Category Archives: The media

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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Some Rich Guy is Buying Up Southeast Vermont

Until today, I’d never heard of Paul (nee Pavel) Belogour, a native of Belarus who’s made a fortune in international investing and related software. Now, he’s the incoming owner of three newspapers in southern Vermont: the Brattleboro Reformer, Bennington Banner, and Manchester Journal. The big prizes are the Reformer and Banner, the only two daily newspapers south of Rutland.

This is either a really good thing or a really bad thing. When an oligarch swoops in and buys media outlets, it may be out of a true sense of obligation to support journalism. The owner’s deep pockets can counter the effects of the news business’ decline. Or it might just be a matter of collecting trophies and buying influence with little regard to the health of the publications. On the rich-guy scale, this purchase amounts to spare change.

Oh, and his native country is a corrupt dictatorship which ranks… let’s see… 158th on Reporters Without Borders’ ranking of 180 countries. RWB noted that Belarus is “the most dangerous country in Europe for media personnel.” Let’s hope Mr. Belogour doesn’t practice his homeland’s approach to the press.

The Reformer and Banner have been circling the drain for some time. How they’ve survived the pandemic on top of all that, I have no idea. But it’s not surprising that Massachusetts-based New England Newspapers, which bought the papers a few years back with an eye toward enhancing the bare-bones operations, has now decided to sell out.

There is another dimension to this. Belogour has been buying up properties in southeast Vermont at a rapid clip. He’s well on his way to becoming a real economic force in the region. And now he’s going to control the daily newspaper? That’s troubling.

So let’s look at the available Google trail on Mr. Belogour, shall we?

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It’s What I Do

Me. (Pretty Much As Illustrated)

Okay, so I offended some people with my post about sexist shadings, and the prospect of more to come, in the coverage of House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. The complaints concerned the use of the term “catfight” and the accompanying illustration of two teenagers pulling each other’s hair. I’m accused of, essentially, committing exactly the offense I was criticizing in the post. For some, the use of “catfight” in such a context is out of bounds.

I can see your point of view. But if you’ve read me for any length of time at all, you’ll know It’s What I Do.

I’ve often described my blogger persona as 90% analyst/commentator and 10% poo-flinging monkey. I’ve sometimes upped the “monkey” percentage. I bring a certain fearlessness and wildness to a #vtpoli that is overly polite, reticent to offend anyone.

It’s great that our politics are not as destructive as the national version. But there are times when politeness simply won’t do the trick.

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Gov Tells Steve From the Kingdom, “Talk to the Hand”

The governor reacts to Guy Page as if he’d just bitten into a lemon.

One of the features/bugs of Gov. Phil Scott’s twice-weekly Covid-19 briefings is that a lot of reporters beyond The Usual Suspects get to participate. Sometimes this is a good thing; scribes from Vermont’s many local weeklies often ask solid questions.

And then there’s Steve Merrill aka “Steve from the Kingdom” and Guy Page, two hard-core right-wingers known for asking irrelevant questions that go nowhere.

Well, today they outdid themselves. Page brought a QAnon-inspired question to the party, and Merrill tried to provoke an argument with Scott. (Page and Merrill appeared back-to-back near the end of the briefing; Page begins around the 1 hour, 46 minute mark of the video, viewable at the above link.)

For those unfamiliar with the weedier patches of the Vermont media ecosystem, Page is a longtime fixture around the Statehouse and a genuinely nice guy. He used to lobby for nuclear power; now he’s kind of a one-man band of right-wing partisan journalism. He operates a couple of websites and, during legislative sessions, he produces an occasional newsletter.

Merrill is the volunteer host of a little-known and seldom-viewed talk show on NEK-TV, the Kingdom’s community access service. Which is enough to get them on the briefing list.

What follows is their “contribution” to today’s briefing.

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A Dangerous Journalism FAIL at True North Reports

I don’t usually bother spending any energy chronicling the reportorial misadventures of the Island of Misfit Toys doing business as True North Reports. That’s the conservative “news” outlet funded by Lenore Broughton, the reclusive ultra-right-wing millionaire.

But this one is special. And it’s a threat to our coronavirus response.

TNR’s Mike Bielawski put together a piece alleging that South Dakota has taken the proper course on Covid-19. That would come as a surprise to any credible public health expert — and I don’t include Peter Navarro or Scott Atlas in those ranks.

And it’s entirely based on a mathematical blunder of epic proportions.

Bielawski cites the two states’ similar death tolls — 165 for South Dakota, 58 for Vermont.

The 58 was Vermont’s total death toll as of a couple months ago. Mikey didn’t bother to update it. But the real whopper is the South Dakota figure, which is not total deaths but the death rate per 100,000 residents!

The actual death count in South Dakota is 1,448. That’s far, far worse than Vermont’s. How much worse? Try eight times as bad. According to the Centers for Disease Control, South Dakota’s death rate is 158 per 100,000. Vermont’s is 20.

Again, normally I wouldn’t bother to debunk this kind of nonsense — except the article argues that we should follow South Dakota’s example because Covid isn’t really that bad. That, my friends, is dangerous. And according to the headline, this is one of TNR’s “most read” pieces. So it’s getting traction among the site’s small audience of hard-core conservatives.

After the jump: More whoppers!

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VPR tries for diversity

Vermont Public Radio has begun a noble effort in upstream swimming that makes a salmon run look like a splash in the kiddie pool. The overwhelmingly-white-even-by-Vermont-standards service has launched the Diverse Voices Initiative, “a comprehensive approach to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.”

I wish them luck. They are not only battling a history of whiteness that goes back beyond the founding of NPR to the early concept of “educational radio”; they are also trying to foster diversity in a famously non-diverse state, and they are battling the rules of radio programming itself. Kind of a tall order.

Let me pause for a moment and state, for the record, that I’m an old white guy and I’ll probably get some stuff wrong here. What I do bring is experience in public radio that goes back to the late 1970s, which is not nothing.

Public radio has always been a preserve of whiteness. Specifically, of college-educated upper-middle-class whiteness, the kind of people who read The New Yorker and drink wine and do brunch. And listen to classical music, which used to be a mainstay of public radio before news/talk took over.

Many public radio licenses were held by universities. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, I worked for one such organization in another state; its programming largely consisted of classical music plus lectures and commentaries by university professors. That’s tape-recorded, full-hour classroom lectures. The station’s news department made a point of not covering its own community. It ignored campus protest movements that sometimes took place in the plaza below its fifth-floor perch. That would be demeaningly tawdry, and not of interest to their refined audience. (It also might upset university administration, which at the time provided much of the organization’s funding.)

Practically from the beginning, NPR stations were beset by criticism of their pearly whiteness. In 1977 — two years before the creation of “Morning Edition” — the Corporation for Public Broadcasting commissioned a task force on how public television and radio were addressing communities of color. Its conclusion: when it came to serving people of color, “the public broadcast system is asleep at the transmitter.”

And despite NPR’s stated commitment to minority outreach, the task force found that only thee percent of its budget was spent on programming focusing on the nonwhite U.S. population.

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