Film documents Vt.'s newspaper history

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BRATTLEBORO -- A local filmmaker is in the final stages of editing his one-hour documentary, "Headline Vermont" which details the history of Vermont through the state's newspapers.

"Very seldom do newspaper journalists have stories told about them," filmmaker and producer Daniel Lyons, of Brattleboro, said. "As a practice, Vermont journalism isn't documented historically."

Lyons said he was approached in August by Vermont Public Television about the project and spent six weeks shooting the film using profiles and stories from newspapers across the state.

Premiering Wednesday, Dec. 1, at 8 p.m., the film combines archival images, interviews with historians and journalists and re-enactments to cover the time when the Vermont Gazette of Westminster brought world news to colonists through the rise of the abolitionist press and Civil War era into the politically charged 1960s.

"There seems to be this monolithic idea of the modern newspapers where the short script, get-to-the-point journalism, has always been the style," Lyons said. "But that hasn't been the case in most of the newspapers in Vermont. Only in the post WWII era does that idea solidify."

Lyons said that in the early days of newspapers anyone who owned a printing press could publish whatever they wanted to get their ideas or agendas out.

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"The older papers didn't hold any punches," he said. "They were very direct in saying very personal things like problems with marriages and extremely in-depth descriptions of murders and deaths. It was definitely not a gentler time like most people think it was."

He added that papers often sprang up to advocate for causes, not to report objectively, and that the pages were packed margin to margin with advertisements, fiction and poetry. They included spicy stories of the rough-and-tumble young state that would never make it into papers today.

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After covering the 1920's competition between the Burlington Free Press and the Rutland Herald and the lengths each took sending reporters to get political scoops, the film takes a darker turn.

In 1968 a freelance correspondent for the Reformer, Ken Wibecan, was covering the attack on an African-American minister in Irasburg.

As one of the few African-American voices in Vermont, Wibecan was the victim of racism during a similar incident where people shot through the windows of his home in Brattleboro, Lyons said.

During the film, Wibecan talks about how he was targeted in the shooting following the articles he wrote.

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"He was living his story," Lyons said.

The film was funded by Vermont Public Television, Vermont Humanities Council and the Windham Foundation.

There will be repeat broadcasts Dec. 3 at 8:30 p.m., and Dec. 5 at 6 p.m.

For more information on the film visit

Josh Stilts can be reached at, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.


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