We hope that someday we can tell you the full story about why someone would take 1,500 copies of The Commons last week. Right now we have more questions than we do answers.
Thanks to two eyewitnesses and security footage at a third location, this we do know: as afternoon turned to evening on Wednesday, July 1, two people — a tall, dark-haired man with a “strong brow,” accompanied by a young boy — shadowed our distribution efforts. They removed from all our vending boxes and our major distribution points almost every single copy of the newspaper we delivered to Brattleboro.
But what followed was nothing other than an affirmation of the spark that created this newspaper and the values that have kept it going for almost 10 whole years.
Our printer is more than just a faceless vendor. The Keene Sentinel — one of those rare species, a family-owned daily — has been a true partner to us over the years. On Thursday morning, Tom Ewing, Rob Farnsworth, and their colleagues immediately made room in a busy holiday weekend printing schedule to get the paper back on press in record time and with nothing but cooperation, positive vibes, and good humor in the face of inconvenience to the extreme.
More than a dozen volunteers answered our call on Facebook and came to Brattleboro to assemble the multiple sections of the paper and then resupply our vending boxes and retail drop points. The swarm of energy let this gargantuan task take place in 45 minutes, and as a result, The Commons was once again on the street less than 24 hours from the time we discovered it gone.
A cadre of readers, on their own initiative, have made special donations that have completely covered the hundreds of dollars it cost to reprint the paper — an unanticipated expense our frugal operation is hard-pressed to absorb. Countless readers all over Windham County immediately began to keep an extra eye out on our remaining newspapers, extra attention that might well have discouraged a more expansive spree.
Multiple merchants are beginning to let us peruse security footage to help us in this mystery.
Robert Bertsche and Asya Calixto, attorneys at Prince Lobel Tye LLP who represent us as members of the New England Newspaper and Press Association, turned on a dime and made some persuasive legal arguments that one individual taking hundreds of newspapers is not logically equivalent to hundreds of individual readers enjoying their single respective copies.
And none of these feats would have been possible without the behind-the-scenes work of our indefatigable board president, Barry Aleshnick, who has managed the distribution of this newspaper from its first issue and who did his own shoe-leather reporting, sleuthing, and planning to figure out exactly which copies were taken, when they disappeared, and how we would replace them.
All told, this baffling stunt has cost our not-for-profit newspaper at least $2,500. Yes, The Commons is free, but the wholesale theft of one-sixth of our press run robs a community of news, robs advertisers of value, and robs us of credibility and trust. That brazen act is as wrong as we are confident it is illegal.
So to all of you who have helped us get the news out there and try to find the person responsible, whether you lugged papers or shared it on social media, whether you chipped in or whether you called with a kind word, we so appreciate your help and your engagement in this, our own story. You put the “community” in your community newspaper.
We have our lede. Now let’s see how the story ends.
—Jeff Potter, editor and operations director, for the staff of The Commons and the board of directors of Vermont Independent Media