Message closed; sale to Vermont Journal expected Owner calls talk 'premature'; office dark, phones forwarded

Prompted by this Chester Telegraph article, Bob Miller of the Vermont Journal issued a short statement in his publication, writing, “he has purchased The Message of (sic) the Week. The sale will merge the newspapers but continue to be published only under The Vermont Journal and The Shopper banners. … The Message, as a separate entity, will cease publication immediately.”

By Shawn Cunningham and Cynthia Prairie
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Message office on Main Street in Chester was closed on Friday and the phone was being answered at the Vermont Journal in Ludlow. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

The Message for the Week, the 44-year-old tabloid newspaper founded by the Johnson family, is closed today — for the second time in its storied life — ostensibly awaiting its sale to KMA Publishing of Ludlow, which owns The Vermont Journal.

Reached at his Pennsylvania headquarters, George “Scoop” Sample, owner of the Sample News Group that has owned The Message and the Claremont-based Eagle Times since October of 2009, told The Telegraph on Friday that discussion of the sale was “premature” and that KMA owner Bob Miller was the person to ask about the deal.

When told that The Telegraph was reporting an article about the impending sale, Miller said, “No comment.” When asked if he intended to buy The Message, the phone went dead.

Nevertheless, The Message office in Chester – which lists its office hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays – was closed and dark and calls to the Message phone were answered by Journal employees with the greeting, “Vermont Journal and Shopper.” Apparently telephones have been forwarded from Chester to KMA’s office in Ludlow.

With no one working on its deadline day, it appears that The Message will not be published this coming week, at least not by its current owner.

Vermont Journal owner Bob Miller Telegraph file photo

Ginny Gosselin, a long time ad salesperson for area newspapers who currently works for The Eagle Times, said Thursday evening that the 15 or so Eagle Times employees were called to a 1:30 p.m. meeting at their Claremont offices, and told by Associate Publisher Frank Amato that The Message had been sold.

Gosselin, who has worked on and off for The Message for a number of years, said, “I loved The Message.” She added that no one was fired and all were offered positions to continue with The Eagle Times.

Donna Allen, who worked for The Vermont Journal for a number of years and had been working for The Eagle Times for about 10 weeks, had just become editor of The Message.

Reached Friday morning, Allen confirmed the Thursday meeting in Claremont.

Highs and lows for The Message

Founded in 1974 by Bill and Joan Johnson, The Message was taken over in the 1980s by their son, the late Wes Johnson and his wife Theresa, who still lives in Chester. The paper gained a loyal following as a display for Wes Johnson’s photography and for its coverage of community events. In 2004, following Johnson’s death, the paper was sold to New Hampshire businessman Harvey Hill, publisher of The Eagle Times and its Twin State Valley Media Network.**

When Hill ran into financial trouble in 2009, he declared bankruptcy and closed both papers. At the time, according to reports, it had 66 full-time and 29 part-time employees.

Later that summer, staff members of the Message – including editors Robert Smith and Joe Milliken – hustled to create a replacement called The Messenger published by New Market Press of Middlebury, Vt.

Front page of the short-lived Messenger in 2009

But by November, when Sample News Group bought Twin State Valley Media and revived the paper, its threat of legal action forced The Messenger to become The Green Mountain Outlook, according to the Oct. 6, 2009 Brattleboro Reformer.

“We have no desire to waste time, energy and money entangled in a lengthy legal battle with a large, out-of-state publishing company,” Smith and Milliken wrote at the time in The Outlook, “The staff here at The Outlook is dedicated to producing the best possible product for the dozens of communities we serve, and that’s where we want to put our energy and efforts.”

According to the newspaper, The Outlook had a distribution of 20,500 direct-mailed copies and another 5,000 dropped copies.

The revived Message grew to two sections in the succeeding two years, but then went through a succession of editors and advertising staff until recently when it had shrunk to one section of 16 pages. It also moved in and out of a number of offices ending up in the space behind Six Loose Ladies and The Southern Pie Company on Main Street in Chester. Today, that office was closed.

Gary Band, Message editor in 2012 and 2013, and a former Chester resident, said, “It is a sad day for local news and further indication of the decline in journalistic standards when a paper with as many regular reporting and typographical errors is the last print publication standing in a community that surely deserves better. Thank goodness for The Telegraph.”

**According to Robert Smith, Wes and Teresa Johnson sold the paper to Harvey Hill and his company prior to Wes’ health issues prior to his death.

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  1. Barre Pinske says:

    How are we going to start a fire in the wood stove?

  2. Betty McEnaney says:

    What a good run. The Message was a breath of fresh air. It was void of a political bent, and was refreshing for just that reason. It cheered for and rallied behind the many communities it served. To the Johnson family, thanks for a great publication and to the many who worked to keep it going, thanks to you as well. If only the philosophy of the Message would rub off on the Journal.

  3. Susan Leader says:

    Yes, sad indeed The Message is no longer. One last time, let’s summon up the great byline “Riding With JJ,” used by, I believe Wes Johnson’s mom? maybe when she used to report on the Londonderry beat? It was a long time ago, but the byline always captured my imagination. The Message, by organizing its content according to town, created its own sense of regional identity for us.. By reading The Message each week, I could feel the heartbeats of Townsend, Weathersfield and everywhere in between … RIP, Message … and Thank you!

  4. Tim Roper says:

    This is a sad day, indeed. While the paper was never quite the same after Wes and Theresa sold it, I thought it had made progress in recognizing that the formula of covering a broad range of events in area towns, with photos of local people doing the everyday things we do in our communities, was the path to success. Alas it was apparently too little and too late to save it.

    Wes was ever present, with his camera at the ready for all manner of events, from youth and high school sports, to parades and senior dinners. We all looked forward to seeing our friends, our kids and sometimes even ourselves in his published photos. That kept the readership high and the ad dollars flowing. Wes was warm, kind, involved and an interested member of our community and he’s still missed.

  5. R. Bliss says:

    Very sad day for the town of Chester and the surrounding communities. Wes and Theresa were the heart and soul of this paper as was Wes’ parents before them. When it changed hands after Wes passed I, as well as most of the readership I believe, knew it would never be the same. Never be our home town paper ever again. Very sad day indeed….

  6. “The Message” provided a great publication site for the journalism students of Green Mountain High School during the seventies. Students were able to write for a real audience.
    The publication published scores of photographs of the runners on the GMUHS cross country team. This recognition assisted in the recruitment of the many student athletes who ran for Green Mountain in the mid seventies.

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