Tag Archives: Anne Galloway

What We’ve Lost

“Why doesn’t the press cover __________?” is a question I’m often asked. There are a few answers, depending on context. Sometimes the press has covered it, but not as extensively or impactfully as you’d like. Sometimes there’s no coverage because it’s not that much of a story. But the most accurate answer is, “WHAT press?”

We all know the media business has shrunk, but I don’t think we realize exactly how far the shrinkage has gone or how deeply it affects the quality and quantity of news.

Go back, say, ten years. Not that long ago. The Associated Press had three reporters. The Burlington Free Press had at least two reporters at the Statehouse and covering state politics. The Times Argus and Rutland Herald had a three-person Statehouse bureau. Seven Days had three, and they’d deploy more if the need arose. VPR had two. WCAX and WPTZ each had a deeply experienced Statehouse/politics reporter full-time, and WVNY/WFFF usually had a young reporter on the beat most of the time.

On the other hand, VTDigger was barely more than a glimmer in Anne Galloway’s eye.

Well, actually, it was Galloway by herself, working her ass off. No time for glimmering.

Now, Digger has three Statehouse reporters plus issue specialists who frequent the Statehouse when their beats are involved. So that’s an improvement over the good old days. But look at the rest of the landscape.

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This Needed to Happen

Landmark moment in Vermont journalism: VTDigger founder Anne Galloway is stepping out of her leadership role and back into reporting. Her new title, editor-at-large, seems to offer her a great deal of freedom to work on big projects. You know, the kind of stuff that goes undone amidst the daily bustle of shoestring journalism.

Something like this needed to happen. It should have happened years ago, but I’m more than a little surprised it happened at all. It takes a rare clarity of vision to realize that the organization you brought into being has outgrown you.

VTDigger would not exist without Galloway’s dogged determination, without her burning the morning-to-midnight oil and probably risking her health, mental and otherwise. As it slowly grew, its internal structure didn’t develop accordingly. That’s because Galloway was still working as if she was head of a tiny, struggling startup. She was chief editor. She was the head of the entire enterprise. She was the public face of VTDigger. And, when she felt the call, she dove back into the foxhole of reporting.

It was too much for any person, and it inhibited Digger’s growth into a sustainable institution with a consistent management structure. Now it seems that that push has finally come to shove, and Galloway had to choose which role/s she wanted to keep and which she was willing to let go of.

Necessary disclosure: I worked for Galloway for a few months in 2020. She fired me under dubious circumstances. But I haven’t changed my view of VTDigger as an organization. I saw it the same way before I signed on, while I worked there, and after my defenestration. Before, during and after, it was an organization in need of transition with a leader who was deeply ambivalent about letting it happen.

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The Digger Deal is Good for All involved

Yesterday’s announcement that VTDigger and the VTDigger Guild had reached agreement on a contract was, I have to admit, a surprise. The terms were an even bigger and pleasanter surprise.

That’s because Digger management had stonewalled the talks for at least a year since the Guild organized. There was no reason to think that management would ever change its tune, but now it has. And I’ve renewed my monthly donation to Digger, which I suspended in May when the Guild went public with its account of the stonewalling.

Another sign of a healthy union/management relationship came in the comments on the settlement from both sides. Digger founder Anne Galloway said the talks “resulted in mutual respect, better communication and excitement about the future,” and spoke of “the Guild’s commitment to the VTDigger mission.” Lola Duffort, ace reporter and co-chair of the Guild local said negotiations were “a long and at times difficult conversation, but we had it as equals, and the organization is much stronger for it.”

Which is almost word-for-word what I wrote when I suspended my monthly donation: that the Guild wanted to support Digger and its mission, not tear it down.

VTDigger is at a critical juncture in its development. It is trying to build a sustainable, professional enterprise capable of thriving in a time of dramatic change for its industry. …The Guild wants to be a partner, not an antagonist. It isn’t making outlandish demands. Guild members want Digger to prosper, and to fully become a model for sustainable journalism.

The Guild contract is a big step in that direction.

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Boo This Man

It’s possible, in this moment of his ultimate disgrace, to feel just a little bit sorry for ex-governor Peter Shumlin. From fall 2014 to summer 2015, he endured three separate political de-pantsings — any one of which could have felled a lesser man in his tracks. First, his near-defeat at the hands of political outsider (and truly terrible campaigner) Scott Milne; then, having to admit failure in his signature push for single-payer health care; and then, in the spring of 2015, finding out that the Quiros/Stenger EB-5 projects were built on fiscal and ethical quicksand.

That said, his governorship will have to go down in history as singularly disastrous.

We know this now because of the dogged efforts of VTDigger to unearth a trove of documents kept secret by state officials. Its pursuit of the EB-5 White Whale was rewarded last week by a federal judge’s ruling that the documents must be made public.

And now, after poring their way through the docs, Alan Keays and Anne Galloway have published one of the most damning political pieces in recent memory. They recount how Shumlin and his team knew by the spring of 2015 that the EB-5 projects were fundamentally fraudulent and doomed to collapse… and yet they kept on flogging the projects for a full year. Their efforts only ended in the spring of 2016 when the feds launched a massive civil suit against Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros.

That’s bad. But Keays and Galloway document a variety of ways in which the story is even worse than that dreadful topline. Let’s run the highlights, shall we?

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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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There Are Two Ways This Can End, and They’re Both Terrible

Anne Galloway, the Captain Ahab of Vermont journalism, has returned to port with another big bloody chunk of the Great White Whale.

The whale is the EB-5 scandal, about which fundamental questions remain unanswered because a lot of information has yet to be made public. I don’t agree with how VTDigger is stonewalling its union, but this is an example of why we need Digger. Galloway is doing a tremendous public service by chasing a complicated story that no other media outlet has been willing to tackle.

Should I do a brief recap of the EB-5 thing? Is that possible? Well, here we go.

EB-5 is a program that offers green cards to foreign investors who put money into development projects in designated rural and/or poor areas. It was a small thing in Vermont until the great recession of 2008-9, when it suddenly took off. State oversight failed to keep up with its rapid growth. A lot of good projects got built, but Ariel Quiros allegedly committed large-scale fraud by taking money for projects he never built. He was assisted in these efforts by Vermont businessman Bill Stenger.

The state of Vermont, particularly the Shumlin administration, either failed to detect the fraud or tried to cover it up. Which one? Probably both, but we don’t know because a lot of key documents are still, several years later, being kept under wraps.

VTDigger has been diligently pursuing those documents, and keeps winning partial victories. Which then gives them reams upon reams of documents to go through.

On Wednesday, Digger posted another installment in its series. This time, it reports that state officials knew there was fraudulent activity two years before the the scandal was revealed by federal regulators in 2016.

Yikes.

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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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Digger Gov Debate: Cromulent Son

At least they flipped the room and got decent lighting.

It seemed remarkably civilized after Donald Trump’s attempt to run roughshod over debate protocol (and the foundations of our Republic), but the second major media faceoff between Gov. Phil Scott and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman was a lively affair that managed to provide some light in addition to heat.

As in the first debate, Zuckerman put on a clinic on how to confront Scott, while the governor often seemed overly defensive, even a bit surly. And as in round 1, it’s unlikely to make any difference in the election outcome.

I’ve noticed an increasing tendency in Scott to bristle in the face of close questioning. He frequently interrupted Zuckerman and misrepresented the Lite-Gov’s record. Has he gotten soft after months of nearly universal praise? Or is he starting to harbor a sense of entitlement after three years in office?

Whatever, it was a rare slip of the mask for Mr. Nice Guy.

Y’know, if Vermont was half as progressive as its Bernie-fueled image, Zuckerman would have a decent chance at becoming the next governor. Unfortunately for him, the electorate leans more center-left than left. Sanders’ coattails are much shorter than you’d think. And Vermont voters like to think of themselves as balanced, and our political system as exceptionally civil. That’s why we quickly embrace people like Scott and Jim Douglas who put a pleasant face on traditional Republicanism. (And it’s why Scott Milne is eagerly grasping for the same electable image.)

If Vermont’s “progressive” electorate was serious about progressive policies, they’d reject a guy who is nearing the all-time record for vetoes. In three years, Scott has racked up 19 — and counting; during the debate he hinted at a veto on the cannabis tax-and-regulate bill.

The record holder is Howard Dean with 20. And it took Dean eight years to rack up 20 vetoes; it’s taken Scott less than three years to equal Dean’s total. Also, most of Dean’s vetoes were on relatively small-bore legislation — a bill to legalize the sale of sparklers, a change in members of the Fire Service Training Council, a measure aimed at quicker removal of abandoned motor vehicles.

Scott, on the other hand, aims his fire at the biggest targets. He has vetoed three separate budget bills, which is unprecedented in Vermont history. He has vetoed many of the Legislature’s top priorities; this year’s vetoes included minimum wage, paid family leave and the Global Warming Solutions Act. And might yet include cannabis. His veto record is quantum orders beyond Dean’s or Douglas’. Or any other governor in state history.

In short, Phil Scott is a huge obstacle to the Democratic/Progressive agenda. Yet the voters seem intent on giving him a third term, even as they return lopsided Dem/Prog majorities to the House and Senate. If you think voters decide based on the issues, think again.

But enough about that. On to the debate.

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The Digger LG Debate: Dancing in the Dark

“Welcome to the Moonlight Lounge. Can I start you off with a beverage?”

Welp, somebody staged a late-afternoon debate in front of a wall of windows, leaving viewers literally in the dark. Maybe the same people who didn’t conduct a pre-debate coin toss and couldn’t find a coin once they realized their omission. And the same people who didn’t nail down the debate format. After he was given his final question, Republican Scott MIlne asked if there would be an opportunity for closing statements. Moderator Anne Galloway was rattled. “Oh boy, closing statements? I hadn’t planned on that,” she said.

Milne soldiered on, folding some closing-statement material into his answer.

But enough about production misfires. As for the Main Event itself, it was a crisp affair with plenty of confrontation between Milne and Democrat Molly Gray.

And Milne won the evening.

This was the first time since Gray entered politics that she looked like a first-time candidate. She was sometimes rattled, she often slipped into academic “debate” mode instead of the political version*, she forced some bits that just didn’t work. It was a bit of an ambush on MIlne’s part; his team clearly withheld their toughest stuff from the relatively low-profile Town Meeting TV forum so they could spring it on Gray at the Digger debate.

*It’s like the difference between amateur wrestling and Monday Night Raw.**

** Now you’re imagining Scott Milne in Spandex.

Smart, tough politics. It didn’t help Milne maintain his “Phil Scott 2.0” nice-guy facade, but it did put Gray back on her heels. Between the debate and Friday’s news of a massive spend for Milne by a national conservative group, she and her team are on notice that this isn’t going to be a coronation of 2020’s Shiny New Democrat (patent pending).

And they should be ready to fight back at the next debate and on the campaign trail. MIlne has plenty of vulnerabilities — in fact, he’s kind of one big walking, talking vulnerability. His team has put together a nice “Scott Milne” package, but is it a solid structure or a balloon ready to be popped?

(The latter prospect is doubtlessly why Team Milne has chosen a limited-exposure strategy, keeping him away from Gray’s statewide forums and not maintaining a schedule of appearances or events around the state. I mean, Gray is spending all her free time going everywhere; how often can Milne actually be seen in public?

I can answer that, because I’m on his email list. I get frequent fundraising pitches and press releases, but I can’t recall getting any events announcements. And there’s not even a “Meet Scott” events listing on his campaign website. From which I conclude that they’ve got him securely encased in bubble wrap, lest he slip up on his newfound message discipline.)

Now, let’s count some punches.

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Who gets to tell the Statehouse story?

This is a follow-up to my recent post about the gender imbalance in Vermont’s political press corps. We’re almost entirely men. And that does have an effect on what stories are told and not told.

Next question: Does it also have an effect on who gets to tell the stories? That is, who gets quoted in articles about Vermont politics and policy? Do we quote men more often than women? Unlike many corridors of power elsewhere, women are well represented in the highest ranks of Vermont government. Three of the four top legislative leaders are women; the four chairs of the powerful money committees are women, as are several other chairs; and the Scott administration is perhaps the most gender-balanced in Vermont history.

There’s one way to check on this, and it involves a ton of scutwork. I went through every frickin’ article written by 11 reporters who regularly cover the Statehouse in one full month, counting up the quotes. I chose May of this year because it included the legislature’s home stretch, a period when interest peaked and coverage was frequent. The 11 reporters included ten men and VTDigger’s education reporter Lola Duffort. She spent a lot of time in the Statehouse in May, and it seemed useful to include a woman even if she’s not technically a Statehouse reporter.

This turned out to be a tougher exercise than I thought. Counting up the quotes is simple enough, but people are often mentioned without being directly quoted. I decided on a standard that involved some subjective judgment: Does the person have agency in the story? Do they play an active role, or are they brought up in passing?

There’s a gray area here, and if anyone tried to reproduce my research they’d get slightly different numbers. But I’m confident that the overall trends would remain.

That’s one caveat. Another is the potential effect of small sample size. Some writers produced more material than others. A month is about the minimum time you’d need to produce representative numbers. If anyone wants to do a full session or a year, have at it.

The month of May was an outlier in some respects. A lot of coverage concerned the House/Senate dispute over issues like minimum wage, paid family leave, cannabis and guns. Stories tended to focus on the two leaders, Speaker Mitzi Johnson and President Pro Tem Tim Ashe. Both were usually quoted, which may have led to better gender balance overall.

Also, Gov. Phil Scott was largely a passive presence in May. He simply waited for the legislature to act — and if they didn’t, he got to stay on the sidelines. Many stories mentioned Scott but gave him no agency. Often, his views were cited by way of spokesperson Rebecca Kelley, which is a score in the female column each time.

Finally, just for the record, no one from the TQIA sections of the LGBTQIA community was quoted. I didn’t keep track of people of color, but as far as I can recall only two were quoted: Rep. Nader Hashim and Sen. Randy Brock.

Enough preliminaries. Let’s do the numbers.

I’ll start with myself, in my former role as political columnist for Seven Days. I wrote five columns in May. I cited 13 male government officials (elected or administrative) and 10 female. In the “other” category of advocates, lobbyists, non-government, I quoted six men and seven women. My overall total: 19 men, 17 women.

My colleague Kevin McCallum was the King of Quotes, citing far more people than any other reporter. (Which is a positive indicator of his work ethic and diligence.) He wrote 17 stories which quoted 44 male officials and 33 female, plus 12 male “others’ and 14 female. Total: 56 men, 47 women.

The third member of the Seven Days Statehouse crew was the now-departed Taylor Dobbs. Officials: 30 men, 21 women. Others: Four men, one woman. Total: 34 men, 22 women.

Gettin’ a little sketchy there.

I surveyed Paul Heintz’ work as well. He was the political editor in May, but he did write eight stores. Small sample size warning applies. Officials: 12 men, five women. Others: 14 men, nine women. Total: 26 men, 14 women. A couple of factors skewed his total: Some of his stories were about Vermont’s all-male congressional delegation, and he wrote a sizable story about an EB-5 court proceeding in which all the principals were men. I think we’d need a larger sample to truly determine whether or not he’s really an oinker.

That’s it for the Seven Days political team. On to VTDigger. And the moment you’ve been waiting for…

Political columnist Jon Margolis wrote eight pieces in May. He didn’t quote very many people, so again, small sample size, but he skewed heavily toward men. He quoted 16 men and seven women, plus five anonymous people — one of whom was identified as male. Margolis already ranked high on the Oinker Suspect List because of his comment about Mitzi Johnson supporting paid family leave because it’s a women’s issue and she’s “entirely female,” plus his anonymous quote about how “Tim [Ashe] has an Emerge problem,” referencing Emerge Vermont, the organization that trains women Democrats to run for office. The implication being, Ashe has to deal with uppity Emerge alums like Sens. Ruth Hardy and Becca Balint. Poor guy.

Margolis’ numbers are too small to be probative, but they confirm the impression that he’s maybe a bit of a pig. I’ll also mention that his first column in June was about the replacement of Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in which he both-sidesed the mass murder of native people.

Columbus did not introduce slavery to this hemisphere, where the natives had been enslaving one another, making war on one another, torturing one another, and sometimes eating one another for centuries.

True enough. There were wars and conquests and atrocities among the natives, just as there were back in Europe. But the indigenous people never committed actual, how shall I put it, genocide. They never conquered an entire continent by killing or displacing its resident population. That’s a massive difference in scale. And if Margolis had spoken with members of the Abenaki community for his column, he might have acquired a bit more nuance in his views.

But I digress.

As for Digger’s Statehouse reporters, things get a little complicated because there were a lot of co-authored stories. Those pieces had to be considered separately.

Xander Landen wrote 19 stories. Officials: 29 male, 21 female. Others: Six male, four female. Total: 35 male, 25 female. Hmm.

Colin Meyn wrote nine pieces. Officials: 22 men, 11 women. Others: Three men, six women. Total: 25 men, 17 women. Also hmm.

Kit Norton was sole author of only four stories. He co-wrote several, and was also responsible for a chatty daily Statehouse digest distributed by email. I only reviewed his posted articles. Officials: Six men, seven women. Others: Three men, two women. Total: Nine each.

Some combination of Landen, Meyn, Norton and Anne Galloway co-wrote nine stories. Officials: 21 men, 17 women. Others: No men, three women. Total: 21 men, 20 women.

Lola Duffort wrote 16 stories in May. Officials: 11 men, 14 women. Others: 18 men, 12 women. Total: 29 men, 26 women.

I also took a look at Vermont Public Radio’s two Statehouse regulars, Bob Kinzel and Peter Hirschfeld. Their stores are written for radio, but the transcripts are posted on VPR’s website. Kinzel wrote three stories in May (he spent a lot of time hosting “Vermont Edition”). He quoted nine men and two women. Small sample size, but ouch.

Hirschfeld produced 11 pieces in May. He quoted 22 men and 19 women.

That’s about it. Seven Days, VTDigger and VPR are the only outlets that produce significant quantities of in-depth state government reporting. The three major TV stations, to their credit, cover the Statehouse much more frequently than stations in other states. But their reports are usually quick hits lacking the depth or breadth of Vermont’s three top news organizations. (The Burlington Free Press no longer covers the Statehouse on anything like a regular basis.)

Conclusions? Some of the numbers indicate a potential problem with gender balance in some reporters’ work, but none of the results are strong enough to constitute definitive proof. Except maybe SOOOEEE PIG PIG PIG Margolis, who is, at least for now, Vermont’s only regular political columnist. Kinda sad, that.

But I will say that some reporters would be advised to check themselves. Maybe do a deeper dive on their own work, see how they did over a period of several months. If there’s a consistent male/female imbalance of 60/40 or greater, they probably have some implicit bias issues.

Also, the relative gender balance in Duffort’s reporting is one more data point for the importance of increased gender balance in the Statehouse press corps.