By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Gannett’s latest press closing will have a huge impact on its daily in Burlington, Vt.

Photo (cc) 2015 by Dan Kennedy

From the Department of You’ve Got to Be Kidding: Gannett has announced that it will close its printing plant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and move the work to its presses in Auburn, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island. The daily papers that will be affected are the Portsmouth Herald, Foster’s Daily Democrat and — are you ready? — the Burlington Free Press, located not far from the Canadian border.

Word of the switch was published in the Portsmouth Herald on Wednesday. I have not been able to find it in the Free Press, either in print or online (my USA Today digital subscription gives me access to the replica editions of every Gannett daily in the country, which is why I was able to check). But assuming that Gannett’s own story is accurate, that is really a breathtaking move. According to Apple Maps, it’s a three-and-a-half-hour, 240-mile drive from Auburn to Burlington. Providence is even worse — about four hours and nearly 270 miles. And that’s right now, without any traffic to speak of.

The Herald offers this statement from Gannett:

As our business becomes increasingly digital and subscription-focused, newspaper printing partnerships have become standard. We are making strategic decisions to ensure the future of local journalism and continue our outstanding service to the community.

Ah, yes, digital subscriptions, Gannett’s standard answer to everything. Well, let’s look at the Burlington Free Press’ latest filings with the Alliance for Audited Media, shall we? For the six-month period ending last Sept. 30, the average weekday print circulation was 4,000, with another 6,012 on Sundays. Meanwhile, paid digital replica circulation was 1,051 on weekdays and 667 on Sundays. Nothing is listed for straight-up digital subscriptions, but in March 2021 the Free Press reported about 1,400 on weekdays and about 1,200 on Sundays for digital nonreplica. So, roughly, that’s a total of around 2,000 digital replica and nonreplica subscriptions. Not impressive, and clearly the Free Press’ print product is still what its readers are looking for.

Then again, Gannett has long since ceded the Burlington market to a terrific alt-weekly, Seven Days; a leading digital nonprofit, VTDigger; and Vermont Public Radio. I wrote about that in my 2018 book, “The Return of the Moguls.” We also recently interviewed VTDigger’s founder, Anne Galloway, on the “What Works” podcast.

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  1. Mike Rosenberg

    When I was a stringer for The Rutland Herald while studying at UVM, I sometimes would go down to the press room at the Free Press around midnight to grab a newly printed edition and see if they had any scoops. Luckily I only had to walk down College Street.

  2. Mark

    Gannett has a press in Auburn? Why do they print the T&G in Providence, with a deadline somewhere around 1PM for the Worcester paper? It’s tiresome, reading stories that are two days old, even online. Worcester used to have a newspaper with that kind of deadline. It was called The Evening Gazette and it showed up around 4PM. Welcome to the weird future of local news, Burlington. And don’t expect much breaking news on your paper’s website either. If it happens on Monday afternoon, it will show up on Wednesday.

    • Kathleen ann Kulesza

      I agree with Mark The T&G is useless for current news. The Celtics are playing today there won’t be an article about the game in the paper tomorrow.

    • We have a Gannet paper here in little Petersburg VA, slightly smaller community than Burlington. I have noticed that the stories often are recycled. I know I’ve seen some twice, and maybe it’s three times.

      I also understand that the reporting staff is woefully underpaid and asked to be grateful for it. This is, indeed, the post HuffPo world. Glad I got in earlier and am now retired, heh…

  3. My new local paper (just moved to Petersburg VA) is a Gannet paper, and I don’t know if this gives me access to all their papers, but if it doesn’t, I’m going to swap to USAToday and be able to read the local paper through that — good to know, thanks!

  4. Steve Gosset

    Dan: I know it’s not your region of focus, but Gannett is also doing this in NY, closing its press in Rochester, NY, where it prints its dailies for Rochester, Canandaigua, Ithaca, Binghamton, Elmira, Corning and Hornell, and shifting production to Rockaway, NJ, where it already prints papers for several New Jersey dailies as well as three dailies in the mid-Hudson Valley.
    And, yes, Rochester is about 300 miles from Rockaway. So, you can only imagine what deadlines will be. If it happens after 2 p.m. you won’t know about it, if at all, for a couple of days if you rely on your local paper.
    “This reflects the reality that print is no longer a deadline medium,” D&C Executive Editor Michael Kilian said.
    And they’re making similar moves in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

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