A coward’s defense

Had a little Tweetfight this afternoon with rabbit-eared Freeploid functionary Adam Silverman. I actually came in on the middle of Silverman defending his employer in the face of some critical Tweets from others. Long story.

Anyway, Silverman Tweeted that he was “done taking the BS.” By which he apparently meant the “social media” chatter about the Burlington Free Press “abandoning Statehouse coverage.” Which was the subject of a red-assed Editor’s Note from Mike Townsend, previously dissected in this space. 

Let’s pick it up here, with a question from former Seven Days staffer Andy Bromage and Silverman’s reply.

There were a couple more rounds of this, Bromage asking for specifics and Silverman offering nothing but generalities.

Since I’m part of the social media crowd that’s been slamming Silverman’s employer, I chimed in, pointing out that I’d never claimed the Freeps was “abandoning” the Statehouse, but that they were clearly cutting back. This is what ensued:

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 5.32.17 PM

Aww, too bad. He “didn’t catalogue it.” So he can’t give a single specific incident. Which means he can deny that any specific outlet was guilty of a false claim, even as he tars us all with his broad brush.

How journalistic.

As for blaming Heintz for fueling “numerous tweets, FB posts, etc.,” well, that’s worse than blaming the Freeploid for the godawful crap that appears in its Comments section. “Worse” because the Freeploid has some curatorial oversight of its Comments, while Heintz has absolutely no control over what’s said elsewhere on social media.

Besides that, Silverman also fails to specify what was “inaccurate” in Paul Heintz’ reporting. Paul’s written a whole bunch of pieces on the Free Press in recent months. But let’s take the single assertion that Michael Townsend was most upset about: that the Free Press was “abandoning Montpelier.” Here’s what Heintz wrote in his piece on the departures of the Free Press’ entire Statehouse bureau: 

It’s unclear whether the paper will maintain a presence in the Statehouse. Tim Johnson, a 16-year veteran of the Free Press who was laid off last Thursday, told Seven Days on Saturday, “There’s not going to be a city hall beat. There’s not going to be a Statehouse beat. There’s not going to be an education beat.”

Heintz didn’t say the Free Press would stop covering the Statehouse. He didn’t even claim the Free Press was shutting down its bureau. He questioned “whether the paper will maintain a presence in the Statehouse,” meaning a consistent daily “presence” by a dedicated reporter or reporters. He then quoted former reporter Tim Johnson saying “There’s not going to be a Statehouse beat,” which is true. The Statehouse and state government will be under the purview of a “transparency/watchdog” team with numerous other responsibilities.

In that passage regarding Statehouse coverage, Heintz was absolutely on the mark. And if his past reporting has been inaccurate in any way, then Townsend only has himself to blame, because he has steadfastly refused to speak to Heintz.

I can understand why knickers are so tightly bunched at the Freeploid these days. They’ve lost a shitload of talent, they’re having to reinvent the newsroom on orders from above, and they are besieged by criticism. Those who remain at the Free Press are almost certainly working harder than they ever have before.

I can also understand why Silverman is so motivated to defend his employer, since he was one of the Golden Four who were exempted from the “demeaning and degrading” reinterviewing process.

But in doing so, he abandoned the tenets of journalism. He and his boss made general criticisms, failed to provide any examples or evidence, and used their lack of evidence as a defense against counterattack.

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