Bridge, Montpelier's weekly newspaper.
"Dear Paula," the letter began, referring to Seven Days coeditor and publisher Paula Routly. "Here is a proposal to share resources between the Bridge and other newspapers across the state."
Bridge publisher Nat Frothingham went on to explain that beginning in January, the Bridge will be producing a weekly political report from the statehouse authored by John Odum (pictured), and making it available to weekly newspapers across the state "for a modest fee that will help us cover basic costs." How modest? Try $30 per column.
Odum (pictured) is the publisher of the left-leaning politics blog Green Mountain Daily and, as of last summer, news editor of the Bridge. He's also worked as a paid political consultant advocating for at least one of the issues his capitol report intends to cover: a proposal to unionize childcare workers.
The statehouse report will also cover topics such as health care reform funding, permit reform as part of the Act 250 process, the physician-assisted suicide (or "death with dignity") bill and the politics behind the proposed merger of Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service.
We tried to reach Odum earlier today but did not hear back immediately.
In a phone interview, Frothingham says he mailed the column proposal to around 15 weekly newspapers that may not have a dedicated statehouse reporter, including the Barton Chronicle, the Herald of Randolph and others. None has committed to buying the column yet, Frothingham says, but one or two weeklies have expressed "strong interest." He isn't sure yet whether the column will be news, opinion or both.
"Many said they want to wait and see how the column turns out," he says.
Frothingham says Odum is well suited to write a syndicated statehouse report because he's "well connected" and "totally engrossed by the political process. ...He has a very nice manner with people. He's not acerbic. He doesn't strike me as abrasive."
Asked whether he is concerned about Odum's past advocacy work creating a perceived or actual conflict of interest, Frothingham said, "I was't aware that he'd done [that]. All I'm aware of is the general situation in Vermont in which people have about a dozen hats on a rack, and they put on a different hat on a Tuesday than they did on Monday. It can be abused and it's important to identify people and the hats they're wearing. The best way to deal with that possibility is to be transparent."
Curiously, the Bridge's pitch arrived at our office not long after former Seven Days political columnist Shay Totten announced his departure.
File photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur