Vermont Business Magazine Vermont Independent Media has announced that its community newspaper, The Commons, won 10 prizes in the New England Newspaper & Press Association’s 2021 Better Newspaper Competition, in divisions for weekly newspapers with circulation greater than 6,000. The Commons is based in Brattleboro.
The awards for the newspaper, which covers Brattleboro and the surrounding towns and villages in Windham County, Vermont, included one first prize for Spot News Story for Randolph T. Holhut and Olga Peters, “Cash-strapped Retreat pursues shutdown after rebuke by state agency.”
The category awards exceptional work on stories that are unplanned, like this report, where Holhut and Peters broke down a temporary — but public and escalating — conflict between the Vermont Department of Public Health and the Brattleboro Retreat, a psychiatric hospital providing essential services to the state of Vermont.
Four second prizes were awarded:
• Commentary: MacLean Gander for “The fire this time,” his meditation on the death of George Floyd as the white spouse of a Black American.
• Editorial/Commentary Page: “How will this change us?” As the pandemic hit, The Commons devoted its entire Voices section to the emerging crisis, publishing a wide range four-page roundup of early viewpoints about the Coronavirus, from regular contributors to reader reaction.
• History Reporting: In “What’s in a name?,” Olga Peters reported on attempts from activists in the Burlington, Vt. area to change the name of Negro brook in Townshend — efforts that were far from simple and not universally embraced.
• Racial or Ethnic Issue Coverage: Shanta Lee Gander and MacLean Gander took the award for their role as guest editors of “The Black experience in Windham County,” a series of commentary and interviews that anchored the Voices section through Black History Month in February 2020.
Five third prizes were awarded:
• Investigative Reporting: MacLean Gander, for “End of an era,” a special investigation look back at Marlboro College’s short and bumpy life and how it got to the point of merger and sale of its beloved campus.
• Commentary: “Requiem for a second living room,” a Reporter’s Notebook by MacLean Gander, a love letter for a beloved dive bar that was an early casualty of the pandemic economy.
• Spot News Story: Abe Loomis and Jeff Potter for “Marlboro College looks ahead after merger talks fail,” a report on the breakdown of negotiations between the college and the University of Bridgeport in 2019.
• Best Coverage of the Coronavirus: Shanta Lee Gander and MacLean Gander, for their work on a special issue, devoted almost entirely to their reporting on how the arts organizations had been coping with the pandemic.
• Business/Economic Reporting: Olga Peters covered the legacy and preservation of a country store in “For Jacksonville store, a new way forward.”
Commons Editor Jeff Potter noted that “none of these award-winning stories or sections would be possible without the support of our staff, families, board, advertisers, donors, grantors, and especially our readers.”
Top prize winners Holhut and Peters have worked together at The Commons for more than a decade as the anchors of a small newsroom, he said.
Potter also acknowledged the efforts of multiple prizewinners Shanta Lee and MacLean Gander, who have volunteered their “formidable professional skills at a time when, like every other business and nonprofit, our revenues were derailed by the pandemic.”
“That's where the nonprofit news model shines,” he noted. “We can get and encourage people who want to volunteer, to do this essential work as service to their community.”
The New England Newspaper & Press Association (NENPA) is a professional trade organization that represents and serves more than 450 daily, weekly, and specialty newspapers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Rhode Island.
The prizes were announced at NENPA’s annual newspaper conference, held virtually this year on April 8 and 9.
The Commons marks 15 years of publication this year and is a project of Vermont Independent Media, a nonprofit organization that was founded on the belief that independent journalism is critical for the functioning of democracy and is the lifeblood of our community. Established in 2004, it was on the vanguard of a now-established movement to treat and fund journalism and newsrooms as services that are essential to a healthy and vibrant community.
The newspaper “sets a standard for balanced and accurate journalism and at the same time provides a forum for diverse voices within its community,” according to Lynn Barrett, president of VIM’s board of directors.
VIM, established in 2004, also provides opportunities for discussion of important issues within Windham County and provides learning opportunities and internships for young adults and others who want to engage in the essential democratic functions of a free press.
MacLean Gander, Michael Bosworth, Barry Aleshnick, and Luke Sillars also serve on VIM’s board of directors.
BRATTLEBORO, Vt.—April 17, 2021—The Commons