It’s been 75 years since the first Wilton Bulletin rolled off the press. Over the decades, technological advances and the basic operations of community newsgathering have changed, but The Bulletin has remained committed to its basic mission of providing the town with accurate, relevant and dependable news.
Editorial functions have shifted from literally cutting and pasting with hot wax and working with film canisters in darkrooms to harnessing social media and maintaining a dynamic website.
“While we have seen many changes in technology, very little has changed in terms of our endeavors, our writing style and our competition,” said Thomas Nash, publisher of The Wilton Bulletin and its Hersam Acorn Newspapers affiliates.
Mr. Nash regards the paper as a “traditional community weekly” with its primary emphasis on impartial reporting of town government. The task of keeping readers informed with breaking news is now primarily a digital endeavor, according to Mr. Nash.
“We no longer break news in print, so the focus of the coverage has changed,” he said, “though we still recognize that we are the paper of record and every week we are writing the history of the town.”
After a two-year stint with the Peace Corps (producing a newsletter in Morocco for one year) and reporting for The Ridgefield Press, a sister paper of The Bulletin, Gregg Bartlett assumed editorial responsibilities in the mid 1980s, filling the shoes of former editor David Gearhart.
Mr. Bartlett had been a stringer for newspapers in Tampa, Fla., and Winsted, Conn., during his college years, and also reported for The Norwalk Hour and the now defunct Bridgeport Post in high school.
He edited The Bulletin until the summer of 2006, and returned as an interim editor between the three-year stint of Jeff Yates and current editor Jeannette Ross.
“Keeping up with the broad range of interests and the news demanded by Bulletin readers in the highly educated Wilton community was the most challenging part of the job as editor,” Mr. Bartlett said.
Because the newspaper is so close to the community it covers, it is important to use common sense and “avoid stooping to sensationalism,” he said.
Mr. Bartlett acknowledged Wilton as a special place for its great degree of volunteer spirit. He added that it is a responsibility of The Bulletin to keep the town’s history alive by preserving the memory of the community that has come before.
Mr. Bartlett recalled the multi-faceted role of the Bulletin editor, which included writing the majority of news stories, covering town meetings, taking photographs, and paginating. Website management and informing readers with social media also have become essential responsibilities of the editor.
“The editor is at the center of just about every aspect of putting out the newspaper,” Mr. Bartlett said.
In today’s digital world, the former operations of advertising and producing a publication can seem very distant.
“The editor and small staff would take classified ads over the phone or from walk-in customers and we could help with the basics of display advertising inquiries, though they were handled mainly by an ad manager,” Mr. Bartlett said.
“We took new subscription orders, too. Some town folks, including Wilton Center businessmen, would drop in from time to time and ask the editor for help with writing a letter or news release.”
He also remembers the editorial responsibility of delivering the first bundles of newspapers to the Village Market, the Wilton Pharmacy and a newsstand in Georgetown at the end of the Bulletin’s press day at its office in Ridgefield.
“So the editor would take care of many of the things that went into the paper from the beginning of the process to the end, help with putting it together and then delivering it as the papers came off the press,” he said.
Brian Shea, a Wilton native and former Bulletin writer who began in March 2006, said the newspaper first gave him insight “behind the scenes” into aspects of town government and commerce that he had been unaware of as a longtime resident.
“My period of time at The Bulletin was when we were still mastering to an extent the breaking news aspect of things through email, and we were always trying to make sure we got the story out quickly but — more importantly — accurately,” he said.
He also remembers “tinkering” with the paper’s initial website, as staff worked to develop an effective means of keeping readers informed. His fondest memories were of community involvement, and Mr. Shea said the types of people he met were emblematic of the town’s spirit of community involvement.
“What I remember best about The Bulletin was the people, both the ones I worked with and the ones I reported on,” he said.
Jeff Yates began editing the newspaper in 2006 after three years of reporting.
“I’ve always felt that The Bulletin, in large part due to its history in town, does a better job than any other outlet of putting the news of today into the context of the past.
“Stories and topics flare up and fade out at a rapid pace, but they are all part of the larger story of the town and its people; The Bulletin and its staff gets that.”
Jeannette Ross, The Bulletin’s current editor, assumed the role in December 2009.
She began her career working as a broadcast writer for the Associated Press in Rockefeller Center, where she learned the value of expediency and accuracy, producing a five-minute newscast every other hour.
“We had to be fast and we had to be accurate,” she said. “All this early training helped me learn how to report issues as succinctly as possible.”
Ms. Ross also wrote for a national publisher of educational magazines and newsletters, which gave her a broad scope of coverage, often taking her to Washington, D.C.
“My career has taken me down many avenues of journalism,” she said.
In the early 1990s, Ms. Ross edited The Lewisboro Ledger, another sister paper of The Bulletin, based in Lewisboro, N.Y.
“For The Ledger and The Bulletin, the main difference is the hyper-local nature of both publications,” she said. “We focus strictly on what is happening in our towns or how larger events directly affect our towns.”
Although the practice of newsgathering and keeping readers informed is increasingly reliant on the Web, Ms. Ross emphasized that print is still “highly valued” by readers.
“People still like to read a physical paper and still want to be able to cut out a wedding announcement, an honor roll, or even a story to send to friends and family,” she said.
Only weeks ago, The Bulletin launched a new website, offering a media slide show among other features designed to enhance user interface and access to local news.
“It is much more dynamic than our old website and allows us to put more information online,” Ms. Ross said.
“The website is also much more user-friendly, with general news, sports and obituaries all clearly visible on the main page as well as a live Twitter feed. Commenting will also be easier, with readers being able to log in from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, or Yahoo.”
For the coming year, Ms. Ross foresees property revaluation, the budget process, developments of the planned Yankee gas line, mass transit improvements, and a proposed fiber-optic network as major highlights.
Mr. Nash said the paper will also continue making technological strides throughout 2013.
“For next year, look for an ever-improving digital and print experience,” he said. “With an improving economy, we will be able to have a wider variety of Wilton news and information.”