by Nat Frothingham
From now until January 22 – friends of The Bridge will be circulating petitions with the aim of gathering 600-plus signatures from registered voters in Montpelier so that The Bridge can request an appropriation of $27,254 at this year’s Montpelier City Meeting on Tuesday, March 3.
For the past 21 years, The Bridge has published a community newspaper in Montpelier that is “free, local and independent.”
When we began publishing in December 1993 we wanted to serve readers in Montpelier. Over time we discovered two things. First, we discovered that many people who live in neighboring communities were reading The Bridge. They wanted to know what was happening in Montpelier because Montpelier is their state capital and for many people as well the city is an important market town and cultural center. Second, we discovered that our readers in Montpelier wanted to know what happening in neighboring communities and over time we have extended our coverage to our sister city, Barre, and to other communities across Washington County.
Despite these changes to our editorial coverage — our focus on Montpelier continues to be strong. The Bridge is a free paper. The Bridge is also a paper that is printed twice monthly and mailed without charge once a month to every household in Montpelier.
Now The Bridge is seeking financial help at this year’s City Meeting from Montpelier residents and voters.
Here’s what’s happening.
Over the past 21 years, we have kept the paper alive financially through advertising sales and subscriptions. A number of years ago when we found that we could no longer make ends meet with ad sales and subscription revenues we turned to our readers and friends for help. That help has been forthcoming throughout the year and during our annual end-of-the-year fundraising campaign — and we are grateful.
At the end of 2009 in the aftermath of the worldwide banking collapse, The Bridge almost shut down. But instead of shutting down, we re-organized. Part of that reorganization was making a move to office space at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I can’t thank the college enough for the office space that has been made available to us since December 2009.
Now — if we are going to continue to publish we need to seek the help of our readers and friends and voters in Montpelier.
We are doing the best we can. Our talented and hardworking staff are putting out a good paper but at a very modest wage. We are grateful for the continued support of our advertisers. But ad sales are off this year compared to last year at this time. But taxes, and all the costs of putting out the paper — printing, postage, delivery — these costs are all up.
As recently as a couple of years ago, I was making a nominal wage. Now I am working without pay. Last year I took out a personal loan to benefit the paper. I am not complaining. Across the state, many other Vermonters are facing hard times but have decided not to throw in the towel. Not to quit.
Over the past several years I have explored with attorneys, accountants and the like — whether or not The Bridge might be organized as a not-for-profit organization. Apparently that’s not an option for a newspaper that received most of its income through advertising sales.
But times change and IRS rules change. We will therefore keep investigating the not-for-profit option. But at the moment, The Bridge is an LLC — a limited liability corporation under Vermont state law. I mention this because if voters in Montpelier appropriate public money to support The Bridge I see an important responsibility to audit and report on that public money. The public needs to be satisfied that the money they appropriated is being spent for the purpose that was intended. I commit to that.
One more important point.
If Montpelier voters appropriate money to support The Bridge, that would be a powerful vote of confidence in the paper and its future. At the paper, we can take that vote of confidence and seek funds at least equal to the city appropriation. Our aim, as always, is to provide a community newspaper that serves the needs of its readers and to maintain the highest standards of journalistic integrity.
In all times, but particularly in difficult times, we need a free press. We need to know what’s going on. We need to listen and read and learn and test our ideas against the ideas of others. We need to describe our values as a community and see that those values are protected.
A free press can do that.