Tag Archives: Tim Johnson

Gannett honors cashiered Free Press writer

Ohh, this is sad, even by Burlington Free Press standards.

Last Friday, the Gannett newspaper chain announced its “Best of Gannett” awards for the company’s best journalism in 2014. Among the big winners were the Arizona Republic, the Des Moines Register, the Palm Beach (CA) Desert Sun, and the Staunton (VA) News Leader.

This being a media awards thing, there were dozens upon dozens of winners. (Journalism awards are kinda like participation ribbons. I speak as a past winner of dozens myself.)

So where, oh where, can the Freeploid be?

Scroll down. Keep scrolling. More. More. Keep going. Further. Go on.

Okay, there. The Free Press’ one and only prize is a Third Place award in the category of “Narrative Writing/Voice,” which aims to honor “powerful and tightly written news and feature stories… and any examples of evocative writing regardless of platform.”

And your winner? Oh, this is embarrassing.

Tim Johnson. 

Yes, the Tim Johnson who was abruptly fired last fall after 16 years on the job.

Gee, somehow the Free Press never bothered to report this great victory. And it’s usually so quick to brag about any honor it wins, no matter how trumped-up.

Here’s a final indignity: The awards come with cash prizes. Unfortunately for Tim, the money goes not to the writers, but to their employers. Or, in Tim’s case, ex-employer.

That’s Gannett for ya, giving the prizes to itself and screwing the talent. *Correction; see second Postscript below.

Postscript. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Johnson learned of his award through this blog. Nobody at the Free Press or Gannett bothered to inform him. That’s not just sad; it’s shameful. Even if the Free Press was going to keep the check, they could have at least given him a certificate or something. 

Post-postscriptA commenter notes that I made a mistake in reading the Gannett press release. The newspapers do pocket the cash for the Public Service awards, but the writing and reporting prizes are supposed to go to the individual staff. Presumably the Free Press will be scheduling a nice presentation ceremony for Johnson. Hahahaha.

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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.

Freeploid Follies: Sunday Funday edition

So, what’s up with Vermont’s Largest (But Rapidly Shrinking) Newspaper? Rather a lot, really. As we await the likely post-Election Night bloodletting at the Freeploid, there are several items worthy of note…

— Today’s front-page article on the race for Governor, which features a passel o’Jes Plain Folks articulating their views on the Milne/Shumlin contest. And I do mean “Milne/Shumlin,” because once again, just like the ‘Loid’s poorly-written endorsement editorial, there was no mention whatsoever of Dan Feliciano. Well, he was mentioned at the end of the article, in a list of all seven candidates for Governor. Yep, Dan the Libertarian Man was lumped in with the Emily Peytons and Cris Ericsons of the world.

Now, I don’t think Feliciano’s getting much more than 5% of the vote, maybe even less. But he’s a credible candidate, and he deserves more consideration than the Freeploid is offering him. The endorsement editorial, which had no room for poor Dan, managed to set aside an entire paragraph for Peter Diamondstone of all people. You’d almost think the Freeploid was trying to give a helping hand to the Republican Party by banishing Feliciano from its pages.

— An editorial in today’s paper touched on a subject near and dear to the Freeploid’s heart: transparency. It slammed South Burlington city government for refusing to release information about filling a vacancy on city council. In the process, editorial writer Aki Soga twice mentioned the name of the interim Councilor.

And spelled it two different ways. “John Simson” and “John Simon.”

In consecutive paragraphs.

From which I conclude that the Freeploid wants the process to be open… but couldn’t care less about who’s actually on the council.

— Today’s Freeploid (for those who get home delivery) came wrapped in a plastic bag, as usual. But it wasn’t the normal transparent bag; it was a shiny plastic advertisement for the new LL Bean store opening next weekend in Burlington. Funny thing: it was only a week or so ago that the Freeploid ran an article about the upcoming opening of the Beanery.

I fully anticipate that we’re going to get an article on Friday or Saturday about the grand opening, with comments from grateful shoppers about the legendary outfitter (whose clothing, like Orvis’, has slipped in quality of late) finally coming to the Queen City. And if such a story does appear, it’ll be the last piece of a nice little News/Sales/News sandwich. Right in line with the Newsroom of the Future’s intentionally blurred line between editorial and advertising.

— What do you do when you plan to cover a protest and nobody comes? Well, if you’re the Freeploid, you run a big fat story anyway. On Wednesday, the ‘Loid ran a piece on one woman’s fight to save a cottonwood tree that’s in the path of a new bikeway on Burlington’s waterfront. She’d chained herself to the tree, and was collaring passersby in a (mostly failed) effort to solicit their support for her cause. On Saturday afternoon there was supposed to be a rally on her behalf…

… and only two people showed up. But the Freeploid had sent a reporter — a rare thing on weekends — and they were bound and determined to get a story out of it. And they did: a two-page opus about the non-protest, containing pretty much the same information that was in the Wednesday story. One woman wants to save the tree, hardly anybody else cares, and it has to come down to make way for the bike path. Sorry; we can’t save every tree.

— Finally, we note with regret the disemployment of veteran Freeploid reporter Tim Johnson, the second to be given the ziggy in the Newsroom of the Future era. As we’ve said before, we fully expect a parade of departures — voluntary and otherwise — as soon as Election Day is safely in the books.