Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Living In a No Paper Town, Part Two

Update:  In my intial piece, I inadvertently edited out this phrase "a tireless Patch reporter."  As they say, when you edit yourself, you have a fool for a client.

COMMENTARY
 
“The decline of newspapers has meant that the political class has been getting away with murder even more than usual, because investigative journalism is expensive, and newspapers are poor.”
-       The Colonel, The Middletown Eye, Sept. 9, 2012
(DISCLAIMER: This is the first year, in all of my 60 years, that I live in a home where a daily paper is not delivered to my doorstep.  This concerns me.  But what concerns me more is that my lack of support may mean a future where important stories are not reported at all).

The Wolf Is At the Door With A Newspaper In Its Mouth
The daily printed newspaper has been driven to its knees by a perfect storm of forces over the past five decades.  In the sixties, evening TV news broadcasts began to nail the coffin shut, nearly eradicating every afternoon newspaper in the country (I used to deliver and report for one - The Hartford Times).  Escalating print costs, combined with increased labor, tax and transportation costs continued to hobble the industry.
But, the remaining morning newspapers were still cash cows.  They owned downtown buildings.  They turned tidy profits with print ads, preprints (those Sunday circulars),classifieds and decent, though eroding, circulation.  Those family and privately held papers, including the Middletown Press and the Hartford Courant, began to be gobbled up by the chains.  And the chains were devoured by larger media conglomerates and investment companies.
The accumulating debt began to smother the papers, which cut reporters and content to streamline operation.  But that only served to alienate readers.

Younger readers were harder and harder to find.  And when the internet convinced a generation that content wanted to be free (as in “unpaid for”), Craigslist, Google, Facebook, Twitter and the rest, rendered the print newspaper irrelevant.  The web provided the final nail to the print coffin.

Newspapers scurried after a digital model that, while moderately successful, has not been successful enough to subsidize the print operation.  And so, great papers began to disappear.
The Press is Pressed 
Most news veterans will tell you that most of the remaining print newspapers exist only to deliver those pre-print advertisements (circulars from WalMart and Target), that bring in the bulk of revenue these days.  When those retailers figure out another way to get you into their stores for Back-To-School sales, you can expect to see print newspapers go the way of the Apatosaurus.
What will Middletown be like without its own print daily?
As much as I love to sink into an easy chair with a newspaper in my lap, I'm ready to give up the print and paper habit.  It's not sustainable.  It's certainly not green.  And it is draining the life blood from local journalism.
As oldtimers will tell you, the Middletown Press is a shell of its former self (stand still long enough and one of those oldtimers will tell you about the glory of the D’oench years).  Can a newspaper with a single full-time news reporter really cover a town of nearly 50,000?  Not well, but readers already know that.
If the Press, and other legacy print papers would truly abandon the printing press, they might be able to hire more reporters, target coverage, deliver truly breaking news and survive.   Of course, there's the matter of huge leveraged debt (see Part 1).  But with any luck, the parent chain may be forced to divest its interest in the local papers which are not pushing profit to the bottom line.
The Final Edition
Can Middletown do without a print version of the Middletown Press?  Of course. 
What Middletown can't do without is another pair of trained journalistic eyes focusing on the topics of interest to our community.  Rumor has it that the new editor of the Middletown Press instructed the sole news reporter to focus on stories other than those that arise at municipal meetings. If it's true, it's shameful.
We need reporters who are paid a living wage, and who can have a sustained tenure in town so that they can understand the stories, the history of the stories and the consequences of the stories.  They don't have to know where the bodies are buried, but they have to know someone who knows where the bodies are buried.
Right now, Middletown is covered by a solid reporter for the Courant, another from the Press, volunteer journalists from this newsblog who provide insightful but uneven coverage, a tireless Patch reporter, with additional selected, hilarious, anonymous and usually biased coverage from the Middletown Insider.

Despite the shallow marketing boast that "we''re everywhere," TV news does not care about Middletown unless there's a murder, or an explosion or a serious controversy, and they can be counted on filing a painfully inadequate report, or a story that is flat wrong.
Still with all that "coverage," I sat as a member at this month's Board of Education meeting with no reporters present.  Hello.  The BOE spends $71 million of tax payer dollars every year.  We need witnesses to the actions we are taking.  We need the press to hold us to task.
And that leads me back to why I helped start the Middletown Eye in the first place.  All those months of meetings I attended with no reporters present.  What the colonel says is true.  The political class would rather not be monitored by a watch dog press.

These days they are getting their wish.

We can live without a printed paper in town.  But we won't do well if we are abandoned by the journalists too.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey,

Author we love you, but how about an article about the transparency that was promised by you and the other candidates of the BOE last November?

Let's see the books and find out where the money really goes!

The Blue Cat said...

I would like to see the city hall video coverage of meetings improved. All meetings recorded digitally and stored to be viewed online.

That way anyone can go back to see what was said and done in any particular meeting.

Anonymous said...

"...They don't have to know where the bodies are buried, but they have to know someone who knows where the bodies are buried..."
Even more basic, they need to know there are bodies.

Anonymous said...

If the author and his band of sheep were so interested in transparency, how come they haven't released the new superintendent's fat contract?

200K? For a woman who sits in her office with the door closed and doesn't even answer her own emails? How can this author justify that when the teachers were asked to take less than 3% in recent negotiations?

Bet you he doesn't want anyone to find that out. Transparency is a one way street with this group.

Anonymous said...

I think it's politics as usual over at The Eye.. Ed uses the, "I'm a Dem, but not liket those guys," stance and promises transparency and has signs that, cleverly enough state: "ED 4 ED." Hey at least he's honest, Ed was definitely for Ed and not (ED)ucation. Promises were made at all the fourms: We need transparency now! Well, let's put down the beer and get us the documents.

Anonymous said...

what is annoying is that the Eye thinks it is not bias Ed, and it is just as bias as anything else- but the writers fail to think of themselves like everyone else- what you choose not to cover is just as important as what you do cover-

Anonymous said...

"Right now, Middletown is covered by a solid reporter for the Courant, another from the Press, volunteer journalists from this newsblog who provide insightful but uneven coverage, with additional selected, hilarious, anonymous and usually biased coverage from the Middletown Insider."


The Eye:
-formerly and still somewhat anonymous writers
-selected as well
-not as funny
-just as bias but in denial

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to write Ed. It obviously shows that you have given much thought to the situation. I realize you are addressing the issue of local papers but I haven't abandoned the printed paper. In fact, I much prefer holding a paper in front of me than peering into a glass screen for my New York Times. I gave up on the local papers as I consider my money spent an investment in information and I wasn't getting a good return from the locals. The Times is delivered to my doorstep and worth it, for now. (and for those who have news delivered to their homes via a carrier, don't forget to tip generously come the holiday season)
I support your belief that what is vital to the community are the journalists. How can we put in place a system that supports them if/when reporting does indeed fall only to electronic sources?

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Dear Anonymous:

Print your full name, and I'd be more than happy to address any issue of transparency you bring up.

Ed

Anonymous said...

Ed, your just trying to distract people from the fact you promised transparency and are not delivering. Do your job before you criticize others. I don't care if it has to be said anonymously at least it is being said. Think about it.

Where was the line item budget??
New superintendent contact?
Frechettes package?
Kasper's son in law the illegal hire with the teacher benefits?
The 3 women fired or no reason?
Please tell me the BOE read the superintendent's contract
this time before signing and agreeing to buyouts should things go south-

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

No, Anonymous 3:01, I'm trying to point out the enormous irony in an anonymous poster demanding transparency.

Hilarious.

Taunt all you will from behind your wall of anonymity.

As stated, I will discuss any challenge to alleged "lack of transparency" by anyone willing to sign their friggin' name.

Obviously not you.

Ed

Bill Wilson said...

What I would like to know is :Where is the transparency is when it comes to the BOE budget? I think it should be a detailed line item budget like every other department in the city. What do we get a one line budget with no details. That is one issue you Ed, and others, highlighted in your campaign on a year ago; yet I see the same old thing as I saw before. The budget is clouded in mystery. While improvements have been made as far as more committees regarding curriculum, the people of Middletown still don't know what is going on within in the BOE as far as where our tax money is being spent dollar for dollar like all other departments.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Happy to oblige Bill.

That's all public information, available to you or anyone.

I'm surprised you wouldn't have just called to ask this question, instead of making it a matter of my personal credibility, or the BOE's transparency.

It looks like some other agenda is afoot.

BTW, if you feel more comfortable talking to someone from the party you belong to, I'm sure they'd be happy to help. One sits on the Budget Committee. On the Board, we don't vote, deliberate or work along party lines.

I'm a bit disappointed that you are associated with tne negative, inflammatory, anonymous comments here. There are better ways to communicate.

Ed

Bill Wilson said...

I post my name in most times here and elsewhere. So I am not sure what you mean in all honesty.

I am glad to know that the budget is available to the taxpayers of Middletown. It is something I would like to have so I can post it online for all to see.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Bill:

I appreciate your willingness to sign your blogs. I don't understand your posting of an identical letter in the Insider, which serves as a flamethrower for anonymous "opinions."

Ed

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is John Q Public and I, along with others, would like the answers to the questions that have been asked in this blog.

Is that too much to ask from those who were elected to represent us? We gave you our vote, please give us the information we've asked for.

Anonymous said...

This blog is also only a blog and opinion only.

joseph getter said...

Here is a link to the Board of Education budget. It lists many line items separately; it is definitely not a "one line budget".

http://www.mps1.org/boe/BOEAdoptedBudget2012-2013.pdf

This PDF is linked from the BOE website - it's easily accessible to anyone with a computer and internet connection:

http://www.middletownschools.org/page.cfm?p=7088

There, you can find past budgets and more information.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link Joseph Getter.

Sad commentary that it couldn't even be provided by Ed, who should have known it.

all the other questions still haven't been answered.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Anon 9:10

Still anonymous. Still complaining.

I don't intend to, and never will, provide information to someone unwilling to sign his name.

My name is Ed. What's yours?