Daily Archives: September 25, 2014

Fogler Departs, Crudification of Free Press To Accelerate

Big news in Vermont media: Jim Fogler is stepping down as president and publisher of the Burlington Free Press. And leaving the newspaper business entirely, for a rewarding and soul-enriching gig as a vice president at Party City, the national chain of party supply stores.

Those journalistic ethics should come in handy over there.

I have made my share of sport at Fogler’s expense in the past — if I recall correctly, I wrote that when Jim Fogler writes an optimistic column in the Freeploid, readers (and staff) run for cover. But if I were to guess, I’d say his departure is not good news for Vermont’s Largest Newspaper.

First, there are the circumstances. His resignation is announced on September 25, and his last day at the Freeploid will be October 1. That’s a nanosecond by the standards of executive turnover. I have no inside information whatsoever, but it does make me wonder if his departure was voluntary. Not that he was fired; but rather that they let him know that he’d be replaced, and gave him time to arrange a soft landing. He had spent 26 years with Gannett, after all, so perhaps a little consideration was in order.

The big change comes as Gannett’s newspapers are transitioning into a new era of newsroom organization. A few Gannett papers have already gotten the makeover, which has resulted in the following:

— More reporters, but fewer editors. A smaller newsroom staff overall. Get ready for an explosion in typos, bad writing, and bad grammar.

— Everyone has to reapply for newly redefined jobs. Presumably with lower pay and benefits.

— A dependence on “audience analytics,” i.e. covering stories because of reader interest (pageviews!) rather than importance.

— What appears to be a troubling degree of “synergy” between news and ad sales.

Expect Gannett to parachute in a corporate loyalist (after a, cough, “nationwide search”)  to institute the new regime at the Freeploid.

The boy in the bubble

Scott Milne is honestly convinced he’s got a chance to beat Governor Shumlin.

He thinks, in spite of all available evidence, that all he needs is for voters to believe, and the Evil Pirates of the media to stop insisting his candidacy is dead.

He do believe in fairies. He do. He do. 

He do believe in fairies. He do. He do.

So, how did a successful businessman, who must be keenly aware of the hard knocks of the real world, become so self-deluded?

Well, he’s living in a bubble. And he’s mistaken that bubble for reality.

He spends his time on the stump, interacting with people who hate Governor Shumlin and yearn for deliverance. They welcome his presence and cheer his words.

Everybody else, he never sees. He’s living among a small, self-selected, and heavily skewed sample of Vermonters.

This is his experience everywhere he goes. It’s intoxicating stuff for someone who’s never played at this level before.

On the other hand, he never holds news conferences, so he hasn’t experienced that ego-deflating fandango. From the looks of things, he has little contact with fellow Republicans who are now regretting the day they ceded their precious nomination to him. (Has he ever, even once, made a joint appearance with Phil Scott since the launch of his candidacy?) He’s got a small campaign staff who also have little experience, and are presumably loyal to their man.

Inside the Milne Bubble, there’s a broad groundswell across the state that will carry him to the governorship. Surely, he believes, stuffy old Eric Davis must be wrong; after all, our Pundit Laureate is up in his ivory tower all day, while Scott Milne travels among the Real People of Vermont. Surely Milne’s experiences are more significant than Davis’ private musings.

And when the fairy dies on Election Night, Scott Milne will know who to blame. Not himself, and not the people of Vermont. The real killers will be Eric Davis, Mark Johnson, Anne Galloway, Paul Heintz, and the rest of those damn pirates.

Weird Uncle Pete and the Fringe Brigade

Just about every family has that one relative. The one you try to stay away from. The one you never ever ever talk politics/religion/race with. The one who drinks too much, or gives creepily extended hugs. For our purposes, let’s call him Weird Uncle Pete.

Not Peter Diamondstone.

Not Peter Diamondstone.

As uncomfortable as Weird Uncle Pete makes everyone, he still gets invited to Thanksgiving dinner. Because he’s family.

But that doesn’t mean you have to invite him to a gubernatorial debate.

Well, it does, but only in Vermont. There, occupying the designated Fringe Candidate chair at Tuesday night’s debate, was Peter Diamondstone, perpetual candidate of the Liberty Union Party. (At the first debate, it was Hempily Peyton.)

And I have to say, as admirable our attention to inclusion may appear, people like Weird Uncle Pete add absolutely nothing to a high-stakes political debate. They occupy space, they take up time, and they limit the opportunity for real interaction between the candidates who have a prayer of actually being elected. Their inclusion is a disservice to the voting public.

Now, I don’t mind if Peyton and Diamondstone get one round. But I sure as hell hope I don’t have to hear either one of them again this year.

This ain’t the Special Olympics, folks. Everyone doesn’t get a ribbon for participation. I don’t mind that Vermont’s ballot access law is extremely lenient, but you don’t deserve a place on center stage or 20+ minutes of my time just because you got your name on the ballot.

Emily Peyton got on the ballot by collecting 500 signatures. Diamondstone got on the ballot because in 2012, the Republicans and Progressives didn’t run a candidate for Secretary of State, which left the Liberty Union candidate alone against Jim Condos. And of course, she got enough votes to guarantee her party ballot access for 2014. Diamondstone didn’t do a damn thing to “merit” a seat at the debate.

You may think me undemocratic, but I ask you: what is the purpose of these debates? I argue that they exist to serve the voting public. And the voting public is best served by an uncluttered presentation by candidates who, again, actually have a prayer of becoming Governor. Debates are designed to help the undecided make up their minds. The vast majority of those undecideds are never, in a million years, going to even consider voting for the likes of Weird Uncle Pete and Aunt Hempily.

We only get four gubernatorial debates this year. We can’t afford to hand them out like participation ribbons.