What's another disaster? 165-year-old Woodstock paper works from borrowed space, will publish Friday

Vermont Standard owner Phil Camp points toward his fire-gutted former office.

Phil Camp rushed to The Vermont Standard early Monday to find the building in flames and a fire hose running through the window of what used to be his office. Did he or his 8-member staff consider not producing a newspaper this week? Pshaw. 

Vermont Standard account executives Carleen van Gulden (right) and Jim Kelly (center) work in borrowed space at the Woodstock public library, while owner Phil Camp looks through photos of Monday's fire.

"We haven't missed an issue since 1853," when the paper — under different ownership, of course — began publishing, said Camp, the Standard's owner and president. "We're in the newspaper business." 

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Today, Camp and his crew are working inside the Norman Williams Public Library a block away from the charred remains their charred Central Street office. Amanda S. Merk, the library's executive director, invited the paper to set up in a borrowed room near the entrance and under the vaulted ceilings of the library's top floor. 

That generosity was echoed by others in town — restaurants that donated food, firefighters who donned masks to retrieve computers, residents who stopped by to make sure their hometown paper felt the love — in the wake of the fire that broke out at 3:30 a.m. Monday and burned into that afternoon. The fire's cause is still under investigation. 

"The community has just wrapped its arms around us," said Virginia Dean, who worked at the Standard from 1980-88, taught history and social studies for the next three decades at Woodstock Union High, then returned as assistant editor this spring. 

Vermont Standard Editor Gareth Henderson (right) and Assistant Editor Virginia Dean are putting out this week's paper from the top floor of the Woodstock public library.

"We are a tight team," she said, gesturing to colleagues working around her at computers salvaged from the fire. "We have 165 years of history behind us. Look what we've done in the past. We can do it again." 

That history includes at least three fires, said Camp, not to mention the devastation wrought by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. The paper was then headquartered next to the Woodstock Farmers Market, and the Ottauquechee River showed no mercy. 

"It went in one door and out the other, about six feet off the ground," Camp recalled. "It buried all our computers and turned upside down all our furniture." 

The paper came during the week of Irene. And it will come out again this week — on Friday, a date later than its usual Thursday press run. 

Camp, 82, bought the paper in 1980. But that wasn't his first foray into the world of paper, ink (and eventually the internet). When he was a boy, the paper was headquartered downstairs from his grandfather's funeral home downtown. 

Curious, the boy crept down the back stairs to have a look and a listen. One day, the editor, Benton Dryden, asked his visitor, "What do you think of the Vermont Standard?" 

After Camp stammered a few niceties, Dryden said, "No, no. I want to know what we could do better." 

"We've got some pretty good sports teams, sir," Camp replied. "But you don't see that the in Vermont Standard." 

"How'd you like to be sports editor?" Dryden replied. It was 1952, Camp was a high school sophomore and he had his first newspaper job as the Standard's first sports editor. Three decades later, after  a successful career in the ski industry, he bought the paper, which had fallen on financial hard times. 

"It was deeply in debt when I bought it. But it was in the black in 18 months, and it's been in the black every since," he said. But that doesn't mean it's been easy, what with the decline in newspaper industry fortunes and the struggle for a print-oriented operation to compete with online sources of news and advertising. 

"You work like hell." 

He's got company in that effort. Gareth Henderson, who got his start as a reporter at the paper and became its editor a year and a half ago, got a text message from Dean at 6:30 Monday morning. He rushed downtown. 

While the fire crews did their work, Henderson and his news team did theirs — covering the latest disaster to hit the 165-year-old weekly. Among those taking photographs was his wife, Christine. 

Echoing his colleagues, Henderson said, "The community's been huge for us; it's been inspiring to see the outpouring of support."

The paper is printed on the press at the Valley News, and Henderson and his team have an extra day to meet their deadline this week. But that's no luxury, when you've got a story this big — and it's about you. 

Everyone's pitching in, including Camp. When I visited this week, he was scribbling out a column on a paper tablet, trying to tie together the paper's past and future. And then it's on to finding another building for a newspaper that won't be daunted by flood, fire or a lack of human resolve. 

Declares Camp: "People want to know what's going on in their backyard." 

Camp talks with an insurance investigator at the fire scene.


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