BRATTLEBORO — A local businessman is buying the Brattleboro Reformer and two other southern Vermont newspapers, the company that owns them announced Tuesday.
Vermont News and Media LLC, a company formed this year by businessman Paul Belogour, will take over ownership of the Reformer, the Bennington Banner, the Manchester Journal and UpCountry Magazine on May 14.
The papers are currently owned by New England Newspapers Inc., which also publishes The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.
In a note to staff Tuesday, New England Newspapers President and Publisher Fredric Rutberg said the decision to sell was based on operational reasons, not financial reasons.
The sale of its Vermont properties will allow the company to focus on strengthening The Eagle, the original goal he and his co-investors set when they bought New England Newspapers from national chain Digital First Media in 2016, Rutberg wrote.
“Because we were Eagle readers and lived in the Berkshires, we knew how important The Eagle is to this community and we were driven to preserve and enhance a vital local institution,” he wrote. “Now we are able to devote our time and effort where we first planned.”
Rutberg said Belogour’s ownership will have a similar outcome in Vermont.
“Paul has a home in Guilford, Vermont, and he has made several substantial investments in Southern Vermont,” Rutberg wrote. “He will bring the type of local ownership, control and investment to the Vermont publications as [co-investors] Bob Wilmers, Hans Morris and I have done to The Berkshire Eagle.”
Rutberg said Vermont News and Media has agreed to hire all of New England Newspapers’ Vermont employees.
Belogour lives in the Brattleboro area, according to an announcement published Tuesday in the Reformer and its sister papers. He has a background in finance and tech, including as founder of the online brokerage Boston Merchant Financial Ltd. and the company Boston Unisoft Technologies Inc., which describes itself as a “team of IT professionals” with a “strong background” in the financial technology industry.
He owns a number of properties in the region, including the Vermont Marketplace, formerly Brattleboro Outlet Center, by Interstate 91 and other commercial properties in Brattleboro, and Norm’s Marina in Hinsdale, according to a December article in the Reformer. The Reformer announcement said he also owns thousands of acres in nearby Guilford and Halifax, Vt.
He also recently opened a business incubator, Vermont Innovation Box, in a former mansion on Landmark Hill Drive in Brattleboro.
According to the Reformer story, Belogour also owns Vermont Beer Makers in Springfield and runs a real-estate business in Dubai, among other ventures.
Belogour was not reachable Tuesday to comment on his purchase of the Reformer.
He told New England Newspapers’ Vermont staffers in a meeting Tuesday that he had approached the company a few months ago about buying the papers, adding that he saw it as a way to “invest in the local community,” according to an account published in the Reformer on Tuesday.
He said he’s a daily reader of the Reformer and committed to preserving the papers’ journalistic independence, according to the story.
The company that published The Berkshire Eagle bought the Bennington Banner in 1961, the Reformer in 1969 and the weekly Manchester Journal in the early 1980s, according to a company history on the Reformer’s website.
The papers were bought in the 1990s by MediaNews Group, which later became part of Digital First Media — a hedge fund-controlled chain that has been heavily criticized for cutbacks at The Denver Post and other outlets.
A group of Berkshire-based investors including Rutberg, a former judge, bought New England Newspapers Inc. in 2016.
The Berkshire Eagle and the Vermont papers will continue to have close ties. According to the message to employees, The Eagle will continue printing the Vermont papers for at least five years and will also continue to handle pagination, customer service and some other administrative functions.