Monthly Archives: January 2010

What is the future of journalism?

"Weird and messy," this is my work space. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar, January 29, 2010

If anyone knows the answer to this question, please leave it in a comment below.

Things are scary for journalists these days as we struggle to keep doing good work.  Everyone who isn’t a journalist who I talk to about this says, don’t worry, we want to read the newspapers.  And for us at the Chronicle at least, the circulation numbers have not dropped much at all.  People are still reading the Chronicle, that’s the good news.  But advertising is down, and that’s what pays, by far, the bulk of our salaries.

The size of the newspaper is determined by the advertising.  We need to have about half of each page filled with advertising (on average) to pay the bills.

Is the current drop simply a function of a slow economy or of advertising shifting to the Internet?

Assuming the economy improves, we will know the answer eventually.  Meanwhile newspapers all over the country are trying to do the same work with smaller staffs.  We are all trying to do more with less, and it’s frustrating.  I recently stumbled on a wonderfully funny group on facebook called, “Overheard in the Newsroom.”

One of the posts was a photo album of newsrooms titled, “Journalists are weird and messy.”  In one of the newsrooms was a blow-up doll of some sort, possibly Spider man?  With crime scene tape all around it.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that in one way, this is an online support group for journalists, with a twist of sick humor running through it.

For example, one comment overheard in the newsroom, related to our pay scale, was something like this:  “At least we don’t smell like French fries.”

Some of the comments below had me cracking up, including one person who said, no, we smell like despair.

Okay, despair is kind of a strong word.  But it’s January and things never look that good in January.

What does look good to me are my colleagues — those of us who are still in this business and those who have left it or been laid off.  The talent of journalism is truly a talent and truly bizarre.  You have to be the kind of person who really wants to know how things work, is not afraid to ask important people really stupid questions, and then can quickly boil down inch-thick court documents or legislative documents or scientific problems or economic problems into something regular people can easily understand.

When I say quickly I mean, say, in under an hour.  And things will not be quiet while you are doing it.  A police and fire scanner will be buzzing, and your co-workers might be having a conversation about how much detail to include in a story about a horrible child abuse case.  Sure, ignore that.  You’re on deadline.

You don’t have to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but you might have to interview that guy.

It’s true that all these same things can just as easily be done on the Internet, but is enough advertising going to follow us there to pay our salaries?

We shall see.  As always, we will keep you posted.

Meanwhile I have to say that the Chronicle (newspaper) is still reaching about 22,500 people a week, each of whom spend an average of 40 minutes with it.  The paper’s circulation is one-third that, but research shows us that typically three people read each Chronicle that is bought at a store or delivered by mail, and they spend an average of 40 minutes with it.

Does anyone ever spend 40 minutes on a web site?

When I opened up this week’s Chronicle I saw a full-page ad for a beauty salon in Newport.  Jon Somes, master hair colorist, master hair cutter.

And I thought about how smart he was to go so big and splashy.  Especially in a smaller paper, a full page really stands out.  He will have that ad paid for in new customers within a week, would be my guess.

I’ve got to say, it made me want to get my hair cut — by someone other than my own self with a bad pair of scissors.  Luckily I’m a journalist and therefore a weird, messy haircut is okay.  But I’m thinking I might try to save up for the real thing with Jon Somes.

Hey, thanks again for reading.  I hope you will check out the Chronicle’s web site, and, even better, pick up a newspaper and support our advertisers.  Tell them where you saw their ad — please and thank you!

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Do you know someone in Haiti?

by Bethany M. Dunbar, January 22, 2010

The devastating earthquake that struck Haiti has touched lives all over the world, proving once again how small our Earth really is.

Do you know someone in Haiti or know someone who knows someone, or — ?  If so and if you have information about how to help, please share here in a comment.  Some of my friends on Facebook seem to have connections — I’m seeing bits and pieces and would love to know more.  Please fill us in if you can.

Bonnie Beynnon of Burlington, one of my sister’s best friends, is working to adopt a child who lives in Haiti — possibly two children.  It’s too early to send congratulations, but I will say good luck at this point.  Bonnie found out that her little daughter Anis survived, but the paperwork from months of effort to finalize the adoption did not.  My sister tells me Bonnie is en route right now — hopefully she will be bringing Anis and possibly a second little girl back, and we will be able to offer congratulations very soon.  Meanwhile safe travels!  We are all thinking of you.

Right before the earthquake Richard Creaser, who works with me at the Chronicle, interviewed Carole Comeau, who has been working on a project to help Haiti with the United Christian Academy in Newport.  Just after this interview we got the news that Ms. Comeau was in Haiti when it happened.  She survived and sent some e-mails about her experiences.

If you check the Chronicle’s web site, our stories about that will be posted there soon.

Six degrees of separation?  Sometimes it feels like six degrees of connection.

Energy — the ultimate power struggle

A Hardwick sunflower. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar, January 15, 2010

It’s the middle of winter, and it’s a tough one financially for a lot of people.  We are all doing what we can to get by, hoping for a better time with this new year.

Vermont’s energy future is a power struggle like no other.  The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is falling apart, piece by piece.  The Legislature will consider whether or not it should be relicensed.  The debate rages on about putting wind turbines on our mountaintops.  Our contract with Hydro Quebec has about four years left.

Some farmers are putting a lot of energy into, well, energy.  Among them are farmers in Hardwick who got a grant to work on making sunflower seeds into a source of fuel.

Sunflower seeds are not, by themselves, going to power the state.  But every little bit helps, and the exciting part of farm energy — and forest energy from biomass — is that so much of it is yet untapped.  In effect, we don’t know yet how much some of these energy sources will help.

Farm energy sources have a double benefit.  We get the energy, and we help keep farms in business, which seems to be harder to do each year.  At the beginning of last year figures from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture estimated that the average farm was expected to lose $92,000 in 2009.  Will they make an average EXTRA profit of $92,000 in 2010 so they can pay back all their debts and keep going?  Wouldn’t that be great?  This story also talks about the food venture center coming to Hardwick, which will help farmers add value, and provide some wonderful new food products for consumers.

The other reason I wanted to post this story today is to send you all some summer thoughts and photos.  Those sunflowers were just plain spectacular.

A special thanks to Senator Pat Leahy who is always a champion for the farmers and for the newspapers and open government.

Left to right are Ellen Kahler, executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, Nick Meyer, and Senator Pat Leahy. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Leahy announces biofuel and food venture center grants

by Bethany M. Dunbar, the Chronicle, September 2, 2009

HARDWICK — Senator Pat Leahy announced $484,300 in grants for biofuels research, development and demonstration in Vermont Friday.

The announcement was made in front of ten acres of sunflowers at the North Hardwick Dairy, where brothers Nick and Taylor Meyer will use their grant to buy a press to make sunflower oil and meal for their cows.

The grant to North Hardwick Dairy was for $13,000.  It was one of 15 grants awarded to projects around the state.

Earlier in the day, Senator Leahy announced that $350,000 would be coming to help build the Vermont Food Venture Center in Hardwick this year, with help from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.

“That’s going to put people to work, I think,” he said.  Not only will the venture center help new businesses get started, building the new center will create jobs in itself.

The Vermont Food Venture Center is currently located in an old building in Fairfax.  It was started 13 years ago.  Director Brian Norder said it has been a challenge to keep the old building together with bubble gum and duct tape, which he called the official Vermont fabric.

The new facility will be a place where people can scale up small recipes, get expertise on marketing and food safety issues, and rent processing equipment, among other things.

“We’re going to be able to do a wide range of meat processing,” said Mr. Norder.  This will allow people to add value to ground meat by making it into meat pies, burritos, stews and gravies, he said.

The center will also work with Jasper Hill of Greensboro to help farmers create new cheeses.

Andy Kehler of Jasper Hill said he and his brother are looking forward to working with farmers in the new food center.  In 2003 they started farming, and their goal was to create a system to help other farmers add value.  To that end, they have invested in seven rooms of underground cheese aging caves.

“Our goal is to be able to get two dairy farms a year viable making cheese,” he said.  Their 44-cow farm brings $600,000 a year into the local economy, he mentioned.

He said the caves are available for aging cheese, but there is no place nearby for developing recipes, processing, and growing a brand.  The venture center will be that place.  If all goes as planned, work will start this fall, and it will be open in the spring.

Todd Hardie of Honey Gardens Apiaries of Ferrisburgh said the venture center has helped him all along the way.  He is planning to build a new facility in Hardwick to make honey mead wine.

“I’ve been working with honey bees for about 44 years,” he said.  One of the people who helped him with ideas years ago was Lewis Hill of Greensboro, who told him about the value of elderberries.  Elderberry syrup is an old-fashioned remedy for colds, and Honey Gardens sells an elderberry syrup for that purpose.  It is available at Buffalo Mountain Cooperative and other natural food stores.

A brand-new company that is working with the venture center is called Relish Vermont.  The relish is created by Barbara Frechette of Essex Junction.

“I’ve been making it since the sixties, and everybody just loves it,” she said just after the press conference.  Her husband, who died in February, used to give it to his clients.  He was an accountant.  Spicy and sweet, made with zucchini and peppers, the relish is already selling well.  Promoter Steven Maestas, a friend of the family, said they are getting ready to go into larger scale production and hire people.  The venture center is a key to the enterprise.

Biofuels grants

Biofuels grants around the state will help people do research and development of fuels and crops from switch grass and canola to algae and sunflowers.  These grants are being given by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, which has a division called the Vermont Biofuels Initiative (VBI).  The purpose of the VBI is to try to develop renewable fuel sources and help meet a goal of 25 percent renewable energy use in Vermont by 2025.

Grants are going to the University of Vermont and Vermont Technical College for feedstock analysis for oilseed crops like sunflowers and soybeans.  They are also going to farms in Shaftsbury, Alburgh, Newbury, and Brandon to study using biofuels to run farms.

Bourne’s Energy in Morrisville got a grant to blend biofuels into heating oil.

Netaka White is the biofuels director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.  He said Friday that farms in Vermont use six million gallons a year of fuel.  Vermonters use 300-million gallons of diesel, two-thirds for heating and one-third for transportation.

Included in a packet of information about biofuels was the statistic that Vermont uses the least energy of any state, but is number 18 in per capita petroleum consumption, sixth in gasoline consumption, and forty-third in diesel consumption.

Mr. White said if farmers can produce food quality oil from sunflowers and soybeans, the oil can be used by a restaurant for cooking and then taken back for conversion to use as a fuel.

The process of making oil out of sunflowers and other crops leaves high protein meal as a byproduct, and the meal can be food for cattle.

“Our long-term goal is to be self-sufficient with our farm,” said Nick Meyer.  The brothers use cooking oil from restaurants including Claire’s in Hardwick, but it’s not enough to run the whole farm.

Sunflowers can make 75 to 100 gallons of oil per acre.

Ellen Kahler, executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, said by helping local farms become more self-sufficient and growing their own fuels, Vermont can strengthen the local rural economies.  She said without the support of Senator Leahy, there is no way Vermont would be able to do this kind of research and development.

“The model that we’re creating does not fit the Department of Energy’s model,” she said, which is on a much more giant scale.

“We think we’re on to something here,” she added.  She said support from Senator Leahy has brought $2.9-million to the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, with $484,000 this year.  Next year there might be more than that, she said.

“I know we can do it in Vermont,” said Senator Leahy.  He said he is glad to help bring money for research to projects like those in Hardwick and the area.  When he is trying to get funding, he often points to successes in past projects.  He can even point at furniture in his office in Washington.  One table is protected by varnish made by Andrew Meyer’s company, Vermont Natural Coatings, a whey-based finish.

“That protects the finish of my antique conference table,” the senator said.

“One of the places I brag about is here.  I know it’s going to be put to good use,” said Senator Leahy about the money.

“I will continue to work on this,” he said, “because this is very real to me….

“Thank you for what you’re doing.  You’re preserving the Vermont that I grew up in and our children should be able to grow up in.”

A noteworthy birthday

by Bethany M. Dunbar,  January 8, 2010

At the start of the new year I am reminded of a story I did in the middle of the year, an interview with Lillian Hoyt who was celebrating her 100th birthday.

Mrs. Hoyt was a joy to talk to and sharp as a tack.

She told stories of Orleans from her childhood, of growing up, and her life with her husband and young family.  She even gave me a recipe for doughnuts.

I haven’t made doughnuts from scratch for a long time, but this recipe reminds me that it can be done.  I’m a little reluctant about cooking with lard, but you know, in those days people’s lives were so physical they burned off all the calories.  In fact cooking with lard gave them some much-needed extra energy I bet.

It’s just kind of amazing, how much has changed in 100 years.  Here I am sitting typing away on a laptop computer with wireless Internet connections, making a blog so anyone on the planet can read it in about five minutes from now, if they happen to know it’s there.  My cell phone just made a tone to let me know I have a text message.  Later I’ll check facebook to see what everybody’s talking about today.

But the basic values of hard work, home, family, and community are the same as they ever were — just as important if not more so.  Congratulations to Lillian Hoyt on her birthday.  And many more.

Lillian Hoyt celebrates 100 years in Orleans

by Bethany M. Dunbar, the Chronicle, August 26, 2009

ORLEANS — Lillian Hoyt had a big birthday party on July 9.  She celebrated turning 100 years old.

“I never supposed I’d live to 100,” she said.  Asked the secret of her longevity, she shook her head.  “I have no idea.  Just good living.”

Mrs. Hoyt is most thankful for her wonderful family.  Many of them made it to the party, including a large entourage from Hartford, Connecticut.  Some live in California.  Others came from an apartment upstairs.  In other words, her family is huge.  They are all around her or come to see her frequently.

Mrs. Hoyt lives in the same home she’s lived in for 70 years, and in the same village where she has lived for a century.  Her husband was Darrell Hoyt, who delivered mail in Orleans for 42 years.  He wrote a book about the history of Orleans in 1985 called Sketches of Orleans, Vermont.  He was a few years older than his bride, and died in 2002.

She remembers her childhood in Orleans as being vastly different from life for children today.  There was a slower pace in general.

“You were safe.  Wherever you were, you were safe.  You played anywhere you wanted to.  You had the run of the place, really.”

One of her favorite games was Can Up.  The kids would put a tin can on a stump and all go hide, each holding a long stick.

“We’d all go hide, then we’d hit the can,” she said.  “That was a neighborhood game.  Everybody played.

“Kids nowadays don’t play, do they?  It is kind of too bad.”

She said she thinks it’s much harder for parents today than it was for her when she was raising children.  She remembers the experience as a lot of fun.

“People were so different.  Now you don’t know your next door neighbor.”

When Mrs. Hoyt was little, people used horses to get around.

“There were no automobiles, not when I was real young,” she said.  “I remember so well them rolling the roads.”

In those days, a team of horses would pull a giant wooden roller to flatten the roads and make them passable in winter for sleds.

She doesn’t remember when electricity first came to Orleans, but her husband did.  He was a young boy and went along with the man who first turned the lights on — the switch was turned on in Brownington.  Mr. Hoyt recalled seeing those lights the first night and what an amazing sight that was.

Mrs. Hoyt went to school in the current Orleans Elementary School, but she started out in a different building.  She remembers the day the school moved from its past location, where the Orleans Federated Church is now.

“I remember the day we marched up.  The principal was ahead of us.  We were pretty proud to be going to a new school,” she said.

Mrs. Hoyt graduated in 1928 and was married in 1932.  She met her future husband one day when walking home from school.

“He had an old puddle jumper.  It was an old car he made.  It had four tires and a bucket seat.”  He stopped and asked her if she wanted a ride, and she said yes.  She smiled remembering that day, and said she was glad she made that decision to get into the puddle jumper.  He was a great guy, she said.

“We had a lot of music in our family because he was a piano player,” she said.  Her favorite song was “Whispering.”

“It was a waltz.  It was so pretty.”

Mrs. Hoyt used to play the piano in her youth.

“I played quite well.  But after I married Darrell I couldn’t play as well as he did, so I wouldn’t play any more.”

They had five children:  Shirley, Mary, Robert, Rick and Ross.

Mrs. Hoyt worked for the photographer Mack Derick.  His studio was above Austin’s Drug Store.  She had that job for a few years and used to work six days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“I printed the snapshots, and developed all the films,” she said.  She said Mr. Derick was an easygoing boss, but his wife was not the same way.

All those years of working and raising a family, Mrs. Hoyt never learned to drive an automobile.

“My husband never trusted me.  I don’t think he thought women were very good drivers,” she said.  She said she thinks everyone should learn to drive.  She wishes she did, but it never happened.  She still went anywhere she wanted to go, because her husband would drive her.  He seemed to enjoy taking her places as well as she liked the ride.

Mrs. Hoyt still has many hobbies.

“I love to do crossword puzzles.  I love to do them.  I love to read.  I love to watch television.”

Mrs. Hoyt’s favorite book is The Life of John Adams.

“It fascinated me the most of anything I’ve read,” she said, even though she didn’t like history in school.  “I don’t care too much for romance fiction.  It’s too boring.”

She added that she always loved to cook but can no longer do so.

Her favorite recipe was for sour cream doughnuts:

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup sour cream

salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

about two and a half cups flour

Beat the eggs and sugar.  Add sour cream and beat well.  Combine dry ingredients, mix to form a soft dough. Don’t use too much flour – too much and the dough will be tough and hard.  Refrigerate for an hour or so.  Roll out and cut with a doughnut cutter.  Fry in 375-degree lard.