WOODSTOCK, Vt. – Since its founding in 1853, the Vermont Standard has survived devastating floods, disastrous fires, and just about every plague except locusts to remain Vermont’s oldest continuously published weekly newspaper.
It celebrates its community while watching it like a hawk, regularly cited as the best small weekly by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.
Through all the natural and man-made disasters the paper has endured and covered, it has published every week for 168 years, outlasting everything except time. And time, Phil Camp knows, is closing in.
“We’re going to preserve the print edition at all cost,” says Camp, who started at the newspaper as a teenager in 1952 and has owned it for 40 years. “But I don’t know where the revenue is going to come from. We don’t have any money.”
What they do have are history and credibility, serving Woodstock, a quaint town drawn like a holiday greeting card, and a dozen other surrounding Windsor County communities since Franklin Pierce was president.
Camp became aware of the Standard as a child because his grandfather, Willard Dean Cabot, of those Cabots who listened to Lowells but only talked to God, left Boston in 1917 to run a funeral home in the same building as the newspaper. The pressmen generously agreed to halt the presses when someone was being waked upstairs, because the building shook when the presses were running.
Camp was a sophomore at Woodstock High School when he summoned the courage to tell the Standard’s then-publisher, Benton Dryden, the paper needed to improve its coverage of school sports.
“Hey, kid,” Dryden replied, “how’d you like to be the sports editor?”
He was hired for the princely salary of $15 a week and quickly handed additional duties.
“I had to water the plants and feed the office cat,” he said. “But that’s what you do at community newspapers. Whatever’s necessary.”
When he told Dryden he was leaving to join the Army, the publisher helped get him into college, at Boston University.
In the late 1950s, when Preston Smith had the vision to turn Killington into the biggest ski area in New England, Camp became head of marketing there. But after a career in the ski industry, Camp went back to his first love, the Standard, taking out a second mortgage to buy it in 1981.
“It’s not my newspaper,” Camp said. “It’s the community’s newspaper. I bought it to pay the community back for all it did to raise me.”
The Standard’s circulation of 5,000 includes a subscription list showing it’s read in 41 states. Circulation’s not the problem. Like most newspapers, it is bleeding advertising revenue, Camp said.
Since Camp’s grandfather ran the funeral home over the Standard, five generations of his family have gone into the funeral business while Camp remained in an industry that, at the local level, is slowly dying. Since 2004, about 1,800 newspapers have closed in the US, nearly all of them local weeklies.
The paper kept publishing despite a fire in 1867 that destroyed its building and a 1973 flood that destroyed its presses. In 2011, Tropical Storm Irene washed away the Standard’s offices. Seven years later, fire destroyed its new offices. Camp and the publisher, Dan Cotter— and their staff have just rolled with the punches and defied the odds.
But the odds are closing in. For all those fires and floods, the threat the Standard is facing now is existential.
If the Standard closes, all those local government board meetings don’t get covered. No more profiles of local characters. No quirky columns about local history. No photos and stories about kids playing sports, or just playing.
Camp is hoping against hope that someone, somewhere, with a little capital and a lot of love for small towns and community newspapers, becomes aware of the Standard’s plight and rides to the rescue.
“I turn 86 on Christmas Eve,” Phil Camp said. “I’m not going to be around much longer. We need a backer.”
Hopefully, Santa Claus still reads newspapers.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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