Daily Archives: October 24, 2014

A peek into the Freeploid’s grim, dark future

I’ve been a harsh critic of the Burlington Free Press because (1) it occupies such a prominent space in our media market, (2) its performance is spotty at best, and (3) it thinks so highly of itself.

But I read something yesterday that has me feeling nothing but sympathy for the denizens of the Freeploid’s famously picturesque seventh-floor offices. It was a story in Nashville Scene, which appears to be that city’s version of Seven Days. The subject: trouble at the city’s daily newspaper.

Remember the Nashville Tennesseean? It’s one of the Freeploid’s fellows in the Gannett chain, and it was one of the first to adopt Gannett’s “Newsroom of the Future” initiative, complete with smaller news staffs, little to no copy editing, staffers forced to reapply for redefined jobs, and clickbait-oriented journalism.

Well, the initial returns are in, and it’s bad. Really bad. The implementation of the NOTF included a few staff departures; but since then, there’s been a mass exodus of talent that’s left the newsroom so understaffed that Gannett has had to fly in temp help from its other papers.

First went Brian Haas, the cops and courts reporter, who bolted for a spokesman job with the fire department. Then came the shocker: Michael Cass, the longtime Metro reporter, exited for Mayor Karl Dean’s office, even though Dean has only a year left in his administration.

And then there was Metro editor Steve Stroud:

After arriving from San Antonio three years ago, he developed a reputation as a good editor who wrote sharp analysis pieces on politics and state government on occasion. One by one, though, he watched almost his entire team of reporters walk out. A group that had spent the past year winning multiple awards for the company was virtually gone: investigative reporter Walter Roche left in July and political reporter Chas Sisk in August, followed by Haas and Cass.

Now, after passing him over for any of the new leadership positions in the newsroom, management offered Stroud a new role — tourism reporter.

There’s your Newsroom of the Future: a talented, experienced editor busted down to “tourism reporter.” Unsurprisingly, Stroud declined the honor.

Stroud’s bureau was left with a single reporter. That’s when Gannett bussed in some temps — who are being asked to instantly cover a major city they’ve never lived in, with the bureau’s institutional memory almost entirely gone. That’s quality journalism. Not.

But wait, there’s more:

Last week came news that Peter Cooper, the paper’s star music columnist and go-to writer for chronicling country music legends, was leaving too.

In Nashville, as you can imagine, the post of “music columnist” is kind of important. There were other departures as well.

… The firing/rehiring process that got the paper into this situation has created deep distrust of current management. One staffer referred to the entire process as “Kabuki theater.”

“If they were going to go with ‘more’ reporters, why did so many get eliminated in the restructuring?” the staffer said. “It was clear there were favorites and directives. The process was just a fancy way to let go of people.”

The Tennesseean, whose first edition under the NOTF featured a front-page article on price cuts the city’s biggest supermarket chain — a major newspaper advertiser, natch — must now be a mere shadow of its already pathetic self.

Imagine what Seven Days would be like if Paul Heintz, Mark Davis, Kevin Kelley, Alice Levitt, Dan Bolles, and Margot Harrison all left at the same time. Well, we may not have to imagine, because I suspect the Burlington Free Press will be similarly depopulated by Christmastime.

And the NOTF’s journalistic mandate?

“At the daily news meeting, [chief editor Stefanie Murray] begins by asking, ‘What are people talking about today?’ ” one former staffer told the Scene this summer. “Time was editors would be asking, ‘What do we have that people WILL be talking about tomorrow?’ “

Local Girl Makes Good. (Hey, I can do clickbait too, y'know.)

Local Girl Makes Good. (Hey, I can do clickbait too, y’know.)

Coincidentally (or not), today’s Freeploid contains a clickbait-friendly article about a former Barre high schooler (now a college senior in North Carolina) who just did a Playboy photo shoot. Quick, call the Pulitzer committee!



Fear and Loathing in the State Senate

Really well-reported piece by VTDigger’s Laura Krantz on the fact that more Democratic state senators have endorsed Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott than his Prog/Dem challenger Dean Corren. (Current tally is 7 Scott, 5 Corren, and 9 hiding under their desks. Including fellow Prog/Dem Tim Ashe, who should be ashamed of himself.)

The thesis, as provided by Prog/Dem Dave Zuckerman, is that Senators are afraid to cross the entrenched Senate leadership, particularly the three-man Committee on Committees. (And I do mean “man.”) The Committee has one pivotal function: making committee assignments, including chairmanships. The Committee, by law, consists of (1) the Lieutenant Governor, (2) the Senate President Pro Tem, and (3) one other Senator, chosen by the entire Senate.

The Three Wise Guys, plus Peter Galbraith's good side. Photo borrowed from the collection of Paul "Shutterbug" Heintz.

The Three Wise Guys, plus Peter Galbraith’s good side. Photo borrowed from the collection of Paul “Shutterbug” Heintz.

#1 is Phil Scott. #2 is John Campbell, a self-described Democrat who loudly supports Scott. #3 is the apparently untouchable Dick Mazza, a nominal Democrat who openly supports Scott, hosted a Scott fundraiser, and made a hefty donation to Scott’s campaign. (And who, earlier this week, delivered a gratuitous slap to Governor Shumlin at a ceremonial event. The balls on that guy.)

As Zuckerman put it:

“The maneuvering for committee assignments is a big deal … and all three members have publicly supported Scott,” Zuckerman said. One senator told him he or she was not endorsing anyone because of committee assignments, Zuckerman said.

Loyal readers (Hi, Mom) know that I’m no fan of the State Senate’s entrenched power structure and its impenetrable air of clubbiness. I am particularly not a fan of John Campbell, who brings a unique combination of arrogance and passivity to the role.

But boy-o-boy, he’s full of fire when it comes to Dean Corren, who maybe spat in Campbell’s oatmeal in the State House cafeteria.

Campbell called Corren a “one-issue candidate” and disingenuous for seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor even though he had hard feelings for Democrats when he served in the House from 1993 to 2000.

Yeah, well, Corren has campaigned strongly and consistently on at least FOUR issues — health care, climate change, renewable energy, and encouraging entrepreneurialism — so Campbell is wrong there. As for things Corren said more than 15 years ago, Jeezum, can’t a guy learn from his mistakes?  Nobody batted an eye over Vince Illuzzi’s campaign for Attorney General, in spite of an extremely spotty ethics record in the 80s and 90s.

Back to the main point, which is fear of being banished to the Committee on Mumblety-Peg and Other Childhood Pastimes. No one is admitting to a fear-based endorsement (or non-endorsement), but several Senators offered Krantz some truly unconvincing reasons for their stands on the Lite-Gov race.

Ginny Lyons is not endorsing. She says it’s because she “believes in a two-party system.”

“As much as we support the Progressive concepts and ideas, when you’ve got three people running it splits parties up,” she said.

Yeah, except in this race, you don’t HAVE three people running. In fact, you have a candidate who won the Democratic primary fair and square, and won the endorsement of the state party committee, which you’d think would be as interested as Ginny Lyons in maintaining Democratic primacy.

Of course, Lyons has first-hand experience with the Committee on Committees: she chaired the Natural Resources Committee for an entire decade, but was removed without explanation in 2012 in favor of Good Old Boy Bob Hartwell. Now she’d like to win back her former post, but she’ll have to earn the favor of Campbell, Mazzas and Scott to do so.

Michael Sirotkin, the Senate’s junior member, begged off because he is “too fixated on his own race to endorse.” As if it would occupy more than five minutes to make an endorsement.

The same excuse sounds even more transparent coming from Jeanette “I’m focusing on my race” White, whose re-election is a virtual certainty because there are no Republicans or Progressives on the ballot in her district. 

Profiles in courage.

Oh, and Peter “The Slummin’ Solon” Galbraith, still firing shots on his way out the door, slammed Corren for not being a Democrat (as though Galbraith was any kind of example of party loyalty):

“If you’re not going to run as a Democrat, you’re not going to get the Democratic endorsement,” he said.

Well, actually, Pete, he IS running as a Democrat, and he DID get the Democratic endorsement. He just didn’t get yours. And besides, didn’t you just endorse Republican Roger Allbee for a Democratic nomination in your district? That didn’t seem to bother you.

As a liberal who wants to see small-P progressive policies,and wants the Democrats to use their well-earned political muscle to move the state to the left (just as George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan used their muscle to move the nation to the right), the State Senate’s combination of stasis, timidity, and self-satisfaction makes me ill.

There are plenty of good people in that chamber, I know for a fact. But the institution as a whole needs to be turned upside down and shaken until all the junk falls out. We should begin by dumping Dick Mazza from the Committee on Committees, and while we’re at it, finding a new President Pro Tem.