No one would blame Phil Camp for being angry and depressed. Especially considering that his paper, the Vermont Standard, was burned out of its offices by a major fire last month that was recently ruled arson. Now, the paper has to rebuild again, just as it did after flooding destroyed the offices when Tropical Storm Irene hit the area in 2011.
However, instead of getting discouraged, Phil has kept his focus on two things—getting out the paper and moving forward. “It’s been a tough time,” he says. “But laying down in the road is not how you solve your problems. You just get on with making things right.”
After the fire, the paper’s staff worked out of the second floor of the Norman Williams Public Library
, getting that first post-fire edition out just 24 hours late. This week, they moved into new offices, which is a homecoming of sorts. The new building is the same one the paper started in 165 years ago and where Phil got his start in the business.
“The room that is my office is the former funeral home that was my grandfather’s in the 1950s,” he says. The paper was on the first floor, with the funeral home upstairs. “The presses would shake the whole building, which was not great for a reverent atmosphere during a service,” he adds.
At the age of 16, Phil was told by his grandfather not to go down a flight of stairs located through a door in his office. So, of course, he did. The stairs lead to the office of the newspaper’s editor, who was typing on a manual typewriter while smoking a Lucky Strike cigarette. He probably had a bottle of booze in his roll-top desk drawer as well. Phil remembers, “The room was full of smoke—and not from a fire.”
The editor told Phil to sit down and asked him how the paper could do a better job. After hemming and hawing for a few minutes, Phil pointed out the lack of coverage for the local high school’s sports teams, which had won championships the past two years.
Phil says, “He took another drag on his Lucky Strike and then said, ‘Kid, how’d you like to be the sports editor?’ I told him I didn’t spell very well, couldn’t type, and had never been on a sports team, though I’d tried out a couple of times. He said, ‘I’ll pay you 10 bucks a week.’ I took the job.”
That editor not only started Phil’s career but also got him into Boston University. Phil bought the Vermont Standard on December 8, 1980, and unfortunately, many of his personal career mementos were lost in the fire.
“I arrived at the fire about an hour after it started,” Phil says. “They were using those big water hoses high up in the air to fight the fire. One of the streams was going through my office window and right across my desk.”
Fifteen fire companies from Vermont and New Hampshire fought the blaze. Phil praised the fire chief and his team for bringing out all 11 computers from the building, plus a small safe, which allowed the staff to get the paper out that week.
As the staff gets settled into their new space, Phil tells how his oldest son pointed out that the Bible references floods, fires, and pestilence. Chuckling, he explains, “He said, ‘Dad, you’ve had a flood. You’ve had a fire. But someday, if you look up at Mount Tom and see a black cloud coming over the top, it’s not rain. It’s going to be locusts.”
If pestilence is in the Vermont Standard’s future, you can bet Phil will stay focused on getting the paper out to the public as soon as possible. He quotes a saying that hung on his office wall. “We’re in the business to collect information to bring to people what they want, need, and deserve to know,” he says. “The Vermont Standard is nothing more than a mirror, so the community can see itself, warts and all.”