Monday, December 08, 2014

Longtime owner/publisher of Vermont weeklies to step down as majority owner

Biddle Duke, a well-respected weekly newspaper owner and publisher in Vermont, is stepping down after 17 years of being at the helm of the Stowe Reporter LLC, which consists of two Vermont weeklies—The Stowe Reporter and The Waterbury Record—two magazines and three mobile-optimized websites, Paul Heintz reports for Seven Days, a weekly newspaper in Vermont. Duke, whose last day is Dec. 18, will remain on as a minority shareholder, and Greg Popa will take over as publisher of both newspapers.

Biddle Duke
While the company will be purchased by out-of-state investors Bob Miller and Norb Garrett, Miller said no changes are expected regarding how the publications operate, Heintz writes. UPDATE, Dec. 11: Miller does a Q and A about his ownership.

Duke told Heintz, "I was looking for not only a financial exit but also the right thing because I think newspapers need to continue to thrive. Bob and I and Norb have spent the last 14 or 15 months feeling each other out. We've become great friends. They're great partners, and it's been really great."

"I think I'd have reservations whether it was an in-state person or an out-of-state person," Duke said. "I'm filled with all kinds of emotions at the moment. I want these institutions to carry on and thrive. That's my main ambition."

In a column in the Stowe Reporter Duke wrote:

"We view ourselves as a training center. Many of our best employees are graduates of local high schools and colleges, so we are very much a part of the Vermont web of career success for young people interested in journalism, graphics, sales and, now, social media. It fills me with pride to think of former reporter Scott Monroe, now an editor of a group of daily newspapers in Maine; of former reporter Jesse Roman, a roving reporter for a national magazine based in Boston; of former editor Matt Kanner, now launching his own alternative newspaper in Portsmouth, N.H.

"But changing lives—or at least having a positive impact of some kind—is what it’s all about . . . The hardest thing about being a newspaper publisher or editor—and I’ve done both those jobs, in addition to salesperson, photographer and reporter—is that you can’t be friends with everyone. I seem to have pissed everyone off at one time or another, and it’s my experience that you just have to be OK with that.

"I’m a publisher who goes out of his way to face the music. I vowed to be that way when I set out with this, so now whether it’s a comment overheard, an email or a phone message, I have done my utmost to urge people to complain and criticize in the broad daylight: to me, in person.

"Whether that’s stood me well, I don’t know. In some cases, it has been like running out into traffic, but in most cases I have been able to explain why we do what we do the way we do it. Often my explanations are not enough. And in some cases, I have lost friends or made enemies of people I might have befriended. That’s a newspaper publisher’s cross to bear, at least one with any kind of ethical spine.

"One of my goals was also to eventually grow the business and sell it. But don’t ever believe all those people who say business isn’t personal. That might be true for some businesses, but not this one.
Some part of me feels, “How could I leave this cherished community institution?” As if I am abandoning a responsibility and privilege that I myself created. But that’s arrogant and narcissistic. The Reporter company carries on, with or without me. But I will miss the work and my Reporter family very much."

To read the entire column, click here.

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