Left In Lowell

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April 19, 2009

Which news gatherers?

by at 11:05 am.

Dick broke the news layoffs-at-the-lowell-sun/ on Friday that the Lowell Sun had yet another layoff. “The Lowell Sun laid off a number of employees today – I heard the names of at least six news-gatherers – and another moved to the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise.” News gatherers, that sounds ominous.

I have not been able to find an article on line announcing this work force reduction. I think it would appropriate to inform the readers of what is going. Last Month when the Herald lay-off 24 employees, the workforce reduction was announced on its Business pages.

The Sun’s parent company, Media News Group is in financial trouble as are many other media companies including Gates House Media (they own over 100 New England daily and weeklies) and of course, the New York Times Co. However, not much is written about the Media News Group’s problems. Here are some of the facts:

April 3, 2009 “MediaNews Group Inc., owner of the Denver Post, has reached a deal with its lenders and bondholders to delay payments on its considerable debt while it reorganizes its finances, according to news reports. As part of deal, the Denver-based nationwide newspaper chain skipped paying the principal on a debt payment to lenders that was due March 31, instead paying only the interest.”

March 20, 2009: “…Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services just withdrew all its ratings on MediaNews ‘per the company’s request,’ according to an S&P announcement. Another ratings agency, Moody’s Investors Services, estimated last December that MediaNews, with annual revenues of about $1.2 billion, is carrying $962 million in debt. At the time, privately held MediaNews vigorously disputed Moody’s estimate that its so-called leverage ratio was more than 8 times debt to EBITDA.”

March 18, 2009: “Standard & Poor’s Ratings Service has lowered its issue-level rating for MediaNews Group Inc.’s secured credit facilities to CCC from CCC+.”

December 12, 2008: “Moody’s Investors Services on Thursday said that William Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group faces increased risk of defaulting on its loans, as it downgraded almost $1 billion of the debt…Moody’s said it is concerned that the ‘downturn of the company advertising sales will be significantly more protracted than previously anticipated, further straining the company’s liquidity profile and heightening the probability of a covenant default’.”

June 6, 2008 “The Standard & Poor’s credit-rating service has lowered its assessment of Denver-based MediaNews Group Inc. by two levels, from B-minus to CCC, saying it expects the nationwide newspaper chain to “pursue a restructuring of some kind. CCC is four levels above default as S&P defines it, and well into the ‘junk bond’ range.
MediaNews’ bonds lately have been trading at less than 50 cents on the dollar. ”

Back to the Sun staff, as far as I can tell my favorite reporters are still there; yeah!! And speaking of reporters, did you notice that a few weeks back Christopher Scott went from City Editor to City Editor/reporter and today he is back to City Editor. What is that about?

February 8, 2009

Cancelling my newspaper subscription, with some regrets

by at 5:06 pm.

After much consideration, I have decided to cancel my subscription to the Boston Globe not because I dislike the content of that newspaper; I do like it and I read it everyday. I just do not read the print copy anymore. The paper is delivered in a clear plastic bag to me very early in the morning; I take the newspaper out the plastic bag, put the paper in a recycle pile and the plastic in a recycle container.

Although I no longer read the print version, I read the web version faithfully. I also read the Sun’s and the New York Times web sites as well as numerous other old media and new media sites. I along with a growing majority of people get my news throughout the day from various sources; even with the fluff stuff that I read, I read on the internet. And as for analysis and commentary, it is all over the internet; more than I can digest.

I am a traditionalist. We have always had a newspaper in my house. Probably the majority of blog readers have stopped reading print copies of newspapers long time ago; I guess I am showing my age. It was not an easy decision because I know by eliminating my subscription, in a very, very small way, I am adding to the decline of the newspaper industry as we know it. A few weeks back, the Globe offered another buyout not only to some workers for the print edition but this time also for workers on their web site, boston.com. As we all know, it has been over a decade that newspapers have been trying to come up with a business model for their web site; and for the most part, they have not succeeded. I do not think charging a fee for a news website is going to work.

Although the major newspapers in the U.S. have closed many of their international desks, you can easily read first hand reporting from foreign media sources. And I think we will always a vibrant national media whether it be the various cable and commercial networks, weekly magazines, the major national newspapers or the big name web sites.

My concern is the local news in general and Lowell specifically. Although we have a number of blogs and the list continues to grow, we have a locally owned and operated radio station; and of course we have our local access PEG stations operated by Lowell Telecommunications Corporation, but I still rely on the Sun to get my local news. In spite of the strong-arm editorial position of the paper, the reporters do a fine job. Unfortunately, they are down to a handful of individuals. Reporters who have left the paper are not replaced; instead their beat is merged with another reporters’ or correspondents are hired to cover an event. And now, thanks to Dick I understand that due to financial problems at corporate, the staff had to take a week furlough. Ouch!

I truly appreciate professional newspaper journalists and I am concerned for the future of that occupation if it is not financially viable. Anyone who blogs, understands and recognizes the necessity of original news sources. Even if all of us who consider ourselves citizen journalists do our job, will that be enough?

September 23, 2008

Instead of laughing at voters, let’s help them get educated!

by at 7:57 am.

This Sunday’s Lowell Sun Column asked, in their typical sarcastic fashion, if Middlesex County voters were “paying attention.” John Buonomo, the Register of Probate for the County, received “tens of thousands of votes” in last week’s primary election and the paper correctly asks if the voters know what is going on.

Probably not. First of all, very few people know what this job is all about. I agree with Lynne comments in a previous post…the job should be an appointed position.

Secondly, when you go into a voting booth in Massachusetts, your choices are usually limited to voting for the only name running for a particular office, write-in a name or leave it blank. On principle, if someone is running unopposed I usually never give him/her a vote; unless I want to give that public official an endorsement. I have on many occasion wrote-in a name.

Back to the Buonomo votes…the election process was difficult to understand for the average voter and what did the paper who laughed at the voters do to help us understand this process, very little. I learned about the process through sco’s post that was featured on this site.

Granted voters have the responsibility and duty to be informed and knowledgeable but institutions, such the mainstream media (newspaper) and the new media (blogs) have their own responsibilities. We should all do our job a little bit better to have motivated and informed voters; 9% voter turnout in Lowell is far from democracy in action

April 13, 2008

I do not believe it!

by at 12:20 pm.

Today’s Lowell Sun “The Column” had a brief mention that Lowell School Committee member Jim Leary may not run for reelection next year. That piece of information is believable. Jim and his wife have just adopted a baby boy; he is self-employed and his demanding career that requires a lot of traveling.

However, I do not believe the comment by a “some political insiders” who whispered to the Sun that “it is more likely because he [Leary] has lost political allies and isn’t getting his way on the committee.”

My guess is that those “insiders” are the so-called former political “allies.” (As the going goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?) I have met and spoken to Jim on a number of occasions. He fully understands the fine art of political compromise and believe me he is not afraid of being a lone wolf on any issue.

I hope Jim reconsiders but we fully understand that family comes first. Given the financial burden and time restraints on elected officials, anyone who is not retired, self-employed in the City, independently wealthy or has a partner who is supportive will not be able to serve. This is not good.

August 11, 2007

The WCAP Sale: Local Radio Stays Local

by at 6:35 pm.

For many months the rumors have been flying around Lowell that locally-owned and operated WCAP radio (AM 980) was up for sale. With the news article in the Sun and today’s Kendall Wallace column, I think it is safe to say that it is a done deal.

For over 50 years Maurice Cohen and his late brother Ike operated what has become one of the last independent radio stations in New England. Most stations are now controlled by major corporations but not ‘CAP. Although I have at times been critical of the station, I have always felt that it serves the community; what I found frustrating is that it could do so much more.

The group that has been named as the potential buyers of WCAP has an opportunity to restore the station to its past glory of a few decades ago; the obvious question is will they?

According to people who know, Clark Smidt, one of the principles named by the Sun, is a radio veteran who has a track record of taking stations and making them profitable again. He is a professional who believes in local content. It is obvious that Mr. Cohen wanted to sell to a local entity and by-passed many lucrative offers until the right deal came along.

Sam Poulton, the other principle named, is well known not only because of his real estate business but also for his involvement in community activities in Greater Lowell. Although he is a successful man in his current profession, the radio business is unlike anything that he has taken on in the past. Hopefully he will defer to Smidt when it comes to programming decisions. (more…)

May 15, 2007

The Darkened Sun

by at 3:37 pm.

The Sun’s failure to cover the Revolving Museum’s ARTventure Series opening event Saturday night, May 12, which drew four to five hundred by my rough estimate, reveals that the paper still doesn’t get it.

Yes, the paper had a solid cover preview package in the previous Thursday’s Steppin’ Out section. But any event that draws hundreds of people downtown, especially on an unseasonably chilly Saturday night, is a significant news story.

I’ve been in the news business more than four decades, including four years as Sunday editor of The Sun, so I know a good story when I see one. And this one had everything: a outpouring of community effort, with close to a thousand volunteers creating scores of murals, art works, performances and, even, free cake. Plus, opportunities for more thrilling photos than a month of pet pages.

ARTventures joined Lowell’s ethnic, student, art and cultural communities for the first night of a summer of special events. The audience represented the full mosaic of the city, including the mayor and city manager.

Everybody was there, but The Sun.

The paper’s failure represents more than a one-time oversight. Its management has yet to fully realize that the survival and prospering of Lowell as a “destination city” depends on its art and cultural communities — its creative industries. If they don’t grow from where they are now, the city will whither, and so will The Sun.

What to do?

The Sun has a full-time business reporter, Tom Spoth, who’s one of the best on the staff. Similarly, it needs a full-time creative industries reporter.

I’m not talking about someone who previews arts events, reviews MRT productions and writes features about nude models, all of which is well handled by the Lifestyle and Metro staff.

The Sun needs someone who covers arts and culture as news — as business news, lifestyle news, metro news and front-page news. Someone who knows the difference between Impressionism and Expressionism, be-bop and boogie-woogie, someone who can read a cultural organization’s annual report and who understands the relationships between the arts, tourism, entertainment, business and politics. And someone who can generate stories the way Spoth does in business.

Obviously, the reporter needs a commitment from the editors, the publisher and The Sun’s chairman Kendall Wallace, a commitment of money and news hole.

I know some of the counter-arguments: Where’s the money coming from, and where’s the news hole? I’ve run newsroom budgets as big if not bigger than The Sun’s. The money’s there. So is the space. (Most of The Column’s endless take Sunday on Dracut’s city council could have been teased in the print paper and published on the Web, for example.) It just takes a commitment to do it.

So, chairman Wallace, publisher Mark O’Neil and editor James Campanini, it’s up to you. Do you cover what’s truly important to the future of Lowell, or do you limp along missing the big stories?

May 8, 2007

Chowing Down

by at 11:19 am.

Thumbs up (and a Cobblestone’s gift certificate) to The Sun and reporter Michael Lafleur for Sunday’s (May 6, 2007) story on Middlesex County Sheriff James DiPaola’s dining out habits. DiPaola’s spent almost $78,000 of his campaign funds from December 2004 to this February adding to his girth at “eat-out campaign meetings, function-hall fundraisers, staff-appreciation dinners and holiday parties,” writes Lafleur. Yum!

Lafleur scoured campaign records to detail the sheriff’s spending, eating and partying activities. Only 38 percent of his 66 visits to restaurants were at county eateries. Five were out of state, including at least one in Washington, D.C., at the posh Capital Grill.

(BTW, score one for print over the Web. The Sun runs a highly informative graphic, which lists six restaurants where DiPaola entertained, including how much he spent and why. Only two, Ristorante Saraceno in Boston’s North End and the Woodshed in Moultonboro, N.H., are mentioned in the article. Otherwise, none of this info is on the Web page. For the full story, you still need the printed paper.)

The most important point is buried halfway through the story.

“ … spending campaign funds becomes a way of ‘padding income and sort of living a lifestyle that exceeds one’s salary,’” says Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts.

In other words, think of these campaign war chests as an aggrandized lifestyle slush fund, with a high fat and high calorie content.

For balance, Lafleur gets some defensive quotes from DiPaola’s campaign flack, Democratic political consultant Michael (“Movie Maven”) Goldman. (DiPaola won’t talk himself.) Goldman says everything’s kosher, and that the Sun overstates his boss’s food spending by $11,000. Besides, it’s the cost of doing political business: Politicians can’t raise money without spending money.

All this leads to a follow-up article The Sun should do:

As a separate legal entity, Middlesex County was legislated out of existence a decade ago, along with all the state’s other counties after a series of scandals — with the exception of the elected sheriff’s office and county jails. All other county functions were taken over by the state, if memory serves.

So why do we have an elected county jailer? What are the reasons, pro and con, for this oddball position? Get on it, Michael Lafleur.

April 23, 2007

Patrick wins one at The Sun

by at 11:56 am.

On again, Sun’s local corporate pooh-bah and chairman of the board, Kendall Wallace (kwallace@lowellsun.com), is at odds with his own paper — this time over the issue of Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.

The Sun’s editorial pages campaigned against him, and its news pages and editorials overplayed Patrick’s early, silly mistakes. But Wallace’s “Chat” column for Saturday, April 20 was full of praise for Patrick and ripe with condemnation of his Republican predecessor, Mitt (Flip-flop) Romney.

The issue that turned Wallace pro-Patrick and anti-Romney was the new Interstate 93 interchange that would serve Andover, Tewksbury and Wilmington. The interchange would “could pave the way for up to 9,000 new jobs for the region and the potential development of an upscale shopping/business mall,” Wallace wrote. Hot damn (and maybe more advertising for The Sun and its parent NewsMedia’s other papers in the region).

Wallace praised the entire cast and crew of town and state officials who helped make the case to the Federal Highway Administration, which last week gave its preliminary okay for the project. But Wallace reserved special praise for Patrick and Lt. Gov. Tim Murray:

“Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, who understands regional economic issues, jumped in quickly and helped coordinate the state and federal approvals.”

Then he slammed Romney:

“Unlike the Romney administration, when the Patrick/Murray administration term ends in four years, they will be able to point to the fact they added thousands of jobs for folks in the Merrimack Valley, the only area of the state, by the way, in which Patrick didn’t do well in the election.”

Don’t Wallace and Sun Editor James Campanini work off the same page anymore?

April 16, 2007

Great Minds Bee Alike

by at 3:52 pm.

Yesterday’s Sun’s big shmeer (major front page package), “Beekeepers worry about mysterious colony disorder,” is about the world’s disappearing bee population. Not hot news, you say. Certainly not political. But it’s a decent story focusing on the impact on beekeepers in the area, though it only hints at the true calamity of a bee-less world. For that you have to go The Independent in London: Are mobile phones wiping out our bees?“The scare sentence: “Most of the world’s crops depend on pollination by bees.”

Both the Lowell and London papers used what Einstein said about bees.

Lowell: “It’s the one species whose extinction Albert Einstein said would wipe out mankind.”

London: “Albert Einstein once said that if the bees disappeared, ‘man would have only four years of life left’.”

How do I know that London had its own bee story?

Because Matt Drudge lead his Web site with it Saturday night and Sunday. Better bees than Bush, right?

Maybe there was a common source for both The Sun’s and The Independent’s bee story. I couldn’t find it on the AP’s site. But you can be assured, any minute now the networks and cable news channels will go bee crazy, if they haven’t already. It’s a cosmic doom story, with cute part played by bees buzzing around.

BTW, no one knows why bees are disappearing. The Sun’s nut graff: “Scientists call the strange disappearing act ‘colony collapse disorder,’ or CCD. What’s most worrisome is no one has any idea what’s causing it.”

See you around the hive, if you can find one.

April 13, 2007

The Other Imuses

by at 2:20 pm.

(John Greenwald has been a journalist for 45 years and was Sunday editor of The Sun in the late-1990s. He’s also an exhibited local artist. I’ve invited him to post periodically about the media, culture, and politics.)

Don Imus’ DNA hadn’t been wiped off CBS’ urinals, when the The Huffington Post posted like-minded remarks by Bill O’Reilly on immigrants (”Mexican Wetbacks … Coyotes”) and Rush Limbaugh on “Survivor” cast members (”Young Blacks — Especially Males — Are Much More Likely To Drown In Pools Than Whites”).

Ouch!

Huffington blogger Bob Cesca wrote:

How can we forget this knee-slapper from Bill O’Reilly on the February 6, 2003 edition of The Factor? ‘We’d save lives because Mexican wetbacks, whatever you want to call them, the coyotes–they’re not going to do what they’re doing now, all right, so people aren’t going to die in the desert.’

Also,

Bill O’Reilly was hosting a charity event for urban school children. An African-American singing group called ‘The Best Men’ were schedule to perform, but were late. O’Reilly said to the audience: ‘Does anyone know where the Best Men are? I hope they’re not in the parking lot stealing our hubcaps.’

For Limbaugh’s fat-foot-in-mouth episodes, Huffington link to Mediamatters.org. It’s 2000 words of set-ups and transcripts about the “Survivor” teams organized by race or ethnicity. Here are a few choice items:

* Blacks can’t swim as well as whites: “When pressed by an African-American caller to identify ‘[w]hich team … would be the worst swimmers and why,’ Limbaugh stated that ‘the white tribe would be the best swimmers’ based on the performance of white athletes at the Olympics.”

* Limbaugh also based his idea that “black can’t swim” on an article in HealthDay that reported blacks were more likely to drown in swimming pools than whites.

But, the HealthDay article was based on a study that “did not address the swimming abilities of African-Americans in general.” Researchers don’t know why black youths drown more, except that most “drowned in public pools,” the article said. “People from poorer families were more likely to drown … regardless of race,” the article said. One’s tempted to says that Limbaugh ideas about blacks ability to swim is all wet. (I couldn’t resist.)

* Limbaugh also said the Asian-American tribe were “the brainiacs of the bunch [and] probably will outsmart everybody.”

There’s lots more of Limbaugh’s racial and sexual stereotyping in this post.

Finally, we shouldn’t forget broadcast radio’s King of All Controversy, Howard Stern. TMZ.com reposted its item of Dec. 15, 2005, recalling Stern’s 10 greatest, grossest hits.

Here’s just one:

Number 9: Stern was fired from WNBC radio in New York City in 1985 “for doing a stunt on his show called ‘Bestiality Dial-A-Date.’”

Who’s left to amuse America’s knuckle draggers?

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