CHESTER, Vt. – During their March 2 meeting, the Chester Selectboard chose both the Vermont Journal and The Chester Telegraph to be their two papers of record for the distribution of their legal notices this coming year. The Chester Telegraph will continue to provide the online distribution, as they did last year, and the Vermont Journal will return, after a one-year hiatus, as the print option, replacing The Commons who printed the legal notices last year.
Publisher of the Vermont Journal Shawntae Webb spoke to the board, acknowledging the tensions between the Journal and the Town last year and describing them as, “[having] gotten off on the wrong foot” while she transitioned into the role of publisher just as long-serving publisher Bob Miller was retiring. At that time, the board had selected just the Chester Telegraph as the paper of record. As an online-only news source, the Telegraph did not satisfy the current Vermont law, which stipulates that legal notices must be printed. In the midst of his retirement, Miller led an aggressive effort to challenge their decision, upsetting board members, and resulting in the board choosing The Commons, a paper that largely covers Brattleboro news, as their print option, along with the Chester Telegraph.
Webb said she would like to “move forward and start a new chapter,” and emphasized that the Vermont Journal had continued to cover Chester’s Selectboard and school board meetings, along with Chester events and new businesses throughout the past year. Webb applauded the town for having notices both online as well as in print, saying that she shared that same goal of reaching as many townspeople as possible, and asked if the board would consider the Vermont Journal to be their printed paper this year.
When asked about circulation by board member Lee Gustafson, Webb stated that they send 2,000 papers to Chester’s mailboxes [and drop locations] and have 20,000-25,000 online viewers every month. She also noted that Chester residents made up the second highest readership of the Journal’s total online views in the state.
Board Chairman Arne Jonynas said that he appreciated Webb coming to speak to the board and for the news coverage of Chester over the past year.
Chester Telegraph Editor Cynthia Prairie also spoke to the board saying that the working relationship with the town has worked out well and that she’s been happy with the response from readers she’s gotten for carrying the town’s legal notices.
Gustafson noted that when he has tried to read online articles at the Telegraph, he has been frustrated with the pop-up notification that comes up alerting him that, he either hasn’t subscribed, or, has an ad block on. “It’s a little bit frustrating and concerning that I don’t have free access to your paper,” he said.
Prairie explained that the Chester Telegraph ads are hosted through a different company and that, if a viewer has an ad blocker on, they are not able to see the ads on the Telegraph. She said that the company they’re working with “has done some really tremendous work in trying to make sure that everybody who wants to see the Telegraph can see it.”
Chester Town Manager Julie Hance said that having notices in both print and online has worked well, that they have reached more people and that it did not impact the budget in a significant way and thus, was worth sticking to both print and online sources.
Jonynas agreed, but said that in this case he would go with the Vermont Journal since they cover Chester both in a larger circulation and through their articles. The board agreed and both papers were approved as the papers of record.
Hance thanked The Commons for stepping up in a “major way” last year, and although they were on the fringe of their cover area, helped save Chester from an issue.
Chester’s new board member Ben Whalen said that in the future, if the legislation does change to allowing online-only newspapers to be named as the official paper of record, they might consider continuing with the coverage in both papers anyway. He said that, especially if it works well, there was cause, since it was not a significant cost increase and resulted in more viewers seeing Chester town business. “I look at the Telegraph when I’m looking at things online and I’m certainly excited to see the Journal in the mailbox every week and certainly read it, so I hope we think about that in the future as well,” he said.
The next Chester Selectboard is scheduled for Wednesday, March 16 at 6 p.m. at the Chester Town Hall and via Zoom.