After two decades in which dramatic changes rocked the newspaper industry, The Bennington Banner and New England Newspapers Incorporated, which experienced all of those changes, have returned to local ownership.
During those years, a digital revolution quickly transformed a business that had been print-based for centuries. That revolution was accompanied by severe financial challenges that caused budget cutbacks and layoffs that were felt throughout the industry and at The Banner and its sister newspapers. It constituted a trial by fire that in many ways steeled the newspapers that have come through it.
Financial setbacks combined with a brutal recession led the Miller family, the long-time owners of The Berkshire Eagle and owners of The Banner since 1960, to sell the newspapers in 1995 to Dean Singleton's Denver-based MediaNews Group. That sale was accompanied by cutbacks, and the adjustment to those losses in personnel and to outside ownership was not easy. The Banner, however, survived, which was not the case for every newspaper buffeted by industry-wide turbulence in recent years, and under MediaNews Group the Banner continued to produce solid, Vermont-oriented journalism.
When MediaNews Group came under the ownership of Digital First Media in 2013, more painful changes resulted as part of an industry-wide effort by newspapers to remain profitable in a time of declining print circulation. DFM, however, has been at the forefront of the necessary expansion of newspapers' footprint into the digital world, and expansion of The Banner's website and its aggressive move into social media have put it in position to be at the forefront of this transformation.
There are, however, obvious advantages to local ownership which can watch local issues unfold first hand and develop a keen understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of a community. NENI's new owners are based in the Berkshires along the border of southwestern Vermont.
The Banner's roots go back to 1841 when it was a weekly publication, and it has been a daily since 1903. Under new ownership, it is now poised to build on its advances into the digital era and ideally to serve Bennington and neighboring towns for many decades to come.