Tag Archives: journalistic ethics

Ethics, shmethics

Riddle me this, Batman: How is a political blogpost like a roadkill skunk?

The apparent answer: At first their stench makes them unfit for polite company, but after three weeks or so the smell goes away.

See, way; back on January 19, I wrote a piece about a bill before the legislature to establish a Latin motto for Vermont. Over time, the story went viral; it appeared on the Huffington Post, the Daily Kos, Reddit, Fark, and Gawker. It was shared on Facebook more than 10,000 times, and I literally got over 100,000 pageviews out of it.

But nobody else in Vermont media picked up on the story.

That is, until now. The Associated Press’ Dave Gram wrote a piece about it. The Burlington Free Press posted it on their paywalled website; here’s a link to the story on a non-paywalled site.

Nice of Dave to finally notice the story. Don’t know why it took three weeks.

Not so nice: he didn’t credit the Vermont Political Observer as the original source. Maybe the story’s blogorrific stench has dissipated, but the smell still permeates the dread name “theVPO.”

Gawker, that irresponsible gossipmonger, credited me; the local media, I guess, chooses not to.

Now I realize that (a) this is a trivial story, a sidebar to our coverage of politics and policy, and (b) nobody outside of the room I’m sitting in cares whether I get fair credit. But I do. And the giving and receiving of credit is always a lively topic whenever journalists gather; my salaried colleagues are quick to complain when they are slighted by another media outlet.

So here’s my complaint. For the vast majority of you who don’t care, my apologies and I promise something more relevant next time. Just needed to get that off my chest.

Fogler Departs, Crudification of Free Press To Accelerate

Big news in Vermont media: Jim Fogler is stepping down as president and publisher of the Burlington Free Press. And leaving the newspaper business entirely, for a rewarding and soul-enriching gig as a vice president at Party City, the national chain of party supply stores.

Those journalistic ethics should come in handy over there.

I have made my share of sport at Fogler’s expense in the past — if I recall correctly, I wrote that when Jim Fogler writes an optimistic column in the Freeploid, readers (and staff) run for cover. But if I were to guess, I’d say his departure is not good news for Vermont’s Largest Newspaper.

First, there are the circumstances. His resignation is announced on September 25, and his last day at the Freeploid will be October 1. That’s a nanosecond by the standards of executive turnover. I have no inside information whatsoever, but it does make me wonder if his departure was voluntary. Not that he was fired; but rather that they let him know that he’d be replaced, and gave him time to arrange a soft landing. He had spent 26 years with Gannett, after all, so perhaps a little consideration was in order.

The big change comes as Gannett’s newspapers are transitioning into a new era of newsroom organization. A few Gannett papers have already gotten the makeover, which has resulted in the following:

— More reporters, but fewer editors. A smaller newsroom staff overall. Get ready for an explosion in typos, bad writing, and bad grammar.

— Everyone has to reapply for newly redefined jobs. Presumably with lower pay and benefits.

— A dependence on “audience analytics,” i.e. covering stories because of reader interest (pageviews!) rather than importance.

— What appears to be a troubling degree of “synergy” between news and ad sales.

Expect Gannett to parachute in a corporate loyalist (after a, cough, “nationwide search”)  to institute the new regime at the Freeploid.

The Burlington Free Press: Your Shameless Hometown Daily

Last week, I called attention to a bit of hypocrisy from Vermont’s Largest Newspaper: Veteran reporter Mike Donoghue Tweeting a complaint that WCAX had poached his story without attribution. Which was a clear example of Pot/Kettle Syndrome, since the Freeploid has a reputation among journalists as a serial story poacher. Like ESPN, the ‘Loid likes to pretend it’s the only news source in its market.

At the time, I pointed out just one recent example of the Freeploid failing to give credit to another outlet, to wit Paul “The Huntsman” Heintz at Seven Days.

Well, they’re at it again.

On September 3, Seven Days published an article about John Barone, superintendent of schools in Milton, receiving his advanced academic degrees from an institution known to be a diploma mill.

And hey, whad’ya know, on today’s Freeploid front page, there’s a story about John Barone, superintendent of schools in Milton, receiving his advanced academic degrees from an institution known to be a diploma mill.

And it gives no credit to Seven Days.

If you think that’s a coincidence, I’ve got a bridge you might be interested in buying.

And the Free Press had the brass-plated balls to COPYRIGHT the story.

I’m sure they have some ass-covering explanation for this, but I ain’t buying.

Burlington Free Press, serial story-poacher.

On hiring a “disgraced journalist”

Remember Scott Milne’s new “flat organization”? The one with no campaign manager? The one that includes his son Keith and a few others?

Well, VPR’s out with a story about one of them.

Scott Fletcher, a former managing editor for the Times Argus. Fletcher was fired in 2002 for a front-page story that didn’t seem to be based in reality.

And after the brouhaha over that one story, serious questions emerged about others penned by Fletcher. He couldn’t, or wouldn’t, provide tangible evidence to support the stories.

So I guess you’re expecting This Partisan Blogger to go all medieval on Fletcher’s ass and the Milne campaign’s.

Nope, got some nuance to peddle.

A disgraced journalist, like any offender, deserves a second chance. Hiring a past offender isn’t, by itself, worthy of criticism. Indeed, it’s often praiseworthy.

There are some issues, however.

First, Fletcher is unrepentant. He insists his stories were true. Which makes me wonder if he’s learned any lessons and if he’s capable of doing the same stuff again.

Which leads to the second: Fletcher’s role in the Milne campaign.

That role, Milne said, is “research and background stuff that he’s doing directly for me.” The candidate said he has no concerns that Fletcher is bringing forth anything but the truth.

Why NOT? Good grief, Fletcher’s current job directly relates to the duties that got him in trouble in the first place. And to judge by his professions of innocence, I’d have a hard time trusting him as a researcher and writer. I’d have no problem hiring him to run my phone banks or buy ad time or drive my freakin’ car — but hiring an unrepentant serial fabricator to do my research? Hell no.

If Scott Milne knew about Fletcher’s past, the hire is yet another example of the candidate’s tone-deafness. If he didn’t know, well, he should have.