BARTON, Vt. – It’s a big honor for a Vermont publisher and a big birthday for his newspaper.
Tucked in the basement corner of a tiny Barton building, Chris Braithwaite, the publisher and founder of the Chronicle, cranked out story, after story, after story.
“The interesting thing about community journalism is that the stories are there,” said Braithwaite. “If you are going to do anything for 40 years, you ought to do it well or as well as you can.”
The Chronicle is a weekly newspaper covering the Northeast Kingdom. The paper just marked its 40th anniversary.
“We were referred to commonly as that hippie newspaper for a long time,” said Braithwaite.
Braithwaite moved to the Northeast Kingdom from Canada to grow organic carrots. He left a big journalism job at the Toronto Globe.
“So after four years here, I knew all the things I couldn’t do well, like grow carrots,” said Braithwaite.
His roots are in storytelling and he’d fallen in love with the Kingdom. So, he and his then-wife started the Chronicle in 1974. He didn’t have high hopes.
“And I said for heaven’s sakes, I’ll never last 10 years at this,” said Braithwaite.
But the community demanded more.
“They were curious,” said Braithwaite.
That so called hippie newspaper became the area’s paper of record. It had in-depth reports on everything Orleans County. It was a success.
“I don’t think it was any one story,” said Braithwaite.
A few stories stand out, like the Island Pond raid. An army of state police and social workers took 112 kids into custody. The state feared the children were being badly beaten by their parents as part of their church’s strict disciplinary policy.
“It was an interesting story, because I broke the rules of journalism,” said Braithwaite.
Braithwaite provided the state with information gathered by the Chronicle. He worried for the children’s safety.
But that was not Braithwaite’s only brush with controversy. In 2011, he reported on an anti-wind power protest in Lowell. Six demonstrators got arrested for trespassing. Braithwaite did, too.
“Which was a novel experience. Not one I would particularly recommend,” said Braithwaite.
Charges were eventually dropped against him and Green Mountain Power paid his legal fees.
There were fun stories, too. Like when the Chronicle took aim at the Boston Globe for a negative article about the Northeast Kingdom.
“It really irritated people. So we conspired to do a piece on Boston,” said Braithwaite.
The mock piece included a Boston prostitute, robber, homeless woman and the pimp (Channel 3’s Darren Perron) getting in on the fun as a rookie journalist at the Chronicle.
“It was a lot of fun. We didn’t get mad. We got even. We got even. Absolutely,” said Braithwaite.
Braithwaite’s colorful career in journalism and dedication to his craft just earned him big honors.
“I was totally surprised,” said Braithwaite.
He was inducted into the New England Newspaper and Press Association Hall of Fame and now at 70, he’s retiring. But don’t expect this longtime reporter to go quietly.
“I don’t quite know what my next project will be at this point,” said Braithwaite
At the same time Braithwaite learned about the Hall of Fame, he also learned he had colon cancer. Surgery went well. He’s recovering and the prognosis is good. But giving up his position at the paper will enable him to focus on his health and family.
As for the paper, Braithwaite says he’s leaving it in the capable hands of staff.
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