Tag Archives: Nancy Remsen

Foxes Establish Henhouse Access Rules

Here’s another sign that Vermont’s Founding Fathers may have been drunk when they wrote our Constitution. Which, among other flaws, appears to give the Legislature sole authority over its own ethics.

Today, the Senate Rules Committee showed why that’s such a bad idea. While the Judiciary Committee has been busily slashing a proposed Ethics Commission into a glorified filing cabinet, the Rules Committee has been developing a parallel process for its own members.

Today, the Rules Committee adopted an ethics process for the Senate. And according to Seven Days’ Nancy Remsen, the Senate ethics process is designed, first and foremost, to ensure that its members are protected from public embarrassment. (To clarify: she didn’t say that, I did. But her outline of the procedure allows no other interpretation.)

As I’ve written before, the House Ethics Panel is a sorry-ass excuse for a watchdog. The Senate ethics panel won’t be any better, and may be significantly worse.

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Some good news arrives by a very circuitous route

Here’s something you wouldn’t expect, based on all the continued carping about Vermont Health Connect. The Times Argus, Saturday edition:

Vt. Health Exchange Called the Best

And Seven Days:

GAO: Vermont’s Health Exchange More ‘Operational’ Than Others

The news comes from an audit of state health exchange IT systems conducted by the Government Accountability Office, and released on Wednesday. The Vermont rating was not highlighted by the GAO, but it was definitely there. A chart on page 38 of the 109-page report shows that Vermont had the best operational status of any state-run health exchange. In a measure of four categories, Vermont was judged “fully operational” in three, and “partially operational” in the other one.

The chart was first reported in the Connecticut Mirror, which highlighted Connecticut’s rating of “partially operational” in all four.

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Well, at least the Free Press dumped its political reporters BEFORE the list came out

A big oopsie from the Montana province of the great Gannett Empire.

On Jan. 28, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza released a (deeply flawed and incomplete) list of the “best political reporters” in each of the 50 states. One of the four Big Sky nominees was John Adams of Gannett’s Great Falls Tribune.

Unfortunately for the Trib, only two days after the list came out, Adams declined to go through the mandatory re-interviewing process for all Gannett journalists. He balked because his position — capital bureau chief — was being eliminated, and he didn’t want any of the jobs on offer.

After serious thought and consideration I opted not to apply for any of the positions. I have been very happy in my role as the capital bureau chief for the Great Falls Tribune and would have liked to have continued in that role, but I did not feel any of the available openings in the Tribune’s new “newsroom of the future” were a good fit for me.

Bad timing, Tribbies. By contrast, our local Gannett House O’ News ‘N’ Stuff, the Burlington Free Press, had the sense to jettison its two best political reporters (Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen) a couple months before Cillizza posted his list. The Freeploid still suffered the lesser embarrassment of having Cillizza name Mike Donoghue and April Burbank as two of Vermont’s top four state political reporters, when Donoghue’s beat is only partly political and Burbank had been on the beat for less than two months.

Well, it ought to be an embarrassment, but the Freeploid is actually proud of its reporters’ “achievement.” But then, it long ago established its reputation as Vermont’s Most Shameless Newspaper Media Organization. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cillizza’s source wasn’t someone inside the Free Press and/or Gannett; he depended heavily on reader nominations for states he wasn’t familiar with, and he clearly hasn’t a clue about Vermont. It’s hard to imagine an objective reader nominating Burbank (Donoghue maybe, just on seniority) for the honor. Nothing wrong with Burbank, she hasn’t been covering state politics long enough.

 

Seven Days puts on the big-boy pants

I was wondering if someone would swoop in and pick up the pieces after the Burlington Free Press abruptly shuttered its Statehouse Bureau. And now, someone has.

As it expands its coverage of Vermont government and politics, Seven Days has hired veteran Statehouse reporters Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen.

I couldn’t be happier for Hallenbeck and Remsen personally or for news consumers in Vermont. Seven Days has been steadily upping its game in recent years, but this is a solid, decisive leap into the big time. The little alt-weekly now has a larger politics/Statehouse crew than the once-formidable Free Press. And, even more shocking, a more experienced crew.

The Free Press is supposedly hiring a couple new reporters, but you know what they’re likely to get: bottom-of-the-pay-scale twentysomethings who are proficient with multimedia technology but have little background or experience to inform their reporting. But even if the Freeploid does bring on a couple of seasoned reporters, they won’t be able to replace Hallenbeck and Remsen’s knowledge of the politics and governance of Vermont. They’ll be at the low end of the learning curve, whereas Hallenbeck and Remsen are at the peak.

At a time when newspapers and even many alt-weeklies are in full retreat, Seven Days has taken a bold step forward. Best wishes to the newly enhanced crew, especially to former scurrilous scribe Paul Heintz, now serving as Political Editor.

Mikey Pom-Poms does the Big Balls Dance*

*See demo here. 

Mike Townsend, Burlington Free Press Executive Editor and Gannett Cheerleader-in-Chief, is feeling a little braggy today. He’s repeatedly taken to Twitter to praise the work of his own staffers, throw shade on other media.

A bit of overcompensation, perhaps, for all the criticism that’s come his way since the departures of the Freeploid’s two Statehouse reporters plus at least three other reporters in recent weeks.

Are staffers expected to accept fulsome praise in compensation for persistent job insecurity and ever-tougher productivity demands? Maybe so, because Townsend was also quick to lavish Tweetpraise on reporter April Burbank, who pulled the hard duty of Burlington School Board coverage.

Mikey follows that up with another Tweetbumpf, at which point old buddy Shay Totten chimes in.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 8.00.54 PM

And then, a bit later, a bizarre and condescending slap at competitors unnamed:

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I can’t explain that last one. Maybe Townsend had a mild stroke?

In all my years in media, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a case of Bunched Knickers Syndrome as bad as the one that’s circulating around the Free Press newsroom. This outburst of braggadocio is unbecoming the chief of a reputable news operation. Here’s a hint, Mike: let your work speak for itself.

Also, despite this outbreak of Big Balls Dance, the diminution of the Free Press is already obvious. Since Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen left, the Free Press’ coverage of the ongoing state election mess has largely depended on the Associated Press. Hardly any original coverage at all.

And really, it’s perfectly understandable: your resources are dwindling, so why not deploy them in your core market — Chittenden County? Just don’t expect us to notice that Statehouse coverage has already fallen largely off the map as a day-to-day matter.

Big Balls Tweets may impress the suits at Gannett. It doesn’t impress those of us who see the product every day.

Mikey Pom-Poms has a sad

Boy oh boy, us bloggers and Tweeters must have really gotten under Michael Townsend’s skin. Because normally, he and the other denizens of the Burlington Free Press like to pretend that no other news outlets actually exist. Except when another outlet screws up.

I can explain everything.

I can explain everything.

But today, the Freeploid’s Executive Editor and Chief Gannett Cheerleader sent out a burst of self-pitying defensiveness under the title “Editor explains changes at FreePressMedia.”

Which is a first in itself: Townsend feeling the need to explain things. Collars a bit tight? Knickers in a twist? Not enough oxygen in the Freeploid’s seventh-floor digs?

The first thing I need to do is correct misinformation swirling around on social media as we go through a significant staff reorganization.

Oh, those nasty evil denizens of Social Media!

Hey wait, isn’t the Freeploid — er, sorry, FreePressMedia — in the midst of a headlong dive into social media-driven journalismism? I guess “social media” is a good thing except when it rises up to bite you in the ass.

He then denies “rumors and speculation that we are abandoning coverage in Montpelier.”

I don’t think anybody said you were, Mike. We just pointed out that you were shuttering your Statehouse bureau and lost your two Statehouse reporters when you told them they wouldn’t be covering the Statehouse anymore. See the difference?

I’m sure you will continue to cover the Statehouse. You’ll send a crew down from Burlington whenever you think there’s a sufficiently clickbaity story. But I’m equally sure you won’t have anyone there on a daily basis, and that will affect the quantity and quality of your coverage.

And this is an undeniable fact: the Burlington Free Press has de-emphasized Statehouse news over the past couple of years at least, concentrating more of its resources on its home base of Chittenden County. I’ve been expecting the departure of Terri Hallenbeck and/or Nancy Remsen for quite a while, because it’s obvious that the Free Press is publishing a lot less Statehouse news than it used to.

The Burlington Free Press used to be the number-one source for state political and policy news. It isn’t anymore, and it’s about to get significantly worse.

As Townsend says himself in his little counterattack, Statehouse coverage will come from an “accountability/watchdog” team whose responsiblities will be at “the regional and state levels.” They’ll have a lot of ground to cover, and only part of their effort will go to state-level news.

Indeed, considering the Freeploid’s stated focus on arts, culture and food, and its lack of dedicated Statehouse/political reporters, you could say that its new nickname ought to be “Seven Days Lite.” After all, Seven Days still has a full-time reporter on state politics and policy.

For those keeping score, that’s Plucky Weekly 1, Established Daily 0.

And meanwhile, the Freeploid’s Chief Content Whore — er, I mean, “business reporter” — Dan D’Ambrosio is spending his day reporting on the grand opening of the LL Bean store in Burlington. Five days after my Sunday Freeploid came wrapped in a plastic advertisement for the grand opening of the LL Bean store in Burlington.

Plastic: an ironic medium for a retailer with a green, outdoorsy image.

(Come to think of it, the plastic Bean Bag was an unsightly, almost illegible washed-out gray-and-white. Bean really got its money’s worth there.)

I guess I’m supposed to think the wall-to-wall coverage of a major advertiser is a coincidence. And continue to think so when I get my morning paper tomorrow and find a big fat article on the grand opening of the LL Bean Store in Burlington on the front page.

Much of Townsend’s column is devoted to explaining the changing media environment and the need of newspapers — sorry, media companies — to evolve. I sympathize. I get it. I don’t expect the status quo.

What irks me, though, and makes me critical of the Free Press in a way that I’m not of, say, the equally diminished Times Argus, is the following:

— A big part of the Free Press’ financial trouble arises from the fact that its profits are siphoned off to satiate Gannett investors.

— As I’ve said before, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The Free Press continues to occupy a dominant position in Vermont’s media landscape. As long as it does, there’s a lot less space for other sources to emerge and grow.

— The inhumane process that Free Press workers had to go through. Re-interviewing for their own jobs. Jobs “offered purely based on numerical ratings,” as Townsend himself put it.

In the words of Number Six, “I am not a number — I am a free man!”

— And, worst of all, the clickbait-driven approach to journalism, which extends so far as to require staff to rewrite stories after they’re published to goose the pageviews.

I can tell how much the criticism has gotten to Townsend, because he actually went so far as to name the reporters who’ve departed the Free Press. This is never, ever done in the media: you don’t want to give your audience any reason to miss the people who have gone.

But there, in print, are shout-outs to Sam Hemingway, Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen.

(He didn’t mention Lynn Monty, who refused to go through the “demeaning and degrading” process of re-interviewing, or Tim Johnson, who simply failed to post a high enough number.)

I can’t really blame Michael Townsend. Part of his job is to take Gannett’s chicken shit and convince us it’s chicken salad. But he is fair game for criticism, and his response fundamentally mischaracterizes the criticism.

Night of the Long Knives at the Free Press

Well, I can’t say I’m surprised. In fact, I’ve been expecting it for a couple years, since the Burlington Free Press’ news department made a subtle but obvious shift away from Montpelier and toward Chittenden County. But the timing is a shocker:

Before I go on with the thinky stuff, let’s first acknowledge that two people have lost their jobs. Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen are middle-aged people in a contracting industry that prizes youth. We don’t yet know whether they left on their own or were pushed out, but either way, I feel for them and wish them well. They provided a lot of valuable coverage, and their years of experience are irreplaceable. Well, everybody but Gannett thinks so.

The fact of their departure does not surprise me, but I thought their bosses would have the decency — or sheer expediency — to wait until after the elections were over. You know, have ’em cover election night, get ’em to write up the post-election stuff, and then toss ’em out on Thursday or Friday.

But no. Time, tide, and nervous corporations wait for no man.

On the other hand, maybe the timing was deliberate; it’ll get buried in the election news, and there’s less chance of other media outlets besieging Michael Townsend asking why he’s jettisoning all his experienced talent. And Townsend cravenly refusing to comment. Even though he expects other media outlets to respond to his reporters’ inquiries.

According to one of the other olds left on an ice floe, Tim Johnson, the Freeploid is moving away from the beat system:

“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.”

Instead, there will be two “teams,” Chittenden and Watchdog. Presumably they won’t have anyone staffing a Montpelier office; they’ll only cover state government when they (a) have a nice juicy story or (b) when there’s a single high-profile event. No more will Free Press reporters roam the halls, gathering tidbits, building relationships, and most importantly, understanding how the place functions.

And that’s important. The State House is a complicated machine; it takes time and attention to figure out what to follow, who to talk to, and where to go.

But the Freeploid and its corporate parent don’t care about that. They just care about having enough “content” to plausibly fill the paper every day. And their top priority isn’t “the public needs to know,” it’s “the public wants to know.” And since the public doesn’t really care that much for the push-and-pull of inside politics, Statehouse news will take a back seat to stuff like local sports and artisanal foods and a women chaining herself to a tree. Oh, and advertiser-friendly “content.”

Since I started actively blogging about three years ago, I’ve maintained a subscription to the Free Press because it frequently had important stories and fairly dependable coverage of state politics and policy. I’m not canceling yet, but I’ll be watching. And I won’t be surprised if, by the first of the year, the Burlington Free Press will have become irrelevant to what I do.

Dirty Tricks Time, Part Deux

Gosh. Maybe, just maybe, the VTGOP is a little tiny bit concerned about Lt. Gov. Phil Scott’s electoral prospects. Because party Vice Chair Brady Toensing, he of the mudslinging DC family law firm of DiGenova & Toensing (stepdad and Mom, respectively), is dipping into Mom’s bag of tricks: trying to drum up interest into a 20-year-old controversy about Prog/Dem candidate Dean Corren. And, wouldn’t ya know it, the Burlington Free Press’ Nancy Remsen took the bait.

Brady Toensing circulated 1994 newspaper clips that recounted the questions that had been raised about the housing reimbursements Corren and Terry Bouricius received while they served in the House of Representatives.

The pair had rented an apartment in Montpelier during the legislative session, but didn’t always stay there, commuting back to Burlington instead. Still they collected the full housing allowance, Toensing said, and called it a taxpayer scam.

Corren calls it a “phony accusation,” and says “I reported everything exactly as it was required.”

Professional Nice Guy Phil Scott’s campaign wants nothing to do with Toensing’s charge, at least publicly:

Patti Komline, Scott’s campaign manager, disavowed any knowledge or involvement in the information Toensing distributed.

“Disavowed any knowledge” is fortuitous phrasing on Remsen’s part; it comes from the opening to the old “Mission: Impossible” TV show, where the head of the black-ops team gets his orders via audiotape, which blows up five seconds after the tape says “Should you be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” Likewise, Ms. Komline.

The Corren stuff has already been aired pretty thoroughly. It happened 20 years ago; Corren continued to serve in the Legislature for six more years, apparently without any more expenses problems. It’s clearly irrelevant to Corren’s fitness to serve in 2014.

Besides, I would think the VTGOP would be a little more forgiving about 20-year-old ethics charges, considering that in 2012, it happily gave its Auditor General nomination to Vince Illuzzi.

As you may recall, at the very moment when Corren had to clear up questions about housing reimbursements, Illuzzi’s license to practice law was under suspension over ethics charges. It had been suspended the previous year, and wasn’t reinstated until 1998. Illuzzi was lucky at that; the state bar’s Professional Conduct Board had recommended that Illuzzi be stripped of his law license for good.

Illuzzi had been charged with: using his public office to influence court proceedings, conduct prejudicial to administration of justice, and conduct displaying a lack of fitness to practice law. In a settlement, he stipulated to his guilt.

So I ask you, in a hypothetical faceoff between 1990s ethical questions, which is worse: having a candidate for Lieutenant Governor who faced questions about housing reimbursements, or having a candidate for Auditor who was officially accused of using his office to influence court cases and “displaying a lack of fitness to practice law”?

I know where my money is on that one.

But it is nice to see the VTGOP treating Dean Corren as enough of a threat that they feel the need to slime his reputation.

In the pursuit of objectivity, the truth is often a casualty

One of the faults of contemporary journalism is its tendency to bend over backwards in the name of “balance.” You have to represent both sides, even if it means including a climate change denier. You have to quote Annette Smith in any coverage of wind turbines, or Darcie Johnston in any piece about health care reform. And you have to pretend that a one-sided campaign is competitive before Election Night because it’d be “unfair” to the obvious loser.

Submitted for your approval, from the Freeploid’s political tag team of Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen (or, quite possibly, from their timorous editors):

Scott Milne, the Republican gubernatorial challenger who has been accused of getting off to a slow start, showed a surge in his fundraising…

“Accused of getting off to a slow start,” eh?

“Accused”???

That’s not an accusation, it’s an observation. It’s plain fact. Scott Milne launched his campaign on the last possible day — the filing deadline. He left everybody up in the air until that afternoon. And in his first two months on the trail, he raised virtually zero money outside of his own family and that of his business partner David Boies III.

If I published a Lexicon of Political Terms, I’d use Scott Milne’s mugshot to accompany the definition of “slow start.”

We know that Milne reacts very badly to criticism of his campaign. I’ll bet he’s had some angry calls with Freeploid editors, and this excessive timidity is the result.

Copy editors? We don’t need no stinkin’ copy editors!

On Friday, Governor Shumlin released his 2013 income tax form. The Freeploid’s Nancy Remsen  wrote up the story… which included this little gem:

He lists five vehicles, a boat and farm equipment with total value of $128,300. One car, a 1964 Porsche, is valued at $55,000. The other vehicles are older and much less valuable. Since becoming governor, Shumlin gets little chance to drive as he is always chauffeured by his State Police guards.

Huh. Five vehicles. One is a 1964 Porsche. The others “are older.”

Let me guess…

— 1962 Chevy Nova

— 1958 Trabant P50

— 1952 Nash Metropolitan

— 1951 Fuldamobil

— 1948 GAZ-M20

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Funny; I would have guessed that our millionaire Governor would  own at least one car newer than 1964. But hey, the Freeploid reported it, I believe it, and that settles it.