By Tom Brown
When The Bridge was launched in 1993, there were more people in the sports department of the Burlington Free Press on a busy Saturday than are employed in its entire newsroom today.
To say the Vermont media landscape has changed in the past 25 years is like saying Donald Trump is prone to hyperbole. While we often packed a dozen or more editors, reporters, and clerks into tight quarters during my decade-plus there, today the Free Press has 15 editorial employees named on its website. That’s roughly 75 percent fewer than in 1993.
The post-great-recession reality that led to drastic layoffs and corporate consolidation in the print newspaper industry also hit broadcast news organizations such as the venerable WCAX, whose “Vermont’s Own” moniker no longer applies.
This is not to point fingers at the Free Press, its owner Gannett, or Channel 3 and Gray Television, both of which do their best to provide local news regardless of staffing. Yesterday’s business model in which advertisers paid the freight for news gathering while generating huge annual profits for shareholders is largely obsolete, but while the income streams have changed, the need for honest, independent reporting has never been greater.
While not ideal for readers and incredibly disruptive to the journalists and their families struck by sudden job losses, the contraction of newsrooms created an opportunity for innovation. That void was filled by alternative projects such as VTDigger, whose tenacity and free, all-digital reporting has served Vermonters in ways we probably don’t even realize.
Likewise Seven Days, Vermont Public Radio, WDEV, and a handful of semi-daily or weekly regional publications press on in defense of the First Amendment, keeping an eye on public officials, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. As with most any worthwhile enterprise, it takes money to do this important work.
As a small, independent, nonprofit, local news operation, The Bridge still relies on print advertising and much less so on subscriptions for the majority of its support. We don’t do pledge drives; we don’t clutter the print product with appeals; we don’t load our website (which needs a serious makeover) with pop-up ads and solicitations.
This time of year—the giving season—your mailboxes, physical and digital, are full of requests for donations to many worthwhile causes, from animal rescue to veterans care to domestic violence to environmental preservation, and on and on.
We hope you think The Bridge is also worth supporting. As we’ve all seen over the past few years, journalism is essential to a healthy democracy and denigrating it, the policy of tyrants. And it’s at the local, grassroots level that it often makes the biggest difference.
Please do consider a tax-deductible donation or a yearly subscription for yourself, or suggest it to others who care about keeping free, local, and independent journalism in the heart of Vermont.
We all benefit when we shop locally, act locally, and read locally. Thanks for 25 years of community support.