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Voices / Letters from readers

Unfair criticism of our early efforts on The Commons

Randy Holhut’s autobiography of his life in journalism was interesting, but when he finally stopped talking about the Brattleboro Reformer and got around to mentioning The Commons in supposed celebration of its 300th issue, he fell victim to his own erroneous prejudices and gave your readers misinformation under the guise of historical news reporting.

First, he tried to conflate a protest at the Reformer, marked by the “stridency and self-righteousness” of those gathered, into being the genesis of The Commons. In truth, the protest was a nearly spontaneous and quickly organized response to an unfair and unexplained firing, nothing more, nothing less.

It was only after folks had time to reflect upon the ramifications of such arbitrary firings and corporate whimsy that a group of people decided to explore the possibility of starting a community-owned newspaper. (Full disclosure: I was one of them. I edited the first two editions of The Commons and wrote articles for ensuing editions in the early days.)

The mission of The Commons was clear from the start: to have a newspaper that cared more about community than profits, and to be structured in such a way as to prevent it from being subsumed by any out-of-town entity, corporate or otherwise, that might interfere with its mission of providing well reported news coverage that would matter to Windham County.

Randy Holhut dismisses our early efforts, saying how we were “easy to make fun of. To us at the Reformer, it was a strident smeary mess, a paper that spoke to the activist community.”

No doubt, in some sectors of the community there was a perception that a paper founded by “activists” would have an activist bent. Issue number one was certainly a firebrand. The front page featured a story about the controversy surrounding the soon-to-be-curtailed use of the Fulflex field for playing sports, along with an in-depth article about the brave and dignified way in which a well-known local musician was facing the premature ending of his life due to ALS disease — just the sort of story that one would expect to read in today’s Commons.

Perhaps it was “Thinking vegetarian on the grill” in volume I, number 6 that revealed our radical activism, or the fact that we reported the news about the trip to Venezuela taken by local Vermonters as part of Hugo Chavez’s campaign to provide affordable heating oil to Americans facing financial difficulties.

Anyone with an open mind would have seen The Commons for what it was: a new publication, learning the ropes, and doing the best work possible to be true to unbiased news and to giving a voice to all members of our community.

Finding the right tone and balance is simply part of the growing pains of developing a mature and durable news organization that respects and serves its readers.

To read Holhut’s version, one would think that the heavens opened up and brought the current editor down to Earth and magically put him in place, so as to finally tame the rabid activists who were striding, smearing, and messing about. But it was members of The Commons’ “activist” board who hired Jeff Potter, precisely because they thought he had the right sense of balance that would be appropriate for The Commons.

Maybe someday Windham County will have an activist newspaper. If it does, I will welcome it. But your managing editor should stop repeating misleading notions about The Commons and settle for the old-fashioned newspaper values of accuracy and balance. The Commons deserves no less.

Dan DeWalt

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Originally published in The Commons issue #304 (Wednesday, May 6, 2015). This story appeared on page E3.

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