Daily Archives: October 8, 2014

@bfp_fail: We interrupt this debate to bring you a picture of Peter Diamondstone nodding off

Well, I tried to watch it.

The Burlington Free Press hosted a gubernatorial debate at noon today, and livestreamed it online.

Or tried to.

The first half hour was fine. After that, it kept freezing and crashing. I spent most of the ensuing half hour waiting for isolated bits of audio. Which, as Darcie Johnston pointed out on Twitter, always seemed to happen when Peter Diamondstone was talking. And the frozen image on the screen was usually Diamondstone with his eyes closed. Around 1:00, I gave up.

The Freeploid can’t blame its failure on too many viewers, either. There was a counter onscreen that tracked the number of viewers, and the highest it hit was 74. That’s not enough to crash a livestream.

Well, it shouldn’t be, anyway.

Of course, since the Freeploid only yesterday announced a corporate “reset” that includes forcing newsroom staff to reapply for their jobs, this disaster may have been an inside job. Whatever the cause, it’s a dismal performance.

Speaking of dismal performances, Scott Milne continued to hammer on the shortfalls, real and imagined, of the Shumlin Administration without offering any plans of his own.

Single-payer? Let’s wait six years.

How to cut the budget? Get rid of the governor’s SUV and out-of-state travel.

When asked for specific cuts, he tried to make a joke, talked about bringing in smart people from outside who’d be willing to take pay cuts to work in his administration, made a half-hearted call-out to the long-discredited Challenges for Change, and concluded by saying “I don’t know.”

School funding? He slammed Shumlin for failing to make tough choices, but offered nothing of his own.

And, according to the Freeploid’s Twitter feed (I’d stopped watching the unwatchable livestream by then), MIlne actually said he’d unveil a Lake Champlain cleanup plan by Election Day. 

Sheesh.

At one point, he briefly paused his attacks on Shumlin to day “It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. I’m talking about the future.” And then he resumed the attacks.

Milne has managed to dribble out a few ideas, inadequate and half-assed though they are: a two-year statewide property tax freeze, Challenges for Change, maybe a regional health care exchange. But with less than four weeks until Election Day, he remains the Man Without a Plan, with apologies to Fred Tuttle.

His excuse is that he doesn’t “have a background” in government. Well, sure. But is that a positive asset for filling our top executive position? What if an applicant came to Milne Travel and said “I don’t have a background in the travel business, but you’re doing a terrible job and you should hire me”?

And even if you put a value on bringing in a fresh perspective, why can’t Milne consult with some of his “expert advisers” and come up with a few specifics? He doesn’t need years of government experience to do that.

I’ll say it again: I had some hopes for Scott Milne when his campaign began. And there’s plenty of room for an informed critique of the Shumlin Administration. But he’s just been a disaster.

Postscript. I’d slam the Freeploid for its inexplicable decision to invite Peter Diamondstone and not Dan Feliciano, except that it led to the most entertaining moment of the debate. Diamondstone wasn’t there at noon; he appeared at about 12:10, panting furiously. And continued to pant for a couple of minutes, directly into his microphone, while Milne was trying to answer a question.

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The new polls, pt. 1: Vote for Bud

Yesterday brought new polls in the races for Governor and Lieutenant Governor. I’ll get to the Shumlin/Milne numbers later. This post will address the easy one: Phil Scott 58%, Dean Corren 24%.

Yeah, that race is over. Commence victory lap.

Corren’s 24% is bad enough, but the worse news is Scott’s 58. Corren would not only have to sweep the undecideds to make this competitive, he’d have to unconvince almost 10% of Scott voters. That ain’t happening.

The poll is credible, coming from the Castleton Polling Institute (and commissioned by WCAX-TV). The 4% margin of error is a drop in Phil Scott’s bucket.

Corren’s response, of course, is defensive optimism, per VPR:

“It was done… before our ads started to kick in. And we’re going to be doing a lot more ads,” Corren says. So I think it’s mostly a name recognition thing.”

Which raises a question about Corren’s campaign strategy. As of October 1, he’d spent about one-fourth of his $200,000 publicly-financed warchest. He waited an awfully long time to amp up a race between a basically unknown challenger and an extremely well-known incumbent.

Maybe he was misled by the success of his drive for public financing, or the outcome of his write-in bid for the Democratic nomination. Corren’s got an enthusiastic core following, but that doesn’t help him in the general campaign. In the language of beer, Dean Corren is Heady Topper: a tremendous niche-market success.

Phil Scott is Budweiser. Uninspiring, bland, perennial best seller.

You can see the contrast in these words from Corren, meant to support his candidacy but actually outlining the reasons Phil Scott will win:

“You have an incumbent who has spent four years doing things that make everybody in the state feel like he’s a nice guy and not hold him to account on any particular issues, and really know where he stands on issues, because he’s done a really good job of ducking that.”

Yeah, exactly. Everybody in the state thinks “he’s a nice guy.” And he’s running for the ultimate nice-guy office. Also, being a nice guy makes him the perfect token Republican: he’s not going to aggressively challenge the status quo.

Now, there’s no way the final result is going to be anything like 58-24. I expect Corren to gain 15-20 percentage points. He’ll almost certainly do better than Cass Gekas’ 40% two years ago. But not nearly enough to matter.

Heady Topper’s great. But it’ll never challenge Bud.

The Brave New World of Journalismism is Upon Us

Oh boy, here we go… apparently Executive Editor Michael Townsend now occupies the Burlington Free Press Chair in “Good News” Editorials, recently vacated by Jim “Party City” Fogler. Because there it is, the dawning of the thorough Gannettization of Vermont’s Largest Newspaper, under the ominous title “Free Press Resets for the Future.”

The piece begins with a lengthy humblebrag about a recent Dan D’Ambrosio story on IBM that Townsend labeled “epic,” “readable and educational.”

Epic, eh? Guess that puts Homer in his place.

We are Gannett. You will be assimilated.

We are Gannett. You will be assimilated.

Right off the top, I had a strong feeling I was wading through bullshit. There was the title, first of all. But also because it was such a lengthy “soft lede” as they say in the news biz that I figured Townsend was burying the bad stuff; and finally, because I’ve been watching the news about how Gannett newspapers are “resetting for the future.”

By forcing all their newsroom staff to re-apply for their jobs. By cutting total newsroom staff. By getting rid of the formerly rigorous editorial process and relying on reporters to crank out publication-ready copy. By promoting clickbait over serious journalism. And by tearing down the walls between news and sales.

At FreePressMedia, we, as the rest of our colleagues in the Gannett company, are resetting the structure of the newsroom to better enable us to focus on the information and the presentation that you tell us via choice are most important, including accountability journalism and topics that Vermonters are known to be passionate about, such as the environment, local food and the creative economy. These changes are significant for our operations to produce content more tuned to the digital experience.

Part of this resetting is developing a new operational structure to enable us to focus more on the local content that deeply interests readers. With systemic changes in the media business in recent years including changes in approach, format and staff size, we are redefining journalism jobs for the future and our vibrant website, BurlingtonFreePress.com. During the next several weeks, the staff will apply for these jobs with new expectations. We expect time for adaption to the change in structure.

Emphases mine.

“You tell us via choice” means “we’ll abandon journalistic principles and pursue the stories that generate the most pageviews.” See that list: “The environment, local food and the creative economy”? What’s missing?

Oh, how about politics and public policy? Health care, welfare, corrections, infrastructure, taxation, investigative journalism, to name a few. Even transparency, until now a Freeploid bugaboo.

“Redefining journalism jobs” means higher expectations for production, along with lower salaries and worse benefits.

And “staff will apply for these jobs” meaning, well, senior writers, you’re probably S.O.L. We want younger, cheaper staffers more comfortable with multimedia technology.

Yesterday’s retirement announcement by senior writer Sam Hemingway suddenly makes a whole lot of sense. He saw the writing on the digital wall.

I’d expect a bunch more to follow him out the door, voluntarily or otherwise.

Dear Shumlin Administration: Please heed the words of Uncle Barack

President Obama got in a brief tick of turmoil a while back when his approach to foreign policy was summarized as “Don’t do stupid shit.” Which, as the political equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath, makes a world of sense to me.

And I wish our leaders in Montpelier would frame it and hang it over their desks, because it sure would come in handy when dealing with Vermont Health Connect. The latest, ICYMI:

Thousands of Vermont Health Connect customers who signed up to pay health care premiums online recently received email notices directing them to pay through a website that is offline.

Vermont took down its health exchange Web portal Sept. 14…  But the state and its contractors apparently forgot during the intervening three weeks to cancel an automated email blast that directed roughly 6,500 people who signed up to make payments online. Those people, about 20 percent of the website’s commercial customers, were directed to visit vermonthealthconnect.gov to view their premium invoice.

(ahem.)

NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! 

Stop it! Just stop it!

Stop doing stupid shit!

“Apparently forgot,” eh? Maybe some of you should come to work tomorrow and find that your keys no longer work because your bosses “apparently forgot” to let you know about your change in employment status.

This bout of apparent forgetfulness happened under the new contractor, Optum, and under the revamped administrative team of Harry Chen and Lawrence Miller, so we can’t blame this on the dearly departed (CGI, Doug Racine) and the recently rendered invisible (Mark Larson).

I’m a strong supporter of the current iteration of health care reform, and I have high hopes for single-payer. As a result, I’ve too readily accepted Administration assurances that they’ve learned their lessons, they’re working hard, they’ve got a handle on it, and they’ll fix it.

This time, as Bullwinkle T. Moose used to say, for sure.

But I am getting tired of defending the Governor and getting the ground cut out from under me. Maybe that’s why a new poll shows him with a 45% favorable rating against 41% unfavorable. In spite of the fact that he’s running for re-election against the legendary comedy team of Mr. Blandy and Mr. Fringey.

So, Shumlin team, please tell me there won’t be any more screwups, revelations of past blunders, delays, or embarrassing emails to the very constituents who (a) were in line to benefit from Vermont Health Connect and would love to see it work, and (b) now have every reason to be royally pissed off at the authors of this reform.

A protest vote for Doug Racine is startin’ to look awfully tempting.