by Nat Frothingham
In the several weeks since Jan. 1, friends of The Bridge have gathered close to 700 signatures in a petition drive to seek financial help for the paper from Montpelier voters on Town Meeting Day March 3.
Here are the chief things I have learned from this drive:
Many people in Montpelier value The Bridge and want it to continue.
Not everyone we talked to wanted to sign our petition. Some people couldn’t sign because they weren’t registered to vote or were registered to vote but voted outside of Montpelier. Some people who were registered to vote in Montpelier, when asked to sign the petition, didn’t sign. But the majority of people we talked to who vote in Montpelier did sign and many of them said while signing, “I love The Bridge. Where do I sign?”
I learned that some people were concerned about the paper’s independence if taxpayers voted to give The Bridge financial support.
Not every reader of The Bridge liked a recent editorial I wrote endorsing Scott Milne for governor. I know that. I also know that some of our readers liked that editorial because they stopped by our office, or sent an email message or phoned to tell me they supported what I wrote.
Among the people we talked to, some said if there is a single question on their minds about The Bridge seeking an appropriation from the voters on Town Meeting Day, it’s their fear that The Bridge might give up its independence.
I don’t think there’s any paper anywhere that can assert its independence in a vacuum. We answer to our readers. If our readers find us to be unthinking and irresponsible, they will stop reading the paper. We answer to our advertisers. They want to know how many people are reading the paper. They are critical about what goes into the paper and what doesn’t go into the paper and they care about our fairness in dealing with controversy. On very rare occasions an advertiser will be in touch to let us know they don’t like our editorial point of view or the way we handled a story and that they’re pulling their ads from the paper. Our independence is not unchecked. Nor should it be.
I can’t believe that if voters choose to give us financial help that our independence would be compromised. After all, voters are our readers. Let’s answer to them. We answer to them anyway. And let’s not make this mistake. Let’s not imagine that city government would own or control The Bridge.
We are going to the voters. If they want The Bridge to continue, they can vote to help us. If they don’t want the paper to continue, they can vote against us. Or they can vote against us and tell us what alternatives we should be exploring to keep the paper alive.
January is a tough time to be seeking signatures. But going out and talking to people face-to-face has given us something like 700-plus encounters with the very people we need to be talking with and listening to — and overall that’s been heartening.