Updated: Mar 4, 2021
Gazette 2.0 founder Sonny Jani will be stepping down as owner March 18.
By Jamie Wiggan
Having built a flourishing news operation to fill the void created when the Suburban Gazette shuttered October 2017, Sonny Jani is stepping down from his role as Gazette 2.0’s owner and publisher on March 18.
Jani said he’s far exceeded his expectations for the fledgling newspaper, and is now ready to hand it off to new ownership as he focuses on other business ventures. Setting things in motion, Jani has signed preliminary paperwork to gift the business to Sonja Reis, Gazette 2.0 contributing editor and mentor, and said he’s confident she will continue his vision for the community newspaper.
“I am not sad because I think it’s going to be in good hands,” Jani said. “I know this will continue.”
Jani said he never planned to settle in at the paper once it was up and running and now wants to dedicate his time to fulfilling a book contract and accompanying documentary series about arriving in the U.S. from India and going on to defeat the NFL in a landmark lawsuit.
Editor-in-Chief Caitlin Spitzer said she expects a seamless transition as Jani hands over the reins to Reis, and assured there would be no interruptions to the paper’s publication and distribution.
“I’m definitely sad to see Sonny go,” Spitzer said. “The newspaper wouldn’t be what it is without him. He started it and built it from the ground up.”
Long before founding his own paper, Jani had been a devoted reader of the Suburban Gazette since arriving in Stowe in 1984 aged 15. Working in his parent’s Broadway store, Blue Eagle Market where locals would stop in to pick up copies, Jani recalls scouring the paper with his father to follow the latest happenings in his adopted community.
“It’s so important for a small community, having a newspaper,” he said.
Even before the old newsroom folded in 2017, Jani had made several offers to the former owners, convinced he could revive the publication’s dwindling readership and return its coverage of hard-hitting news.
His offers were refused, but within a month of former publisher and owner Virginia Schramm’s death, Jani had formed a new corporation and put out his first issue of the rebranded Gazette 2.0.
Since then, readership has grown steadily, while advertising revenue has almost doubled.
Lifelong friend and business partner Dave Rugh said he and others were skeptical about Jani’s vision in the early days of the re-launch, but he gave his support out of loyalty.
“Sonny said let’s do it for the community – he had a vision for it like he does with everything he does, and I think he’s accomplished that,” said Rugh.
Rugh, along with marketing director Darrell Chestnutt, will relinquish formal ties to the paper after Jani’s departure, but both said they intend to stay on-call for help and support as needed.
Jani credits his 2005 legal victory against the NFL with preparing him to take on challenging projects like re-launching a newspaper while the print industry hangs in the balance.
“Going against NFL was a lot harder than starting the newspaper,” he said.
As the estate executive of former Steeler legend Mike Webster, Jani won a landmark ruling requiring the football league to pay backdated disability checks on the grounds Webster’s later health struggles and early death was set in motion during his 16-year career with the club.
After dying of a heart attack at age 50, Webster’s injuries sustained during his NFL career became the focus of broader questions about the safety of professional football and the league’s responsibility toward players.
Ultimately, Jani says praise for the paper’s success belongs to everyone involved.
“It’s unbelievable what we’ve accomplished in the short time,” Jani said. “We received two Golden Quill Award acknowledgements. I thank my whole team for where we’re at, and my wife and family for their unconditional support – it’s not a one-man mission.”