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Business and Economy

Press Herald Owner to Go In on Purchase of Vermont Papers

The owner of the Portland Press Herald is expanding his newspaper operations in New England.

Reade Brower and partner Chip Harris of New Hampshire have entered into an agreement to purchase two newspapers in Vermont from the the family that has operated them for decades.

The Mitchell family has owned the Rutland Herald since 1947, and the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus since 1964. But mounting financial pressures, says Rutland Herald Editor in Chief Rob Mitchell, have finally forced his family to sell both papers.

“Literally my entire life, my family has owned these newspapers, and almost my father’s entire life, and I think my greater fear in all this was that it would all come to an end,” he says. “I think we’ve managed to find a way forward, which is a great relief.”

Mitchell has declined to disclose the terms of the deal, but he told Vermont Public Radio that the family believes Brower and Harris offer the needed combination of business skills to lead the Vermont papers through the changes taking place in the industry.

“Chip has worked as a reporter and editor in his career, and Reade has maintained his commitment to journalism and the role of a community journalism operation, in his case in a lot of weekly newspapers and the Portland Press Herald,” Mitchell says. “More than that, Reade in particular but Chip as well are entrepreneurs, and that’s a real need for newspapers in this day and age.”

“They’ve been wonderful papers,” says Harris, who co-founded Upper Valley Press, Inc. in New Hampshire, which prints newspapers and advertising inserts and operates a direct mail company. “They’ve done a good job at serving their communities and they’re needed.”

Harris, who also had a career as a newspaper reporter in Virginia and Massachusetts, says he respects Brower’s past record of turning struggling community newspapers around.

Brower is the principal owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and the Coastal Journal in Bath. He purchased the MaineToday operations from financier Donald Sussman last June for an undisclosed price.

Lisa DeSisto told MPBN last year that Sussman invested over $13 million in the company, rescuing it from insolvency.

Brower also owns a a number of smaller papers in the midcoast and a commercial printing company. He could not be reached for comment.

In their purchase of the Rutland Herald, the partners will assume control of a newspaper that has experienced a rocky few months. Last week several newsroom employees staged a walkout after complaining that they weren’t paid on time. There was also anger over the firing of a longtime editor who OK’d a story detailing the paper’s financial woes.

Brower had his own issues after purchasing the Press Herald, clashing with union leaders, ordering layoffs and offering a round of buyouts. The union told members in May that nearly 30 positions had been cut since the ownership change.