Born Again

As a news organization, the Valley Advocate is rarely nostalgic, rarely sentimental.

Sure, we look back at the history of things all the time; one of the advantages of publishing just once a week is that we have the time to research topics deeply, seeking as much background as possible. But we don't often look back with longing for the good old days. After all, it is today's affairs, and what will be done about them tomorrow, that matter most to our readers.

I can't say that there weren't some wistful moments in our newsroom as we were putting together this 35th anniversary edition. For several weeks, we've been poking around in old filing cabinets, reading through yellowing decades-old Advocates and reaching out to former employees, longtime readers and people who, as sources or subjects, have helped to shape the paper for over three decades. The hardest part was knowing that we couldn't possibly acknowledge nor properly thank all the people who have made significant contributions to the Valley Advocate over the years, nor take note of all of the significant events that have transpired in the Valley during that time.

But our motivation for taking this long look back at 35 years, rather than waiting for, say, 40 or 50, was not the desire to commemorate the past so much as to celebrate where the Valley Advocate is today and where it is going.

At 35, the Valley Advocate has been born again.

Founded in 1973, the Advocate remained an independently owned publication until it was acquired by the Hartford Courant in 1999. Under the Courant, owned by the troubled behemoth, Tribune Corp., the Valley Advocate found itself in the hands of a corporation that prized uniformity over individuality, that worried more about its shareholders than its readers, that bought into a world view that has become endemic in mainstream publishing—a view that, in the face of declining circulation, the only recourse is to reduce spending. Under seven-plus years of corporate ownership, the Advocate's proven ability to survive and grow in difficult times, both as a newspaper and as a business, went untapped, our hands tied by executives who failed to appreciate the nimble, savvy ways of so self-reliant a publication as the Advocate.

A nautical metaphor is apt when comparing a huge company to a much smaller one. A huge ocean liner is a slow-steering craft; it takes time to correct course, where a smaller vessel responds quickly, nimbly. The Tribune Corp., unfortunately, was incapable of seeing its fleet of newspapers as a giant flotilla comprising many smaller vessels. Rather than allowing the boats in its fleet to find their own way through troubled waters, Tribune insisted on plotting the way. For the Advocate, a tiny ship, the loss of our freedom to follow our lights left us feeling frustrated, dead in the water.

Last winter we were emancipated with the sale of the Valley Advocate to Newspapers of New England, the privately-held, independent publishers of the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the Greenfield Recorder. The sale, which split the Valley paper from its sister Advocate papers in Connecticut, came not a second too soon, as a beleaguered Tribune Corp. implements increasingly draconian measures in an effort to right its ship.

More than a simple marking of time, then, this 35th anniversary is part of the Valley Advocate's rediscovery of the virtues of being an independent alternative to the corporate brand of media we were born to challenge.

Author: Tom Vannah

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