Chris Braithwaite will be in NENPA Hall of Fame

chris hall fame web

Chris Braithwaite, hard at work at the Chronicle office working on this week’s newspaper, in Barton Tuesday. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 1-15-2014

by Bethany M. Dunbar

BARTON — Chronicle founder and publisher Chris Braithwaite will be inducted into the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA) Hall of Fame in February.

Mr. Braithwaite and five other newspaper professionals will be honored at the NENPA winter convention and annual meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, on February 7.

The honor is awarded to journalists for “talent, hard work and exceptional accomplishments,” as described by the NENPA website.

Mr. Braithwaite was nominated — without his knowledge — by staff members, who solicited letters of support from colleagues, members of the community and others who know his career especially well.

Letters were submitted by M. Dickey Drysdale, editor and publisher of The Herald of Randolph, author Howard Frank Mosher of Irasburg, Colin Nickerson, who worked for the Chronicle many years ago and currently works for the Boston Globe, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Patrick Butler, vice-president of programs at the International Center For Journalists (ICFJ), Lucinda Fleeson, director of the Humphrey Fellowship Program for developing world journalists, and Chronicle news editor Tena Starr.

Mr. Mosher wrote, “The Kingdom is …the poorest area in the rural Northeast.  If ever a region was crying out for a first-rate, clear-eyed, weekly paper, it was Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.”  He called Mr. Braithwaite “the best reporter and editor I’ve ever known.”

Mr. Drysdale wrote, “To appreciate the magnitude of his achievement, the judges should know a little about Barton.  Vermont’s ‘Northeast Kingdom’ may have a royal-sounding nickname, but in truth, it is the poorest section of a relatively poor state, and people are few and far between.  Barton itself has a population of just under 3,000….

“For Chris to be selling 7,500 copies of the Chronicle out of Barton every week is nothing less than a miracle.”

Mr. Butler’s letter outlines work Mr. Braithwaite has done since 1997 helping media in developing nations learn how to work independently from government and support themselves commercially.

“Chris developed the basics of a manual called Successful Newspaper Advertising, written specifically for media in emerging economies,” says Mr. Butler’s letter.  “ICFJ published the manual as part of a three-set volume on ‘The Business of News.’  We have translated it into numerous languages, from Russian to Georgian, and it has helped media organizations all over the world.”

Senator Sanders wrote, “There are few, if any, Vermont newspapers that capture the life of small communities in the way that the Barton Chronicle has since its founding.”

Colin Nickerson described the scene as Mr. Braithwaite got arrested for trespassing while covering protests of wind towers on Lowell Mountain:

“With his big bristly beard, shock of white hair, and inquisitive eyes set beneath beetle brows, Braithwaite is a highly-recognizable figure –— the face of journalism, one might say, in the hard-scrabble Vermont region called the Northeast Kingdom.  The deputies recognized Braithwaite, of course, and knew him to be a working journalist.  But they arrested him along with the protestors, charging him with criminal trespass — it seemed he was standing on power company property while scribbling his notes.

“This letter is to urge the Association to induct Chris Braithwaite into the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame.

“Not because he was arrested on a remote mountain. Not because he spent a year and thousands of dollars fighting a charge that was an insult to the 1st Amendment (it was finally dismissed – and the judge ordered the power company to pick up a hefty portion of Braithwaite’s legal costs).  Rather, Braithwaite deserves the honor because over nearly four decades he and the Chronicle’s doughty staff have created what just might be the best little weekly in the Green Mountains, one whose hominess conceals a formidable bite.”

Ms. Starr wrote about reading the Chronicle 32 years ago:

“…I distinctly recall one day buying the Chronicle and reading the lead sentence of the drop story.  It said:  ‘Some people get up in the morning and milk their cows, and some people get up in the morning and milk their tax shelters.’

“That sentence was written by Chris Braithwaite, back in the days when foreign investors were buying up prime farmland in the Northeast Kingdom.

“I decided right then that I wanted to work for that paper.  I wanted to work for the man who wrote that sentence and who ferreted out that story….

“What Chris taught us is that it all matters — big and little.  We are a community paper.  The people we write about are not nameless or faceless.  They are our friends, our neighbors, the people we run into at the grocery store, the people who fix our cars and sell us hardware and pizza. We are not isolated from the community we report on; we are a part of it, and we’d damned well better do a good job — be fair, honest, and empathetic — so we can look our neighbors, and ourselves, in the eye.

“Courage is not callousness.  Skepticism is not cynicism.  Community journalism examines, but it also celebrates.”

Mr. Braithwaite and his former wife, Ellen Braithwaite, and a friend, Ed Cowan, founded the Chronicle in 1974.  In March the newspaper will celebrate its fortieth anniversary.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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This video of the NENPA hall of fame induction was made by Joseph Gresser:

The full text of letters of support for Chris Braithwaite’s nomination are below:

cover letter:

To Dan Cotter

executive director, New England Newspaper and Press Association:

I am the managing editor of a weekly newspaper in Barton, Vermont, called the Chronicle. This package of letters is in support of naming the founder of the newspaper, Chris Braithwaite, to the NENPA Hall of Fame.

I believe Chris is an exceptional newspaperman for all his own accomplishments and for all the ways in which he has helped others.  I’ve asked the people who wrote letters here for their support, and I know that I could have obtained a dozen more with very little effort. These letters are intended to give you a view of Chris from a few different perspectives.

Chris founded the Chronicle 40 years ago this March.  He will turn 70 in the same month the newspaper will celebrate its 40th anniversary.

Other letters enclosed discuss some of the most important highlights of his career, but there are a few others that were not covered.  One is just the way he has always given financial priority to creating and keeping a staff of highly competent and talented writers and editors, even during the hardest times.  Not counting Chris, our editorial staff is the equivalent of five full-time people with a combined experience in journalism of roughly 140 years.  This level of experience has not always been easy to maintain, but Chris has given it top priority and the results are top quality journalism for this rural area.

The Chronicle has won its share of NENPA awards.  Chris has won personally for editorial writing.  A series of articles he wrote with another veteran writer won first place for investigative reporting in 2010.  This was about a program designed to take care of men who are not capable, mentally, of going to trial for a crime but who were considered possibly sexually dangerous and untrustworthy.  The Safe Choices program, it turned out, was a handy warehouse for men that were not necessarily really a threat.  Their treatment within the program was sometimes humiliating and borderline abusive.  A couple of the men whose cases we followed were since then released.  One is now married and living happily within the general community.

I mention it because it’s the kind of story Chris has always gone after – stories about people who face a daunting problem with the system and don’t have any real advocates of their own.  These are the hardest stories to do but can be the most rewarding and important.

The other area in which I believe the Chronicle is exceptional from day to day is in its coverage of local and state politics.  Each election night we collect the results from at least 20 town clerks — more if there is a race in the much larger local Senate district.  Sometimes we are the first to let a candidate know he or she has won when we call them for a comment.  This is thanks to a wonderful relationship we have with local town clerks.  The paper also covers every single town on Town Meeting Day the first Tuesday of March (20 towns).  In Vermont, Town Meeting is where local government is accomplished, where school and road budgets are set and local officials are elected.  Some of these meetings last for six hours.  Our editorial staff covers as many of them ourselves as possible, and we enlist community members and sometimes journalism students at the local college for the rest.  Some of our regular contributors have been covering one thing a year for us for almost the entire existence of the Chronicle and they have become quite good at it.  We are also one of the few small newspapers in Vermont that devotes most of the time of one writer to covering the state Legislature during the session.

I also wanted to mention here a charity Chris started, at first with a partner, Mac Stewart, in 1994.  In 2009 Chris and our general manager Tracy Davis Pierce decided to keep it going on its own, as a 501c3 exempt charity.  Called Warm the Children-Orleans County Inc, it’s a simple concept.  We advertise, asking people in the community to donate some money to help school kids get some new winter clothing.  We work with the schools to find out who really needs this, and volunteers shop with the kids.  Staff used to do this shopping but now there are so many donations staff doesn’t have enough time.  We buy new clothing so the kids can feel like others on the playground and not always stuck with hand-me-downs.  All financial donations  — 100 percent — go to pay for the clothing.  Since 1994 we have clothed over 4,000 children from about $250,000 in donations.  I heard the other day from a teacher at the Coventry school who knew of four children who got new coats and boots through Warm the Children this year.  She thanked us for our efforts and said it makes a real difference for each child.

Another way that Chris has been generous is in allowing me personally to put some Chronicle staff time into serving on the board of the Vermont Press Association.  I’ve served as president and continue on the board as past president. While I’ve done some of this on my own time, it’s taken me away from my desk at the Chronicle more than once.  The VPA could not run if publishers would not allow some staff time for this organization which is essentially volunteers.

In closing I would like to sincerely thank you for your time in considering this nomination.  We’ve so far managed to keep it a secret from Chris that we are submitting this.  So if you should choose to honor him and should happen to call the office to let him know, he probably won’t believe it.  I hope I’m in the newsroom if and when that happens.

 Bethany M. Dunbar, managing editor, the Chronicle

from Patrick Butler, International Center for Journalists:

To Whom It May Concern:

By now, you have many letters attesting to the fantastic work Chris Braithwaite has done in New England as founder and publisher of the Chronicle in Barton, Vt. But you may not know that Chris’ good work has had an influence much farther afield than Vermont or even New England. Because of Chris, media in places as far away as Indonesia  – almost exactly the other side of the world from Vermont – are better informing their communities and thriving in difficult circumstances.

I am the vice president of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), based in Washington, D.C. The mission of my organization is to help media around the world do a better job of providing people with the information they need to make good decisions about everything from who will lead them to how they’ll spend their money to how to live healthier lives. That mission is especially important in countries without a history of free and independent media, where government has long controlled what people know and don’t know.

ICFJ runs the Knight International Journalism Fellowships, which send experts in various aspects of media to countries across the globe for long-term work helping journalists and media managers. In 1997, ICFJ selected Chris as a Knight Fellow to work in the newly independent nations of the former Yugoslavia. His mission was to help the now relatively free newspapers of the region with everything from journalism to production to ad sales.

Hopscotching around the Balkans over a little less than a year, Chris worked with newspapers in Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. He focused on helping them to build a business strategy and to develop advertising sales skills given that the papers could no longer depend on the government for all of their operating funds. His work was vital in helping these nascent media learn how to be independent from government and how to survive financially in fragile economies. Without that ability, all of the journalism training in the world is meaningless because media that can’t support themselves commercially will go back to selling their services to politicians and parties.

Chris developed the basics of a manual called “Successful Newspaper Advertising,” written specifically for media in emerging economies. ICFJ published the manual as part of a three-set volume on “The Business of News.” We have translated it into numerous languages, from Russian to Georgian, and it has helped media organizations all over the world.

After his fellowship ended, we and other organizations continued to call upon Chris to work with media managers across the world, from Georgia to Sierra Leone. One place stands out: Banda Aceh, Indonesia. After the devastating tsunami of 2004 killed more than 160,000 people in this corner of the country, ICFJ deployed a team of media experts. They helped news organizations there recover at a time when providing information to the people was more important than ever. We sent Chris to help the business sides of the media organizations.

He spent much of his time helping Serambi newspaper rebuild after the tsunami wave swept through the newspaper building, killing 50 staff members, a major part of the paper’s operations. He helped it and other newspapers develop plans for supplements on specific issues, compile lists of NGOs and businesses in the region because of the tsunami that could be good advertisers, and develop circulation plans. He also approached major international companies to get them to advertise in the newspapers to help them get back on their feet – some, including Coca-Cola, did. “I didn’t do anything in Vermont that you can’t do here,” Braithwaite told his audience. Then he showed them how to do it.

Besides helping media organizations around the world, Chris has generously hosted at the Chronicle many journalists visiting the United States on ICFJ programs. Besides getting a wonderful view of the United States (often staying in Chris’ home), the journalists take back ideas that are helping them transform media in their own countries.

I hope you will honor Chris with a spot in the New England Newspaper and Press Association Hall of Fame – not only for his great work in Vermont, but also for taking a bit of Vermont to the farthest reaches of the world, and helping newly free societies become better informed as a result.

Sincerely, Patrick Butler, vice president programs, ICFJ

from M. Dickey Drysdale:

I write this letter to support the induction of Chris Braithwaite, founder, editor, and publisher of the Barton Chronicle, into the NENPA Hall of Fame.

Chris is already in our own hall of fame here in Vermont. His initial achievement in setting up a thriving weekly newspaper in Barton was astonishing, and his success in continuing to publish a quality publication for 40 years is even more so.

To appreciate the magnitude of his achievement, the judges should know a little about Barton. Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom” may have a royal-sounding nickname, but in truth, it is the poorest section of a relatively poor state, and people are few and far between. Barton itself has a population of just under 3000. It has amenities such as a couple of nice lakes, and its downtown attracts residents from some of the tinier towns around, but even today it can hardly be called ‘thriving’. There are competing daily newspapers in Newport and St. Johnsbury, both less than a half-hour away. For Chris to be selling 7500 copies of the Chronicle out of Barton every week is nothing less than a miracle.

He did it by focusing on quality in his newsroom and business offices. He did it by maintaining a deep sympathy for and understanding of the people in this rural area. He did it by having an eye for good reporters and the determination to pay them a decent wage. He did it by offering a newspaper that was both enjoyable to read and important.

From the beginning, the Chronicle has paid close attention to the minutiae of life. The court reports are thorough and written in prose, not shorthand. The pages of the newspaper are scattered with the names and pictures of county residents and their doings. But big regional issues are not ignored; in fact they get closer and more intelligent attention in the Chronicle than in any other publication in his area. The result of all this is, in this week’s paper, for instance, an important analytical article about a Walmart proposal in a nearby town, preceded by a story entitled “Barton Turkey Trot November 28.”

The response to this careful attention to both large events and personal stories can be seen in the Chronicle’s hugely active letters pages. The letters always fill one page; sometimes they fill two or three. Orleans County people have a personal relationship with their weekly newspaper.

It is also true that Chris Braithwaite has not been afraid to plunge into controversy as an opinion leader. In a number of occasions, most recently a controversy around wind power towers, he has taken a strong stand that defines an important controversy and becomes very influential. (In the wind controversy, Chris even got himself arrested, an honorable event for a true newspaperman.)

Orleans County residents are very lucky that Chris came along. He and his Chronicle have made their lives much less isolated and much richer.

 M. Dickey Drysdale, Editor & Publisher, The Herald of Randolph (VT)

from Lucinda Fleeson:

Dear New England Press Association,

Please forgive this email format; currently traveling without computer access.

I STRONGLY recommend a lifetime achievement award for Chris Braithwaite of the Barton Chronicle. I’ve followed what he has done up there for 15 years and been impressed by his dedication to community news, from pet news to coverage of the controversial issues that could profoundly and permanently change small Vermont towns.

For the last 11 years I’ve been director of the Humphrey Fellowship Program for developing world journalists to spend a year at the Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. Twice I asked Chris to host fellows so they could learn operations of a small town newspaper. Both times Chris agreed and even invited them to stay at his home for the duration!

This fall I was on Nigeria on a training program. My host at the US Embassy asked me to recommend a trainer to teach coverage of community news in the floating slums of Harcourt, the oil-rich coastal city. I immediately thought of Chris– in fact he is the only person i know with a unique combination of local news and a global perspective.

A New England Press award would honor what has been a towering career of a kind not often recognized for its daily, in-the-trenches, dedication to both the community and high journalism standards.

Sincerely, Lucinda Fleeson, journalist, author, international media consultant, Washington, D.C. – Sent from my iPhone

from Howard Mosher:

           I’m delighted to nominate Chris Braithwaite for membership in the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame.  In fact, for many years I have hoped that Chris would win a Pulitzer for his work at the Barton Chronicle.  That’s how highly I regard his work as a journalist and editor.

Chris founded The Chronicle in 1974.  Prior to that, he worked for the L. A. Times, Newsweek, and several Canadian newspapers, including the Toronto Globe and Mail, where he became an expert in the field of agricultural economics.   When Chris first came to Barton, in the heart of northern Vermont’s wild and isolated Northeast Kingdom, the region closely resembled a boreal outpost of Appalachia.  Except for the absence of coal mines, the remote, mountainous “Kingdom” might as well have been – might as well still be – in outback Kentucky or West Virginia.  Rates of alcoholism, mental illnesses, children and adults in poverty, and school dropouts were among the highest in New England.  The Kingdom is still the poorest area in the rural Northeast.  If ever a region was crying out for a first-rate, clear-eyed, weekly paper, it was Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

In the 1970s, Chris did a series of brilliant and courageous investigative pieces on the systematic abuse of young children at a fundamentalist cult in nearby Island Pond.

Later, in the 1980s, Chris and his reporters helped bring to light the illegal sale, to such rogue nations as Iran, Iraq, and the apartheid government of South Africa, the so-called Space Cannon, invented and manufactured on the Vermont-Canada border by Dr. Gerald Bull.

Throughout his thirty-year tenure as the editor-publisher of the Chronicle, Chris has put his background in agricultural economics to good use by chronicling and analyzing the near-extinction of the family dairy farm in Vermont.  I remember one article in particular.  In it, Chris clearly and concisely explained the very successful Canadian farm co-op program and why, though it saved the family farm in Quebec and Ontario, Vermont farmers would never adopt it.  (They’d rather lose their farms than “be told what to do” and how much milk they could produce.)

Chris also took on, in his editorials, the Northeast Kingdom “Dukes of Hazard” culture, which resulted in a frighteningly high rate of teenage highway deaths each year; the exploitative “girlie shows” at the Orleans County Fair, not on conventional moralistic grounds, but because most of the women working in those shows were virtual sex slaves; and the imposition of wind towers on top of the last wilderness peaks in the Kingdom, against the wishes of more than 75 percent of the area’s residents.

Some of Chris’s journalistic efforts on behalf of the Kingdom and its residents have gone entirely unheralded.  His paper’s fundraising efforts to provide warm winter clothing for local children in poverty comes to mind.  So does his expert, light-handed mentoring on behalf of aspiring young journalists who have worked at the Chronicle.  Colin Nickerson, a chief foreign correspondent and feature writer at the Boston Globe, got his start working for Chris.  (Disclosure:  I wrote my first book review for the Chronicle back in the 1970s.  Our son, a Montana outdoor writer, began working for the Chronicle part-time when he was 15.)

As I’m sure other writers will point out, Chris has put his more than 40 years of journalistic experience to great good use by training aspiring newspaper publishers the world over.  Personally, he exemplifies a rare combination of total honesty and extraordinary kindness, along with the highest journalistic ethics and courage.

Under his guidance, the Chronicle and its reporters have consistently been recognized as one of New England’s best journalistic and literary resources: a world-class weekly forum of reporting, feature stories (reporter Paul Lefebvre’s “Perimeter Check” column has received countless awards), hard-hitting but balanced editorial opinions, and coverage of the arts – all in one of the last places in America I’d expect to find such an outstanding newspaper.

I’ve lived all my adult life – that’s half a century now – in the Northeast Kingdom, working as a novelist and free-lance book reviewer.  Chris Braithwaite is the best reporter and editor I’ve ever known.

Howard Frank Mosher, Irasburg

from Colin Nickerson:

Dear New England Newspaper & Press Association,

Two years ago, when Orleans County deputy sheriffs broke up a small demonstration against a big wind power project in northeastern Vermont, there were no TV cameras on hand. The press pack consisted of one 68-year-old newsman – Chris Braithwaite – covering the protest for the local Chronicle newspaper, of which he is also publisher and prime guiding spirit.

With his big bristly beard, shock of white hair, and inquisitive eyes set beneath beetle brows, Braithwaite is a highly-recognizable figure – the face of journalism, one might say, in the hard-scrabble Vermont region called the Northeast Kingdom. The deputies recognized Braithwaite, of course, and knew him to be a working journalist. But they arrested him along with the protestors, charging him with criminal trespass – it seemed he was standing on power company property while scribbling his notes.

This letter is to urge the Association to induct Chris Braithwaite into the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame.

Not because he was arrested on a remote mountain. Not because he spent a year and thousands of dollars fighting a charge that was an insult to the 1st Amendment (it was finally dismissed – and the judge ordered the power company to pick up a hefty portion of Braithwaite’s legal costs). Rather, Braithwaite deserves the honor because over nearly four decades he and the Chronicle’s doughty  staff have created what just might be the best little weekly in the Green Mountains, one whose hominess conceals a formidable bite.

Braithwaite had hiked the steep mountain that December day 2011 to cover a protest ignored by every other media outlet in the state. “If I didn’t get [the story], it wasn’t going to get got,’’ he later told an interviewer.

Covering stories that would otherwise go uncovered in an impoverished, often neglected backwater of New England is the real reason I believe Braithwaite deserves a place in the Hall. For nearly 40 years, he and the Chronicle have been doing just that – over that period, the scrappy weekly has emerged as one of the most respected and beloved institutions in the region; “the voice of the Kingdom,’’ it’s occasionally called.

Once mildly mocked by locals as “that hippie newspaper,’’ the Chronicle today is almost inarguably the most reliable source for the widest array of news in Orleans County and a few neighboring communities.

It wasn’t always so. In 1974, the Chronicle started out as a scraggly assemblage of smeary pages produced in a corner of Braithwaite’s crumbling farmhouse – the newsroom consisted of two typewriters, a single telephone, and an odiferous mutt named Ted-dog who managed to be everywhere underfoot . It was folksy as all get-out, but not much to write home about news-wise.

But Braithwaite had the recipe right: By dint of 80-hour weeks and occasionally heated confrontations with small town selectmen and school boards who’d never heard of the public attending public meetings, never mind pesky reporters, the Chronicle was soon covering it all: those hitherto shuttered meetings, yes, plus births, deaths, car wrecks, court news, obscure regulatory hearings, and that farm silo blown over by a big wind.  All with accuracy, flair, and depth.

Moreover, Braithwaite’s Chronicle showed willingness to tackle the big, complex stories – the paper’s relentless coverage of wind power projects rising in the region is a prime example – with a doggedness that has won attention and respect across the state, and occasionally beyond.

The Chronicle has long since moved to bigger digs and computer rigs in the village of Barton. It circulates 7,500 copies a week in a county with only 27,000 souls.

Additionally, Chris has worked tirelessly for the International Center for Journalists and other organizations in helping journalists in struggling lands create local newspapers worthy of a democratic society – work that has taken him to Albania, Sierra Leone, Croatia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia and at least half-a-dozen other countries.

Full disclosure: My first newspaper job (in 1976) was with the Chronicle. I was just out of college, with no particular qualifications or experience, and Chris gave me a huge opportunity by hiring me as the paper’s sole staff reporter, a position I held for two years.

I went on to the Rutland (VT) Herald and then 27 years as a foreign correspondent for the Boston Globe, followed by several more years as a science writer. I remain a correspondent for the Globe, writing features on energy, science, northern New England, and other topics.

Although I am grateful to Braithwaite for the jump-start in journalism, I’ve had no continuing professional or personal connection with him – except inasmuch as I own a part-time home in the Northeast Kingdom and remain a faithful subscriber to the Chronicle.

If you have any questions, I’d be happy to try to answer them.

Sincerely, Colin Nickerson, correspondent, Boston Globe

Braithwaite by Sanders (click on this link to see a PDF from U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders

from Tena Starr:

New England Newspaper and Press Association Hall of Fame:

Some 32 years ago I was an aspiring reporter, meaning I hoped to be one.  I’d interned with UPI in Montpelier, covering the State House, and the surprising election of Bernie Sanders as mayor of Burlington.  I’d written up a few car crashes, and done a bit of freelance work for the local daily in Orleans County.  My credentials were sparse.

But I distinctly recall one day buying the Chronicle and reading the lead sentence of the drop story.  It said:  “Some people get up in the morning and milk their cows, and some people get up in the morning and milk their tax shelters.”

That sentence was written by Chris Braithwaite, back in the days when foreign investors were buying up prime farmland in the Northeast Kingdom.

I decided right then that I wanted to work for that paper.  I wanted to work for the man who wrote that sentence and who ferreted out that story.

Why Chris hired me I cannot say.  I was a skinny 26-year-old with scant experience. There was little to recommend me, except perhaps, a fierce determination to be a reporter, and, in particular, the kind of reporter I thought the Chronicle would allow me to be.

My first day at work I found myself sitting near a clothes basket filled with blankets.  At some point it started to cry, which was startling to say the least.  The basket contained an infant, the youngest of Chris and Ellen Braithwaite’s four children.

The Chronicle has always been child friendly, and my own daughter spent many a production night cuddled up under my desk with a sleeping bag and a teddy bear while I banged out my final stories.

I can’t recall now if it was the first or second week of my employment at the Chronicle when we got a phone call saying there had been a murder.  I was an absolute novice but found myself arguing in court for the right to an open trial for this 16-year-old who had beaten his girlfriend to death with a shovel – coached over the phone by Chris, who told me in the minute or two that I had what I needed to come up with for an argument.

We covered every minute of that trial – Chris and I switching off — which lasted six grueling weeks, and put secular humanism, as well as the entire student body of the local high school, at fault.

Over the years we have written small stories and big ones.

We’ve written about shady land deals, murders that tore families and communities apart, the Northeast Kingdom Community Church’s culture of child abuse, political malfeasance, sex offenders and their treatment, major energy projects, the demise of the family dairy, and the desperate poverty of this place where we live.  The Chronicle has been a brave paper, and Chris has staunchly stood by his reporters.  When I wrote about a banker accused of breach of fiduciary trust, he called Chris and threatened to pull his advertising if I did not abandon the story. Chris ran the story, and the banker stopped advertising with us.

We’ve written about the accomplishments of schoolchildren, couples who have lived together happily for 65 years, new and hopeful businesses, bond votes, war veterans returned home, characters (of which we definitely have our share), school plays, parades, and many acts of kindness.

What Chris taught us is that it all matters – big and little.  We are a community paper.  The people we write about are not nameless or faceless.  They are our friends, our neighbors, the people we run into at the grocery store, the people who fix our cars and sell us hardware and pizza. We are not isolated from the community we report on; we are a part of it, and we’d damned well better do a good job – be fair, honest, and empathetic – so we can look our neighbors, and ourselves, in the eye.

Courage is not callousness.  Skepticism is not cynicism.  Community journalism examines, but it also celebrates.

Today I’m news editor of the Chronicle, and I can only hope this:  That I continue Chris’ compassion, empathy, and determination to tell the stories of the people who live here, to tell them with courage, intelligence, and integrity, to stick up for the little guys, to go out on a limb when need be, and to know when that is.

I can only hope that I can be somewhere near as good at this as the man I so desperately wanted to work for 32 years ago, and am so proud to work for now.

 Sincerely, Tena Starr, News Editor, The Chronicle

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