By Lisa Loomis
In 1971, half a century ago, The Valley Reporter, the weekly newspaper covering the people, places, politics and events of the Mad River Valley, was founded.
Since that time, the newspaper has never missed a week of publication, even following the Flood of 1998 and the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. The paper, on newsstands every Thursday morning has evolved from a print-only news source to a multi-media news organization with a timely website, active social media presence and a twice-weekly newsletter as well as digital subscription options.
The Valley Reporter was preceded by several other short-lived efforts to create a community newspaper for The Valley. The Newspaper was published once a month from November 1966 through July 1969. Denise McCluggage was the editor.
The Newspaper was followed by the Weathervane in November 1970 under managing editor Phyllis Gile. She remained the managing editor when D. Trowbridge Elliman started The Valley Reporter in 1971. The first issue of The Valley Reporter was published on June 25. The paper’s business year ends after the52nd issue of that year has been published so while the paper was first published on June 25, 1971, its 50th volume ended last week on April 15 meaning that this week’s issue is 5101 and the first issue of the 51st year.
The Valley Reporter got its start in the Village Square, moving to Fiddlers Green in December 1973 and then to the Mad River Green to offices owned at the time (and now again) by Brothers Building in August 1983. Elliman named Mary Kerr as editor in November 1976. By that time Elliman had sold the newspaper to Alvan R. Benjamin of Warren and Boston, MA. He bought the paper in July 1982 and took the position of publisher and then in 1984 editor/publisher when Kerr left the paper.
The Valley Reporter remained in the office next to Brothers Building until last fall when the offices were moved to 171 Slow Road, sharing a parking lot with Sportive.
The cost of a copy of the paper was 10 cents in 1917. That rose to $0.15 in 1975, $0.20 in 1978, $0.25 in 1982, $0.35 in 1985, $0.50 in 1992 and then it did not increase again until 2016 when it was raised to $0.75
Al Benjamin died in May 2015 at the age of 88. He continued to be involved in the paper into his 80s. Benjamin’s mark on The Valley Reporter and The Valley was, and still is, apparent. He loved the Mad River Valley and he loved producing the weekly paper. He insisted that the paper remain exclusively local, regularly instructing his reporters to find a way to “localize it.” The Mad River Valley, he rightly pointed out, contained more than enough people, stories, politics and events to fill the paper.
“Local people want to know what is happening in their community,” he always said.
Benjamin mentored many staffers throughout his long career at The Valley Reporter. He treated his staffers like family but held them to the highest standards of journalism.
The paper is currently owned by Patricia Clark, publisher, and Lisa Loomis, editor. They became owners after Benjamin died.
Clark joined the paper in 1981 as a part-time typesetter, back in the days when copy was set in a typesetting machine and manually pasted onto flats (pages) affixed with wax and driven to the press. That did not change until the late 1990s. Today the paper is produced digitally using InDesign and emailed to the press.
Over several years, Clark took on more duties including bookkeeping and subscriptions and later payroll, shifting from part time to full time by 1982. Benjamin named Clark publisher in 2000, the same year he named Loomis editor. Loomis joined the newspaper in 1985 as a staff writer and was promoted to news editor in 1990 and editor in 2000.
Working with Loomis and Clark is director of sales and advertising and web manager Jeff Knight, who joined the paper in 2002; staff writer Hadley Laskowski, who joined the paper in January 2020; Roarke Sharlow, classified advertising, who joined the paper in July 2020; along with David Clark who transports the papers and has since 1985 and cartoonist Keith Davidson who has been conjuring up weekly cartoons for well over two decades.
“When the pandemic hit, we pivoted without a plan, with some people working from home, others in the office. Our staff made it possible for us to keep the paper in production throughout the pandemic and we’re grateful for their dedication to local, community journalism,” Clark said. “In addition, we are extremely grateful to the Mad River Valley community for their continued support through the years and, most especially, during the past very difficult year,” she added.
Loomis and Clark are proud to be carrying on Benjamin’s tradition of keeping the paper local and recording the history of the Mad River Valley, from the growth of the ski areas, changing ownership at Sugarbush, to the creation of the Mad River Valley Planning District, the rec district, the construction of the Slide Brook intertie lift at Sugarbush, snowmaking at Sugarbush, the creation of the Mad River Glen skier-owned co-op . . .
This list is long. Stay tuned for the next 50 years. The list will get longer.