Those who follow Vermont media accounts on Twitter may have enjoyed a little Columbus Day entertainment by way of a Tweetfight between staffers at the Burlington Free Press and Seven Days, which the Freeploid has long looked down at, but which has become a powerful competitor in the battle for print advertising.
It began with Freeploid vet Mike Donoghue taking a little poke at WCAX:
— Mike Donoghue (@FreepsMikeD) October 13, 2014
This was a reference to WCAX mistakenly broadcasting a crime scene photo including the body of a murder victim, which the Freeploid wrote up at great length. Seven Days’ Mark Davis Tweeted a reply about the ‘Loid “firing cheapshots at WCAX.” To which the Freeploid’s Adam Silverman replied “Is someone from Seven Days really one to talk about cheap shots?”
Davis pointed out the “thinly veiled glee” the Free Press was exhibiting over a competitor’s mistake. Donoghue and Silverman accused Seven Days of ignoring the story, to which Paul Heintz replied that he hadn’t gotten a call back from WCAX.
This exchange included two contraditory Tweets from Donoghue. First, he accused Seven Days of ignoring the story because the two entities are media partners; and then he insinuated that WCAX won’t return calls from Seven Days because of some unstated offense.
Which is it, Mike? They’re in bed together, or they can’t stand each other?
Anyway, that’s when I lobbed a couple of spitballs from the back of the class, and Silverman went all Charlie Bronson.
I can just see him grabbing his crotch as he hit “SEND.”
Which brings me, finally, to the point of this post: an explanation of why I so often criticize the Free Press. Or, in the words of Mr. Silverman, why I deliver so many cheap shots.
Basically, it’s all about the words of Voltaire, best known as delivered by Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben:
With great power comes great responsibility.
The Burlington Free Press is the number-one print publication in Vermont. It ought to be the unquestioned leader in serious journalism. But, because Gannett keeps sucking out its precious bodily fluids to satiate the endless thirst of stockholders, we’re left with a depleted newspaper that can’t serve its readers well but still occupies the largest niche in the Vermont news market.
It doesn’t occupy that niche in any satisfying way, but there it sits, and because of the structure of the news marketplace, nobody can dislodge it.
The Burlington Free Press has great power. To be charitable, it does an inconsistent job of exercising that power. To be less charitable, it’s an almost daily disappointment. So when somebody like Mike Donoghue or Aki Soga positions himself as a guardian of the public trust — and yet expects to be insulated from the kinds of accountability or transparency he expects of everyone else (including WCAX) — well, it makes the rest of us throw up in our mouths a little. Likewise, when Jim Fogler or Michael Townsend serve up a column’s worth of bullshit and expect us to gobble it down like steak.
Too often, the Free Press comes across as arrogant and condescending. And its performance fails to justify its overweening sense of superiority. That’s why the Free Press gets so much criticism. And the occasional cheap shot. Expect both to continue.