The Commons
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Inset: Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons

Background: The first issue of the Brattleboro Reformer, an image shared with readers on Facebook. Inset: Publisher Ed Woods, left, and Executive Editor Tom D'Errico spoke to well-wishers at an open house at the Reformer last Friday to celebrate its 100th anniversary as a daily newspaper.


The Reformer turns 100

Against the backdrop of a changing industry, Windham County’s daily newspaper presses on
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Originally published in The Commons issue #193 (Wednesday, March 6, 2013).

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Rice stepped down as editor and publisher in 1950 and was succeeded by John S. Hooper. The Rice family continued to own the paper until 1966, when it was purchased by the Miller family, owners of The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.

Under the Millers, the changes came fast and frequent. Offset printing was introduced in 1969, and molten lead and Linotypes gave way to computerized typesetting and paste-up. Typewriters gave way to video display terminals in the late 1970s. The biggest change of all, besides the move to the new plant off Putney Road, was the switch from afternoon to morning publication in 1982.

All of these changes were overseen by Norman Runnion, who started at the Reformer as Hooper’s assistant in 1969 and became the managing editor in 1971.

By the time the Reformer celebrated its 75th anniversary as a daily in 1988, circulation had grown to more than 10,000. Runnion retired two years later, leaving a legacy of building what former Boston Globe editor Tom Winship once called the best small newspaper in New England.

But the next big change came in 1995, when the Miller family sold the paper to Denver-based MediaNews Group (MNG), ending more than eight decades of local ownership.

Change is constant

In the years since the sale of the paper to MediaNews Group, the paper has made the change from analog to digital, in the design of its news pages as well as its photography.

Delivery of the news changed also. The World Wide Web went from a curiosity to a disruptive force in publishing in the space of a decade, and papers large and small have scrambled to keep up.

Meanwhile, MNG acquired the Town Crier family of free weeklies in the late 1990s, and expanded the Black Mountain Road plant to accommodate their new purchase. They also bought the Original Vermont Observer, another weekly, in the mid-2000s. The papers were ultimately merged into one weekly, and were discontinued in 2012.

But for all the turmoil of a changing industry, and changing economics, the Reformer endures. With MNG joining the Journal Register Company to form Digital First Media in 2011, there has been a greater emphasis on transforming the two newspaper companies into one online media company.

“John Paton [the CEO of Digital First] has brought to us a business model to make the transition to digital media,” said Woods. “We are beginning to see the resources arrive here to make that transition. Our mission to provide the news hasn’t changed, just the way we deliver the news.”

And both Woods and D’Errico say they have come to realize what a humbling experience it is to run a newspaper that people still feel passionate about, and are quick to offer an opinion about.

“A lot is changing in this industry, and it is impossible not to embrace the change,” said Woods. “But our core responsibility is not changing at all.”

“Small-town newspapers offer something that can’t be found anywhere else,” said D’Errico. “While big city newspapers are struggling, our focus on local news makes us as valuable today as we were in 1913.”

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