Vermont county grapples with helping local media outlets
BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (AP) — Following the cancellation of a Windham County radio program, advocates for local media are joining together to try to figure out ways to support community journalism in southeastern Vermont.
Green Mountain Mornings was a radio program that focused on local and national issues important to the people in Windham County.
The show’s radio station is owned by Saga Communications, a national media company, and a few weeks ago the show’s host, Olga Peters, got a message from her boss about the future of the station’s FM and AM signals.
“The show wasn’t making its numbers,” Peters said at a public meeting held Thursday in Brattleboro. “And they felt that the bottom line would be served better by turning one into country music and one into easy listening.”
That public meeting was held to talk about the challenges facing local media outlets.
The cancellation of Green Mountain Mornings comes on the heels of the recent news that Vermont’s public access television stations are also threatened by proposed federal changes in how the stations are funded. The Federal Communications Commission wants to loosen the requirement that makes cable companies fund public access TV stations.
And all of this is going on while local newspapers in Brattleboro, and across the country, struggle to survive in a shifting media landscape.
About 50 people showed up to the meeting Thursday, and Peters said she wanted to start a conversation and see if there was a way to better support local journalism.
“You know, what brought us all here tonight is our concern about community media, and the community having access to its own news and what it needs to know about itself,” Peters told the group.
There was a lot of talk about funding, but also recognition that small media outlets are fighting an uphill battle.
Jim Maxwell, a local attorney who’s done work for some of Brattleboro’s media organizations, sat on the panel at the meeting.
Maxwell said media in regions like Windham County — which don’t really have connections to larger markets — will always be one of the first to fall when decisions are being made by larger corporations.
But, Maxwell said, that’s no reason to give up the fight.
“This also does have to come back, as so much does, to political activism,” Maxwell said. “Part of it is exerting local pressure politically, with who we elect, what our values are, you know, in terms of saying: ‘Look, we must keep local media alive.’ We cannot simply stand by and allow conglomerates to decouple us and to condense into a big city and leave the margins untended.”
By the end of the night, just about everybody who spoke recognized that neither the answers, nor the funding, would come from outside of the community. There was talk of more collaboration among the radio, television and print groups in the region — and a commitment to holding more meetings to continue the dialogue.