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  • Courtesy of Alex Nuti-de Biasi
  • Michelle Sherburne, the new co-owner of Journal-Opinion

The Journal-Opiniona weekly that covers about 15 Connecticut River towns from its base in Bradford, was purchased by a longtime employee.

Michelle Sherburne started working at the newspaper in the early 1980s, fresh out of high school. Although she moved to other local papers over the years, she returned to the Journal-Opinion in 2000 and since then has been working as part of a four-person team in editorial, sales, production and any other necessary work.

On October 1, Sherburne and her husband, Rodney, purchased the paper from owner Connie Sanville, herself a former employee who had purchased the paper from previous owner Robert Huminski.

Sherburne said she sees her family’s role as an important step in keeping the 155-year-old newspaper in local hands as an asset that connects and informs the community.

“Connie and our boss before that, Robert Huminski, always thought they were just stewards of the newspaper,” Sherburne said. “And that’s what Rodney and I think too.”

Two other Vermont newspapers cease printing

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Two other Vermont newspapers cease printing

By Kevin McCallum

New

The Journal-Opinion has a print run of only 2,500 copies. About 550 people pay to read its online version. The document covers events around the Bradford area in sparsely populated towns in New Hampshire and Vermont. He eschews national — and even statewide — histories.

There are other news outlets covering these larger stories, Sherburne noted. The Journal-Opinion updates readers on the activities of the selection committee – which holds its meetings just down the hall from the Journal-Opinion‘s rented offices – and about fires, local crime and business openings.

“Our readers love in-depth articles,” Sherburne said. “They love reading about the 100-year-old woman who is still quilting and still involved in different organizations.”

Nationally, the newspaper industry is in bad shape. Advertising dollars that used to sustain newspapers have migrated online over the past few decades, and newspapers haven’t really found a way to replace that revenue. Last month, two Vermont news organizations stopped printing their print editions – the Waterbury Readera free community weekly produced in partnership with the Barre-Montpelier Times Argusand the Vermont Cynicthe student newspaper of the University of Vermont.

In recent years, big corporations have bought up local newspapers across the country and cut reporting staff — a practice that undermines local media coverage.

A new publisher takes the reins of the struggling ‘Burlington Free Press’

A new publisher takes the reins of the struggling ‘Burlington Free Press’

By Anne Wallace Allen

Media

Many small newspapers are in jeopardy. Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism reported in June that the United States had lost a quarter of its newspapers since 2005 and was now losing about two a week – most weeklies like the Journal-Opinion.

The Journal-Opinion has also declined significantly since 2005. That’s when editor-in-chief Alex Nuti-de Biasi joined the paper after graduating from Vermont Law School — then responded to the paper’s ad for freelance writers. At the time, the document was approximately 40 pages divided into two sections; now it’s 10 to 16 pages, with one section.

But Sherburne and Nuti-de Biasi said they believed their barebones operation had the ingredients it needed to survive. This includes staff and family members who take photos, call news events, deliver newspapers and make business calls outside of their regular work. Last week, the fiancée of Sherburne’s son called a fire she passed on while going to work in Woodsville, NH, and she stopped to take pictures for the newspaper. Rodney Sherburne makes sales calls one day a week in addition to his regular full-time retail job.

“In a small newspaper like this, we are all like Swiss Army knives,” Nuti-de Biasi said. “You have to take on many roles, like answering the phone, making subscriptions, sometimes delivering newspapers.”

The pandemic revealed very strong local support, he added. Few companies carried advertisements and the newspaper had only eight pages.

“I was really surprised by the level of devotion to the paper that came out,” he said. “There were people donating to make sure we were still there.”

When Sanville put the newspaper up for sale this year, Sherburne said, two brothers expressed interest in operating it remotely from Massachusetts and Tennessee. It was then that she and her husband decided to buy it.

They are determined to keep it exactly the same.

“If you’re going to have a local newspaper, you have to have local people running it,” she said. “Otherwise, it’s a newsletter full of canned copy.”