New partnership and look, but we’re still your local community newspaper

Publisher Bob Miller and Assistant Publisher Shawntae Stillwell. Photo by Sharon Huntley.

LUDLOW, Vt. – Bob Miller is a newspaperman. He has been working on a newspaper since he was 12 years old, when his parents first put together The Shopper at their kitchen table in 1961. Since then, someone in the Miller family has been at the helm of The Shopper for over 57 years. Now, at age 73, this newspaper lifer has a new mission: to secure the future of the paper he has spent a lifetime building as he looks to retire.

“What’s bittersweet is that I don’t have anyone to leave [the newspaper] to,” said Miller. Although Miller has a grown son, his career as a senior computer analyst keeps him in Boston and away from the newspaper life.

Enter the Rutland Herald. In recent months, Miller has joined forces with the Rutland Herald, outlining a partnership that will protect The Vermont Journal & The Shopper and allow it to continue publishing, essentially untouched, once he completes the process of turning over day-to-day management to newly named Assistant Publisher, Shawntae Stillwell.

Stillwell has been working at the paper as the graphic designer for close to four years, and according to Miller was responsible for the paper’s redesign, resurgence in readership, and successfully revamping of the website and Facebook page. Now, naming her as assistant publisher, Miller’s heir apparent is set and will continue to take on more responsibilities over the next two years, with Miller’s departure date set for January of 2021. At that point, she will officially be named the publisher.

According to Stillwell, she’s excited to have the opportunity to take on more responsibility and eventually lead The Vermont Journal & The Shopper team. “I already have a good working relationship with many of our clients, and am looking forward to growing in my role, helping to make Bob’s retirement a smooth transition.”

According to Miller, choosing the Rutland Herald for a partner was an easy choice. For one thing, The Vermont Journal & The Shopper was already using the Herald’s billing system to help streamline insertions and invoicing, albeit for a monthly fee. Also, once Miller determined that he was ready to look at retirement, the Herald “had more opportunities for us to grow.” Those opportunities include offering existing clients advertising in the Rutland Herald and vice versa. Both papers can also share editorial that may be relevant to each other’s circulation.

Rob Mitchell, general manager of the Rutland Herald, sees the partnership as a positive for his paper as well. “The Vermont Journal is a strong paper in an area we’re familiar with and want to help support… In this day and age, when small papers can partner, it’s a win-win for all involved,” he said.

The Rutland Herald itself is no stranger to partnerships, becoming part of The Sample News Group LLC last April. George “Scoop” Sample, who has been a long-time colleague of Miller, owns the Sample News Group. According to both Mitchell and Miller, Scoop has had his eye on the Journal for a quite a while. As Miller finally made the decision to move forward with retirement, joining in the partnership was a natural next step.

Key to the agreement, according to Miller, was the term that outwardly nothing would change with the day-to-day management or mission of The Vermont Journal & The Shopper. “We’re going to continue to focus on news in this area and operate the same way,” said Miller.

He appreciates that Sample is also a newspaper man with vast experience in the business. According to Miller, “Scoop knows what he’s doing. If you’re making money for him, he’s not going to try to change things.”

One thing that will be changing for The Vermont Journal & The Shopper immediately, however, is the size of the paper. The recent postage increases, as well as printing increases, have brought about the size change. “Dropping from 26 inches to 24 inches in width, the savings of postage and printing will offset those costs,” said Miller.

Other than the paper’s size, The Vermont Journal & The Shopper will continue on as the same community focused paper it has always been. Bob Miller has spent a lifetime seeing to that. Now he’s making sure that the paper’s future, with or without him, will continue on the same way, whether there is a Miller at the helm or not.

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