Daily Archives: November 7, 2014

Mikey Pom-Poms has a sad

Boy oh boy, us bloggers and Tweeters must have really gotten under Michael Townsend’s skin. Because normally, he and the other denizens of the Burlington Free Press like to pretend that no other news outlets actually exist. Except when another outlet screws up.

I can explain everything.

I can explain everything.

But today, the Freeploid’s Executive Editor and Chief Gannett Cheerleader sent out a burst of self-pitying defensiveness under the title “Editor explains changes at FreePressMedia.”

Which is a first in itself: Townsend feeling the need to explain things. Collars a bit tight? Knickers in a twist? Not enough oxygen in the Freeploid’s seventh-floor digs?

The first thing I need to do is correct misinformation swirling around on social media as we go through a significant staff reorganization.

Oh, those nasty evil denizens of Social Media!

Hey wait, isn’t the Freeploid — er, sorry, FreePressMedia — in the midst of a headlong dive into social media-driven journalismism? I guess “social media” is a good thing except when it rises up to bite you in the ass.

He then denies “rumors and speculation that we are abandoning coverage in Montpelier.”

I don’t think anybody said you were, Mike. We just pointed out that you were shuttering your Statehouse bureau and lost your two Statehouse reporters when you told them they wouldn’t be covering the Statehouse anymore. See the difference?

I’m sure you will continue to cover the Statehouse. You’ll send a crew down from Burlington whenever you think there’s a sufficiently clickbaity story. But I’m equally sure you won’t have anyone there on a daily basis, and that will affect the quantity and quality of your coverage.

And this is an undeniable fact: the Burlington Free Press has de-emphasized Statehouse news over the past couple of years at least, concentrating more of its resources on its home base of Chittenden County. I’ve been expecting the departure of Terri Hallenbeck and/or Nancy Remsen for quite a while, because it’s obvious that the Free Press is publishing a lot less Statehouse news than it used to.

The Burlington Free Press used to be the number-one source for state political and policy news. It isn’t anymore, and it’s about to get significantly worse.

As Townsend says himself in his little counterattack, Statehouse coverage will come from an “accountability/watchdog” team whose responsiblities will be at “the regional and state levels.” They’ll have a lot of ground to cover, and only part of their effort will go to state-level news.

Indeed, considering the Freeploid’s stated focus on arts, culture and food, and its lack of dedicated Statehouse/political reporters, you could say that its new nickname ought to be “Seven Days Lite.” After all, Seven Days still has a full-time reporter on state politics and policy.

For those keeping score, that’s Plucky Weekly 1, Established Daily 0.

And meanwhile, the Freeploid’s Chief Content Whore — er, I mean, “business reporter” — Dan D’Ambrosio is spending his day reporting on the grand opening of the LL Bean store in Burlington. Five days after my Sunday Freeploid came wrapped in a plastic advertisement for the grand opening of the LL Bean store in Burlington.

Plastic: an ironic medium for a retailer with a green, outdoorsy image.

(Come to think of it, the plastic Bean Bag was an unsightly, almost illegible washed-out gray-and-white. Bean really got its money’s worth there.)

I guess I’m supposed to think the wall-to-wall coverage of a major advertiser is a coincidence. And continue to think so when I get my morning paper tomorrow and find a big fat article on the grand opening of the LL Bean Store in Burlington on the front page.

Much of Townsend’s column is devoted to explaining the changing media environment and the need of newspapers — sorry, media companies — to evolve. I sympathize. I get it. I don’t expect the status quo.

What irks me, though, and makes me critical of the Free Press in a way that I’m not of, say, the equally diminished Times Argus, is the following:

— A big part of the Free Press’ financial trouble arises from the fact that its profits are siphoned off to satiate Gannett investors.

— As I’ve said before, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The Free Press continues to occupy a dominant position in Vermont’s media landscape. As long as it does, there’s a lot less space for other sources to emerge and grow.

— The inhumane process that Free Press workers had to go through. Re-interviewing for their own jobs. Jobs “offered purely based on numerical ratings,” as Townsend himself put it.

In the words of Number Six, “I am not a number — I am a free man!”

— And, worst of all, the clickbait-driven approach to journalism, which extends so far as to require staff to rewrite stories after they’re published to goose the pageviews.

I can tell how much the criticism has gotten to Townsend, because he actually went so far as to name the reporters who’ve departed the Free Press. This is never, ever done in the media: you don’t want to give your audience any reason to miss the people who have gone.

But there, in print, are shout-outs to Sam Hemingway, Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen.

(He didn’t mention Lynn Monty, who refused to go through the “demeaning and degrading” process of re-interviewing, or Tim Johnson, who simply failed to post a high enough number.)

I can’t really blame Michael Townsend. Part of his job is to take Gannett’s chicken shit and convince us it’s chicken salad. But he is fair game for criticism, and his response fundamentally mischaracterizes the criticism.


Scott Milne takes it to the limit

Before the election, when Scott Milne was sure he was going to lose, he was fully prepared to resume his humble life as a travel mogul and disgruntled developer. Indeed, his official schedule, as posted by his campaign last weekend, had him in travel industry-related meetings yesterday and today.

My precious…

My precious…

But now that he came sooooo close, he’s starting to act like Gollum chasing after the Ring. He’s digging for any possible justification to not only avoid conceding, but to grab the governorship in spite of historical precedent.

I’m not saying he should give up. Not yet. He is well within his rights to delay conceding for now. We can wait until next Wednesday, when the vote will be certified. After that, if the margin remains under two percentage points, he should call for a recount if he wants.

After that, he needs to stop. He should concede gracefully and get on with his life, content in the knowledge that he followed his own path and far exceeded anyone’s expectations. He has no business twisting logic and Vermont history to justify an attempt to usurp the process.

Since he still hasn’t publicly addressed the voters he claims to care so deeply about, all we have is a statement from his campaign:

“It’s clear that 54% of Vermonters want a new Governor, and a new path forward” according to Scott Milne, after reviewing preliminary numbers in what appears to be the closest race in Vermont history.

Yeah, well, as I’m not the first to point out, 55% of Vermonters didn’t want Scott Milne to be their Governor, so that dog won’t hunt. What else ya got?

“We are gathering information for the requirements of a recount and weighing whether that is in the best interest of the people of Vermont, and we are looking closely at the legislative districts across the state on a district by district basis to determine which candidate won the most counties and legislative districts” said Milne.

Oh, so now you’re makin’ shit up.

There’s nothing in the state constitution that tells lawmakers how to elect a governo, when that task befalls them. But more than a century and a half of precedent says the individual with the most votes is chosen governor.

To illustrate how much precedent there is, the last time it was flouted, the Whig Party was involved. And our Statehouse had yet to be built.

Not to mention that it was a pure case of political chicanery, in which two lesser parties struck a deal to screw the first-place finisher (the Whig, as it happens). So I don’t think Milne wants to invoke that as a precedent.

No, he has the 1976 contest for Lieutenant Governor in mind.

Lawmakers last bucked a plurality vote in 1976 – in the Lt. Governor’s race – like now, the plurality winner- John Alden- faced confirmation by a House and Senate controlled by his own party.

“If we move forward, I expect Peter Shumlin has a good likelihood of facing the same fate as John Alden, and I will be Vermont’s next Governor” according to Milne.

What Milne conveniently omits is that Alden was facing legal trouble at the time. Shortly after his non-election, he was indicted on fraud charges and later convicted. It’s believed that enough people in the Legislature knew about it, that the vote went against him to avoid a huge embarrassment. (And I do hope that when Milne says he expects Shumlin to face “the same fate as John Alden,” he doesn’t mean criminal conviction.)

So that’s not a convincing rationale either. Not to mention, there’s a hell of a big difference between electing a Lieutenant Governor and electing a Governor, with all due respect to buckets of warm spit.

There’s also the inconvenient fact that before the election, Milne said that “he would concede the race if Shumlin won a plurality, and hoped Shumlin would do the same if the situation were reversed.”

Now, he says that wasn’t a statement of his position, it was a “challenge” to Shumlin to follow the will of the voters. And since Shumlin didn’t embrace his “challenge,” then Milne gets to take it back.

To be fair to Milne, he’s just kinda spitballing at this point, which is consistent with his behavior during the campaign. He hasn’t actually taken any of the actions he’s threatening to take. Indeed, his bottom line is that he will wait until the election is certified next Wednesday and then decide on his next move.

At that point, if he’s still in second place, he should do the right thing and concede. As his running mate, Phil Scott, said today: