Monday, September 1, 2008

The invisible Eye

Commentary by Ed McKeon

(NOTE: This is an edit of the original posting, based on a conversation with the reporter who wrote the Courant story.)

It may be small of me to carp. But the Middletown Eye is small, for now.

A few weeks ago, I took time out of busy day and spent an hour and a half talking to Courant reporter Jodie Mozdzer about The Middletown Eye, the state of journalism in the state, and the difference between a newsblog and an online newspaper. Her story appeared in Sunday's Courant, and The Middletown Eye didn't even get a single mention. Strange.

Mozdzer warned me that the story might never appear since it was a story she was pitching, and not assigned. I noted that while I love and hate the Courant with equal passion, depending on the day, the Courant indeed may see me as a bit too critical of that paper (not in this blog, but over at Caterwauled), and might spike the story. I know for a fact that folks over at the Courant read both blogs regularly. Mozdzer herself confessed to reading the Eye to get a catch-up on town topics as she took over stories from Josh Kovner who had recently decamped to West Hartford.

Mozdzer now tells me that she wanted to focus on the newest of the local blogs, and one which was actually hiring reporters.

The story that appeared Sunday focused on something called East Hampton Today, published by Hometown Today News Publications (HTNP), with websites programmed by Biznuzz IT Services.

When I first spoke to Mozdzer, she had spoken with but not yet met with East Hampton Today editor, Cristina Johnson, or publisher Jean Maheu, but when hearing about the sites, I guessed it was an attempt at creating an on-line template, for local editors to fill with stories. Look at the site for Mansfield, and you will probably agree. I argued that sites like the Middletown Eye might have a truer sense of mission, because the only mission here is to provide information that other media outlets don't provide, and not necessarily to strive to make a killing on the internet with a "online newspaper product." But, admittedly, we are amateurs.

Who's to say which business model will work (maybe we should dredge up Rich Hanley like anyone with a newspaper question seems to do these days)? Maybe HTNP is onto something, but it seems like an online version of a newspaper chain, and aren't the chains the ones who killed the dailies in the first place?

I find it strange that HTNP became the core of Mozdzer's story, when other sites, like Paul Bass' New Haven Independent (the model for all such sites), and Christine Stuart's CTNewsJunkie, are mentioned, but only in passing, when they have a much longer track record than HTNP.

This is a rant, plain and simple, because we didn't get mentioned, and we can't figure out why.

Are those in the heritage media are threatened by blogs like The Independent, CTNewsJunkie, MyLeftNutmeg, CTBob and even HTNP? Why else would the online version of Mozdzer's story fail to give a single hot link to any of the news sites mentioned in the story? Afraid the readers might actually read one of them?

I can only vow that the Middletown Eye will continue to grow, pursue the news of Middletown Connecticut, and give residents and readers an angle on town information that disappeared with local ownership of local newspapers.

And I invite Courant editors to hire and send reporters to every meeting in town to demonstrate their commitment to local news.


Anonymous said...

HTNP appears to be failing, so there's some solace there. Content is poor and creditors are clammering

Cristina Johnson said...


I was the journalist mentioned in that article at that time.

I entered into my journalism career with HTNP with rose-colored glasses.

I believed my superiors to be genuine with true integrity. They pitched their idea to me very well and despite being quite discerning, I fell for it (although it took me quite some time to ultimately decide to give up my daily news writing before agreeing).

It's interesting to go back and read articles like this one, and consider the differences between "enews" and print news because now - eight years later - we can see what's happened across the globe.

There are more blogs than there are news sites and some "news sites" are more blogs than news but they have the advantage - as a blog - of opinion which means they aren't as beholden to laws that could put a journalist out of business for life. Still, misinformation will destroy a blog in the same way.

The "news sites" that have popped up since then are subjective at best. Most are "right" or "left" and everyone is going to their respective sites, which - to me - seems like part of why the country is so divided. This isn't to say it's the only reason or even the main reason, but certainly a contributing factor.

One can go to Fox News online and gather up some sound bites or quotes and have a decent argument against someone who reads Huffpost or visits another liberal outlet.

Small news sites, I think, are much better. Those that cover only small, local news. These sites are accountable to the communities they serve and that keeps them in check, in my opinion, as far as news.

Ultimately, I left HTNP because I did not agree with the philosophy. I believe news should be free (or very cheap) and available to all. There was an underlying itch to get rich and it got stuck in my craw.

Interesting post.