Category Archives: The media

Time to Break Down the Box and Send It to Recycling

Past Occupants of the Freyne Chair (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

What ought to be the most coveted perch in Vermont journalism is once again vacant. After a mere four months on the job, Mark Johnson has relinquished the Peter Freyne Chair in Instigative Journalism, d/b/a the “Fair Game” column in Seven Days.

One could be forgiven for wondering if this position doesn’t have a curse attached to it. Johnson’s predecessor, Dave Gram, lasted only five months. The guy before him was rather spectacularly fired after 2 1/2 years on the job.

That would be me.

Really, no one has lasted more than three-plus years in What Ought To Be The Most Coveted Perch since Peter Freyne’s untimely demise. It’s been a revolving door with only one consistent thread: We’ve all been white males.

It’s time for a change, and not just in race and gender expression. Not that anyone at Seven Days is likely to heed my advice, but hey, I’ve had first-hand experience with the ups and downs of the job, and I do have some hard-earned insight.

First of all, I’d definitely keep the column. It’s the heart and soul of the paper, and it occupies a unique and valuable position in the Vermont media landscape.

Otherwise, the Powers That Be need to not only think outside the box; they need to stomp the box flat and toss it in recycling.

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So Tell Us, VTDigger, What Exactly ARE Your Editorial Standards? (UPDATED)

Note: Mirabile dictu, VTDigger has sent a response to this post. You’ll find it at the end.

Recently, VTDigger pulled an opinion piece shortly after publication because it “did not meet VTDigger’s editorial standards.” The piece in question asserted a connection between Covid vaccines and genetically modified organisms. Digger did not explain what its editorial standards are, nor why they were only applied retroactively.

Well, there’s other evidence suggesting that Digger doesn’t really have consistent standards for accepting opinion pieces. The GMO essay was published and retracted on August 20. The previous day, Digger saw fit to publish, without apparent scruple, an opinion piece advocating for the use of ivermectin — and, God help us all, hydrochloroquine — for treatment of Covid-19. Instead of vaccines.

WTF, VTD?

Update: VTDigger’s response to this post can be found below, but I wanted to note here that the editors have decided to remove the ivermectin essay from the site.

There is no evidence that ivermectin OR hydrochloroquine are effective treatments for Covid. The off-label use of ivermectin formulations meant for farm animals (such as the attractively-named Sheep Drench) has led to an outbreak of poisonings.

Riddle me this. If it’s unacceptable to publish a piece that imagines a vaccine/GMO link, why is it acceptable to run a piece promoting dangerous and ineffective treatments? Given the current situation, I’d say the latter idea is worse than the former. So why is the ivermectin essay allowed to tarnish the VTDigger brand?

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A Covid Denier Gets an Editorial Rug Pulled From Under Her

The Giants of Journalism over at VTDigger got themselves in a spot of bother last Friday, when they posted a commentary by one Aimee Stephenson making a dubious connection between Covid vaccines and GMOs. The piece was quickly removed, and replaced with a note saying that the essay “did not meet VTDigger’s editorial standards.”

The note raises some questions, such as what exactly are VTDigger’s editorial standards when it comes to commentaries? And how did the piece get published in the first place?

I think I know. Digger follows the pattern of print newspapers in publishing commentaries. It’s a way to give the people a voice occupy space at no cost to the publisher. The editorial touch ranges from light to nonexistent. I imagine the process is something like, “Hey, we got a commentary. Next time we need some filler, let’s run it.”

Example: The Times Argus recently published a lengthy commentary by one David Spaulding, fiercely critical of the T-A and all those “liberal” news outlets like the Associated Press. Their offense? Failing to doggedly pursue the alleged scandal of Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Seriously. “Editorial standards,” indeed.

While Stephenson’s piece no longer graces the VTDigger website, the St. Johnsbury Caledonian-Record has a more… forgiving… editorial standard. It published Stephenson’s piece without blinking an eye, and it’s still there. So let’s take a look at what Digger retroactively decided to kill.

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Hello Stupid, My Old Friend

Now that the Olympics are over, let us return to our regularly scheduled awards for stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sphere. Unlike Olympic champions, you won’t see these honorees standing tall and proud while their national anthem is played.

In the leadoff spot we have the Remind Me, Whose House Is This Again? Award, which goes to State Rep. Alice Emmons, for publicly pondering whether reporters should be barred from the Statehouse.

Emmons, chair of the House Corrections & Institutions Committee, is the longest-serving state lawmaker, and has a prickly attitude toward the media. I once saw her berate a reporter in front of a couple dozen people, because the reporter dared to record a committee hearing on his phone. Technically, people are supposed to check with the chair before recording, but that rule is never, ever enforced. Except when Emmons gets a bee in her bonnet. So reading this passage in VTDigger wasn’t much of a surprise:

Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, told the Joint Legislative Management Committee that while “we want to make sure the press is available to our work,” she is unsure “how that happens on their end.” She said that while it’s possible the press will be allowed to cover the Legislature in person in 2022, “they could also do it by Zoom.”

Yes, they could. But c’mon, if you’re reopening the Statehouse, you’ve got to let the reporters in. It’s a little thing called “freedom of the press.”

After the jump: A doomed attack line, a twisting of history, and the flimsiest felony,

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Hey Hey, We’re the Veepies!

This being midsummer in a non-election year, things are a little bit show in #vtpoliland. Or maybe there’s stuff going on, but since there are practically no reporters on the #vtpoli beat right now, we’d never find out about it.

As a result of this lack of news, this edition of the Veepies (our awards for stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sphere) roams far afield into the realms of journalistic conflicts of interest, conservatives panicking over nothing, and even sports talk radio.

That’s where we begin. The Please Stop Talking About Something You Know Nothing About Award goes to Rich and Arnie, co-hosts of the afternoon talk show on Burlington’s 101.3 The Game. On Tuesday afternoon, the day Simone Biles withdrew from the team gymnastics competition, the boys pulled down their pants and showed their asses for all to see. (The show is archived on the station’s website and podcast.)

Arnie repeatedly referred to BIles’ mental health crisis as “having a bad day,” and accused Biles of costing her team the gold medal. Rich questioned “the timing” of her withdrawal, and asked, “Was she having a bad day first, or was she having a bad day after she messed up the vault?” (She withdrew after a subpar performance on the vault.)

This happens every time a societal or political issue intrudes on the Toy Department of Life. Sports talk radio is suddenly, horribly out of its depth.

Look, guys. You can’t schedule a mental health crisis. You don’t know what’s going to set it off. When it happens, it can be like a tsunami dragging you down. We know that Biles felt unable to compete safely, so withdrawing was the responsible thing — for her well-being and for the team’s prospects in the competition. So just shut up about issues that you can’t be bothered to learn about, and stop making fools of yourselves.

After the jump: Two cases of conservative hysteria, and a veteran reporter steps in it.

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R.I.P. GMD

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust… Green Mountain Daily, which was for many years Vermont’s most influential political blog, has officially joined the Choir Eternal. Site founder John Odum did the honors on Saturday, in a post that recalled some of the site’s finer moments.

GMD was a group effort involving a small number of activists, political insiders and sharp-eyed observers. During its prime, GMD did yeoman’s work in keeping liberal politicos honest (well, a bit more honest) and reining down mockage on those who deserved it. The site also broke news more often than you might think. It was taken seriously by Our Betters and was widely read in political/journalistic circles.

And it had a significant impact on the arc of my own, such as it is, career.

For better and for worse, I wouldn’t be doing this Political Observer thing if it wasn’t for GMD. Way back in 2011, during a spate of underemployment, I started posting occasionally on the site. My posts were often promoted to the main page, which encouraged me to continue. (Posts by regulars automatically hit the top of the queue; posts by guests would go into a box along the side, but could be promoted to the queue by any of the regulars.)

After a few months of this, Odum contacted me about becoming a regular. At the time, I still had pretensions of resuming a career in journalism, and I thought that joining GMD would probably kill any chance I had. But after a few months, I decided to sign on.

And boy, did I have fun. I didn’t make a dime, but I could write whatever and whenever I wanted. and I was good at it.

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VTDigger’s Union-Busting Efforts Continue Apace (UPDATED)

Got an email today from VTDigger founder/chief executive/editor/reporter/Maximum Leader Anne Galloway. It was a request for donations that included the line “Help us…foster the next generation of journalists.”

Yeah, up to a point. Past that point, successive “next generations of journalists” are running for the hills. Latest example: Statehouse reporter Kit Norton has left Digger with no firm plans for what’s next, according to his Twitter feed. About a month ago, Katie Jickling quit, tweeting out plans to leave journalism and pursue a master’s degree.

Update 7/14/21. According to Mark Johnson’s column in this week’s Seven Days, Statehouse reporter Xander Landen has also left Digger. This adds to the numbers I cite below. And losing both Norton and Landen at the same time is a tremendous blow to Digger’s Statehouse and political coverage. They were smart, effective reporters who’d learned the ropes. Now, other reporters will have to start from scratch.

Which made me wonder how many reporters have whizzed through that revolving door since May 2020, when they formed a union and entered into contract talks. Talks which have seen management stonewalling the union.

So I fired up the Internet Archive and found the VTDigger homepage as of May 27, 2020. That’s right around the time that Digger recognized the union in the face of a near-unanimous organizing vote.

The answer is, yep, there’s been a lot of turnover. By my count of the staff listing on the Digger website, the organization had 12 full-time reporters on 5/27/20. Five are no longer there. (Jickling, Norton, Anne Wallace Allen, Elizabeth Gribkoff, Aidan Quigley), That’s a fair bit of turnover. And every one of those departing reporters was a member of the union.

I don’t believe that Digger is deliberately driving people away in order to break the union, but I do believe that weakening the union is a fortunate consequence of its high turnover. Galloway’s fundraising pitch notwithstanding, many writers flee because they find Digger to be a toxic workplace.

Fostering the next generation of journalists, my Aunt Fanny.

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YOU Get a Veepie! And YOU Get a Veepie! And YOU Get a Veepie!

Once again, the ocean trawler of political commentary has dredged up a boatload of dead things, old boots and trash… and now we get to display it proudly at our unofficial stall just outside the fish market.

First of all, the What On Earth Did You Think This Would Actually Accomplish? Award goes to everybody associated with the candidacy of Christopher-Aaron Felker for Burlington City Council, from Felker himself to the entire Burlington Republican Committee to our old bicoastal buddy Bradford Broyles, who took a break from developing D-List TV and movie ideas to sign on as Felker’s campaign manager.

Setting aside Felker’s horrifically offensive stance on transgender folk (i.e. that they don’t exist), let’s focus on the practicality of this enterprise. Felker, who looks for all the world like a character from an Ayn Rand novel, is a libertarian-type conservative with views that would make Steve Bannon blush — and he’s running for council in Ward 3, which has been a Progressive stronghold for four decades. How on Earth does he think this is going to end?

Maybe he’s doing it because it’s a great way to be a real-life concern troll. Maybe the party was so happy that someone — anyone — stepped forward that they didn’t do their due diligence. (Or maybe they share Felker’s views.) As for Broyles, I have no idea why he’s bothering with this. I’m sure he’ll inform me and his 324 followers via Twitter. Anyway, congrats, Brad. I’m sure you’ll find a prominent place to display your Veepie amongst all your Oscars and Emmys.

After the jump: Media misdeeds and covering the blue ass.

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Digger vs. Its Writers

For a full year, the VTDigger Guild has been trying to negotiate its first contract. And it’s been met with an unyielding brick wall on every front. Now, in a series of tweets, it has taken its case to the public.

The Guild organized in the spring of last year, and I was proud to be part of the effort. I believed the union would be a good thing for all parties. And it still can be, if Digger gets serious about a contract.

Until it does, I’m suspending my monthly donation to Digger. I can’t support an enterprise that treats its workers this way. If you identify as a friend of labor, I suggest you think long and hard about doing the same. And write a letter to Digger via this page on The Action Network.

I hate to do this. Digger is an absolute necessity for coverage of Vermont policy and politics. Founder Anne Galloway deserves all the credit in the world for creating this enterprise.

But it’s time to grow up, and enter into a partnership with its workers. This shit won’t fly any more:

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There Is No Vaccine for Stupid: The Veepies Return Again

When I launched this series, I had no idea how often I’d have enough material for another edition. Turns out, it takes roughly one week. That’s almost one story per day. Here we go again with a healthy dose of Stupidity in the Public Sphere…

The Try to Fix a Problem, It Comes Back, Try the Same Thing Again, It Doesn’t Work, Try It Again, Another Fail, Try Again, You Know What They Say About History Repeating Itself Award goes to the Scott Administration for failing to address the repeated failures of the Labor Department. The weekend brought yet another story about unemployed Vermonters waiting weeks to get their checks or hours on hold to the Department’s call center.

It’s been one thing after another for DOL since the beginning of the pandemic. Its excuses have some truth in them; the UI system is a victim of long-term negligence at the federal level, and last spring’s tsunami of unemployment claims was unprecedented and unforeseeable.

Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington was dealt a bad hand, but he’s played it poorly. He has overseen failure after failure. Not only was he not fired or punished or removed to a quiet corner of the DMV, he actually got a promotion while his department was in flames. But it’s not all on him.

After the jump: Conspiracy theorists get their minute in court, a town ducks a feel-bad story, and a newspaper trolls avidly for advertisers’ favor.

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