by Kyle Callahan
Poultney used to be blessed by several homegrown newspapers. We had The Poultney Gazette and The Northern Spectator in the early 1820s and 30s and The Owl in the 1860s. We also had The Poultney Herald, The Poultney Journal, and The Poultney Advertiser, which in its second week of publication in November 1897 informed the villagers that “President McKinley favors the annexation of Hawaii to the United States” (the Advertiser’s publisher, W.M. Oakman, thought this was a bad idea because he believed Hawaii was “a community of semi-savages [who were] totally unfit to be clothed with the dignity of citizenship in a republic like our own”).
Here in 2021, thanks to a new owner, a rebrand, and a reorganization, we now have NYVT Media, publishers of The Granville Sentinel, Whitehall Times, North Country FreePress, and for those of us in Poultney, The Lakes Region FreePress. With the rebranding, the publisher hopes to “cement the idea that we are a modern, multimedia, community treasure.”
The owner of NYVT Media summed up his sense of the organization’s mission by saying, “We are the town square. It’s a different town square than it used to be, but we’re still the town square to the communities we serve. We’re the place people go to exchange ideas and have communication. That’s the key to what we do.”
The announcement had me wondering how our newspapers of the past introduced themselves to the town.
In the first issue of The Poultney Gazette, published on Tuesday, October 29, 1822, the publisher took a moment to present his audience with “the principles upon which” his venture “is to be conducted.”
Printed during what historians call “The Era of Good Feelings” following the War of 1812, the publisher notes how “the insanity of party spirit has subsided” in the land. Instead of reporting on “the conflicts of party dissensions,” which would only benefit office seekers, the publisher “hope[s] and trust[s] we shall be induced from motives of pure patriotism to exhibit the truth when it can be exhibited…and to advance the happiness and security of a free republic.”
He also hoped to “enlighten and give wise direction” to public opinion, especially regarding public morals and manners, and “to collect such material…as may be useful to mankind in general [and] which may aid in forming an argument and directing the conduct of the culturalist, the mechanic, the merchant, the professional man, and the man of science.”
We can see the theme of The Era of Good Feelings in the publisher’s closing remarks: “We ought as one undivided people to direct our wisdom, and our efforts, to the formation of a national character, by which we may be as much distinguished by the purity and correctness of our morals, our manners, and our habits, as we are for our constitutional privileges.”
On March 12, 1868, the newly minted Poultney Bulletin introduced itself to its readers by saying, “There has long been felt in this town the want of a good local newspaper that shall not only be a record of the events transpiring here, but shall be the organ by which the people of this section reach each other and through which they, in a measure, communicate with the outside world.”
But more than speaking with the townsfolk, the Poultney Bulletin hoped to reach those who had left town. “We hope to come each week, bringing you, as it were, back into our town, and giving you a glimpse of what we are doing, the lives we lead, and a view, as far as we are able, of all our affairs, the business, the recreation, the joys, the sorrows, of our little world.”
The Bulletin’s publisher, J.A. Morris, had been a former teacher, and he saw his new vocation as a continuation of his education duties. He writes that a newspaper publisher is “contributing largely to form the tastes, the intellectual and moral habits, and the general character of his readers.” He continues, explaining that a publisher “must maintain and encourage what is true and just and beautiful and pure” and “must, like the preacher, be one whom it is safe to follow.”
As NYVT Media sets out on its journey to become and remain “the town square,” I hope they take a moment to ask themselves “the principles upon which” their venture “is to be conducted.”