Thursday, January 24, 2008

Skin and Bones Where A Newspaper Should Be In Vermont

The Burlington Free Press Looks Severely Malnourished on a Day When It Should Be Fat With Copy -- And Ads

Had some R&R in Vermont last weekend, and while thawing out and waiting for the Patriots-Chargers game to start, I spent a little time reading the Sunday edition of the Burlington Free Press. Put an emphasis on little.
This is ostensibly the flagship newspaper in the Green Mountain State. At the very least, it's the largest, with a daily circulation of about 45,000 and 52,000 on Sunday.
Yet, I couldn't help but feel that anyone who plunked down $1.75 for the Jan. 20 edition was played for a sucker.
Not counting the classifieds, comics, USA Weekend and the circulars, there was a grand total of 36 pages devoted to the other sections. Thirty-six pages. That meant you could wend your way through the paper in no more than 15 minutes or so, assuming you read slowly.
Admittedly, I don't see the Free Press on a regular basis, so I don't know whether this is typical, and if this output is duplicated on a more-desultory scale the other six days of the week. But it wouldn't surprise me.
After all the Freeps is owned by Gannett, where mediocrity and underachievement run rampant chain-wide, despite the best efforts of many editors and reporters.
What I saw was prime cannon fodder to justify why people go online rather than subscribe to a paper. Beyond a few local stories, the Freeps is offering little of value.
The paper has been hit, like all others, with downturns in circulation and ads. Staffing and morale has also reportedly plummeted.
But that's still no excuse for what I saw over the weekend, which basically ensures that any ardent news consumer in northern and central Vermont will feel compelled to plunk down more-serious coin for The New York Times or, perhaps, The Boston Globe.
That'll set 'em back a lot more than $1.75, but chances are good or better it'll be money well-spent.

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