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December 2008

December 13, 2008

No More Daily Newspaper in Detroit?

It's not exactly official yet (yes it is — see update below), but this announcement is all over the internet right now:

DETROIT (AP) -- The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press are leaning toward cutting home delivery to three days a week, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

I know it's inevitable — because the print business model is changing, because news consumption habits are changing, because Michigan's economy is in really, really rough shape — but this news makes me sad.

16757 I first learned to love journalism as a kid growing up in East Detroit, Michigan. There were two daily papers in town — the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. We always subscribed to the News, which came out in the afternoon. Every day when I'd get home from school, I'd wait for the paperboy or papergirl to come and leave the newspaper in the curved metal rack beneath our mailbox. It was part of my daily ritual. (This is a picture of my house before my parents sold it a couple years ago — just for the heck of it. You can see the black mailbox on the porch there.)

I read the Detroit News every day, starting from the time I was about 8 or 9, until I left to go to college. I loved opening that newspaper and finding out what was going on. If I missed a day, it felt like I had missed something important — that Burlington Free Press slogan, "miss a day, miss a lot," really applied to how I felt about my daily hometown newspaper.

But times have changed. My loyalties have shifted. When I want the latest news, I look online. I check the Burlington Free Press website several times a day; I canceled my print subscription a couple years ago. But I'm not on their site looking for national news, the same way I looked at the Detroit News for the latest national and international updates — I'm reading strictly local stuff. When I want to know what's happening nationally, I check a series of blogs and news sites — and my Google alerts, and my Facebook news feed. (Needless to say, I don't have to check Seven Days because I'm already intimately familiar with every piece of content we publish, in print and online.)

The days of bringing in the daily newspaper have been over for me for a long time. And now it looks like they're over for my relatives, friends and former Michigander neighbors, like it or not.

The next big milestone for me will be when they stop printing the Sunday New York Times. I still get that delivered, and I will be sad, sad, sad if — when? sigh... — that beloved ritual comes to an end.

UPDATE 12/18: At the end of March, the News and Free Press will cut home delivery on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. Ouch. Here's a story from the NYT.

And worse news for Motown — Chrysler is shutting down all of its factories for a least a month. Yikes.

December 12, 2008

More Media Layoffs — Politicker Sites Go Dark

It's been the buzz of the blogosphere today: Of the 17 state websites, 12 will be shuttered. Vermont is one of those sites, according to a Colorado newspaper.

The Colorado Independent reports that sites in New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania will remain operating. Sites in Arizona, California, Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Vermont and Washington state will disappear.

Here's what Owen Thomas at Gawker had to report:

At a holiday party Thursday night for the New York Observer — pizza and a keg in a conference room — Kushner gave a speech praising Politicker "despite what it has cost," an eyewitness tells us. If he planned to cut those costs the next morning, he gave no indication. But the problem with Politicker isn't what it cost; it's how little money it made.

The problem was finding the advertising money to support all those bureaus. Local reporters, thanks to newspaper cutbacks, are easy enough to locate. But advertisers, especially advertisers willing to spend small amounts at high rates to reach tiny, localized audiences, are scarce. Building relationships with those advertisers takes time and money on its own — and may not always prove worth the investment. A cautionary tale for those who would supplant newspapers in their local coverage: ink, paper, and printing presses aren't the only things wrong with the newspaper business.

At least 70 percent of Politicker staffers nationwide have been laid off. Laid-off staffers lost their email access and posting rights within an hour of an early-morning conference call announcing the cuts, according to a report on The Stranger's staff blog, Slog.

For additional stories about Politicker's demise, check out

Sugar as Snow

Ss850378 Whilst you are daydreaming of ski slopes . . . check out Brian and Brennan Degan's gorgeous gingerbread rendering of Mad River Glen. I saw the candied creation on December 6 in Waitsfield at the BigPicture Theater & Cafe's two-day "GINGERBREAD HOUSE CONTEST & EXHIBIT."

Mad River opens for its 60th season tomorrow morning. According to a morning conditions report, the skiers' co-op received 8 inches of snow last night.


December 11, 2008

Wright Makes it Official — He's Running for Mayor

If anyone had any doubts about his intention, Republican City Council President Kurt Wright laid it all to rest Thursday announcing he is a candidate for mayor of Burlington.

And, if you think Wright only has the support of the GOP in Burlington (yes, Virginia there is a GOP in the Queen City), think again. One of several people to warm up the crowd was none other than John Ewing, a lifelong Democrat. Gov. Howard Dean appointed Ewing to chair the the state's Environmental Board, which oversaw Act 250 appeals. He is also one of the founders, and current board chair, of Smart Growth Vermont.

Ewing joked that some in the room might think he took a wrong turn. But, he assured the standing-room only crowd in Contois Auditorium that his appearance was no fluke or momentary lapse of reason.

Ewing said his decision to back Wright in this election is based on not electing the person from the right party, but "electing the most qualified person."


Wright told the crowd his background as a council president, city councilor and state legislator make him uniquely qualified to tackle the pressing needs of the city: Economic development, keeping budgets under control, delivering key city services, and fostering a tri-partisan approach to solving problems in the Queen City. All items he said he has accomplished as city council president.

"Many across the political spectrum have encouraged me to run, citing the need for change here in Burlington — just as many believed it was needed in our country on November 4th," said Wright.

No mention of "hope" in his speech, but in Burlington "change" means tossing out a nearly 30-year-old Progressive-minded administration for one led by a Republican.

If elected, Wright would be only the second Republican elected to the mayor's office since 1981 when Independent Bernie Sanders came into office. Sanders was succeeded by Progressive Peter Clavelle (who later ran as a Progressive/Democrat). That Republican was Peter Brownell (pictured above shaking Wright's hand after Wright was elected city council prez by an 8-6 margin). Elected in 1991, he only served one, two-year term. Burlington mayors now serve three-year terms.

Wright enters a crowded field, but with arguably a reliable base of support in the city's more conservative New North End. Also in the race are Democrat Andy Montroll and Independent Dan Smith. Kiss will launch his reelection bid after Progressives gather on December 14 to nominate a mayoral candidate.

Wright’s entry into the race guarantees that Burlington’s next mayor will once again be selected using instant runoff voting. The system, in which voters rank their choices, was employed in 2006 to elect Kiss, although in that case the second place votes only served to extend Kiss' lead over Democrat Hinda Miller.

“I don’t think anyone will get 50 percent with four of us in the race, which means that second-place votes are going to be crucial,” Wright told "Fair Game" this week. Wright is hoping to best his second-place mayoral showing in 1999.

Wright ticked off a number of areas where the current administration lacked leadership, and where he stepped in to provide it:

  • The rewrite of the city's zoning regulations
  • Open & transparent government
  • Training of election officials
  • Ensuring senior centers remained open
  • Pushing back against the school's $226 million bond

"I have to tell you—there is only so much a council president can do. Leadership needs to come from the top. There is only one person that is elected by the whole city and that is the mayor, and the mayor must lead," Wright said.

Wright said the city cannot move forward under the current climate of "mistrust and fear between the administration and departments."

Wright pointed to the ongoing fracas involving the Parks Department as one example of how this discontent was manifest within the city. He asked those in the room to help him usher in a new spirit of cooperation in Queen City.

"This election is not about party politics," he added. "I will govern the city in a tri-partisan manner just as I have as president and the administration will be made up of the best—regardless of party."

Old Kids on the Block

Oldkids I went to the Boston Music Awards last Sunday to see my niece's band, Drug Rug, perform. Their song, "Day I Die," was nominated for Song of the Year. They kicked ass — as is normal (and runs in the family) — and the band that performed after them, Big Digit, blew me away. It didn't hurt that one of the singers was dressed in white shorts, white tux jacket and what seemed to be a chainmail helmet of sorts... and he danced on our table. I fell in love — and if you ever get a chance to see them, I'm sure you will too. Or they'll scare the hell out of you. A good time either way.

Anyhoo... Drug Rug didn't win. As I was leaving the building to go in search of some gas in order to burn the place down, I heard them announcing the nominees for Act of the Year. I could have sworn I heard "New Kids on the Block," so I had to stop and wonder if I had slipped into some kind of wormhole. Nope. It was true... and they won. To top it off, Donnie Wahlberg and Jordan Knight came out on stage to accept the award.

I tried to get a picture with my cell phone, but as I said, I was on my way out... luckily, Matt Thorsen was on hand to get this snappy.

Neighbors Decry Proposed Champlain College Purchase

Ss850450 Burlington residents spoke out yesterday against Champlain College's plan to purchase the Ethan Allen Club on College Street.

(For background on Champlain's plan, see my story in this week's Seven Days, "Burlington Mayor Challenges Champlain College on Proposed Building Acquisition.")

First, Jennifer Karp Adrian created a Facebook group, "YMCA should purchase the Ethan Allen Club." As of noon Thursday, the group counted 10 members.

It was an ironic gesture, considering her husband, City Councilor Ed Adrian (D-Ward 1), had asked fellow councilors to approve Champlain's purchase at the council's December 8 meeting. Adrian's colleagues voted no, and Champlain later agreed to explain their intentions at a public forum at City Hall.

The forum, which took place last night, drew about 40 people to a packed City Hall conference room.

Champlain reps kicked off the hour-and-a-half forum by explaining that the college is planning to demolish the club and build apartment-style housing for about 280 students. The building could be between 3 and 6 stories tall, they said.

Neighbors who attended the meeting, by and large, were pissed. A few said such a project isn't consistent with Burlington's "livable" city ideals. Others said they are concerned about having college students moving into their neighborhood, no matter how the students are housed. Others said they wish the Greater Burlington YMCA, which had bid on the property, had beaten Champlain.

Just before 8 p.m., Maddy Posig, one of the more combative attendees, recalled Joni Mitchell's famous line, "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot," to express her displeasure. Then City Councilor Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5) defended the project, saying Champlain does a good job managing its properties, and that Champlain would pay more in property taxes than would the Y.

As for the College Street property, Shannon added, "I'd describe it as a parking lot and a building."

The city council will vote on Champlain's plan at its next meeting: Monday, December 15th, at City Hall. Public comment period begins at 7:30 p.m.

*Correction: My story contains two errors. First, local developer Tony Pomerleau placed a bid for the Ethan Allen Club on Champlain College's behalf in 2007, not 2002. Second, Champlain received a purchase and sale agreement from the club in mid November, not October. Thanks to Champlain's David Provost for clarifying. My apologies for the goofs.

NPR Cuts Programming, Staff

Logo_npr_125 The list of media organizations cutting staff just keeps getting longer, and it's not just in the for-profit media either.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that National Public Radio is laying off 7 percent of its staff, or 64 of the public radio network's 889 employees.

The move is designed to close a $23 million shortfall in current fiscal year, Dennis Haarsager, NPR's interim president and chief executive, told the Post.

The national cuts come on the heels of layoffs at WBEZ-FM in Chicago, home of the popular "This American Life."

The NPR cuts — about half of which will come from the newsroom — will force two news programs off the air. One, "Day to Day", is heard on 186 stations including Vermont Public Radio and is aimed at younger listeners. The other program to be cut is "News & Notes", which airs on 64 stations and is targeted toward African Americans.

Both shows will remain on the air until March.

According to the Post, "the cutbacks constitute a retreat from NPR's efforts to reach new listeners, especially young people and members of minority groups who are not part of NPR's 'core' audience."

As for VPR, President & General Manager Mark Vogelzang said he's glad VPR will have some time to determine what will fill the "Day to Day" slot, which is 2-3 PM on weekdays.

"As we always do, we'll look for ways to provide the same level of national and international news during those hours," Vogelzang told Blurt in an email.

Like its national counterpart, Vogelzang said VPR is keeping a close eye on expenses and staffing levels.

"We're looking at all areas of the organization to see where we can reduce expenses this year. Included in that means holding open any vacant full-time and part-time positions," Vogelzang told Blurt in an email. "We'll definitely be tightening our belts for the rest of this year and into next. That's the prudent thing to do for any non-profit these days."

December 10, 2008

Vermont Yankee & That Sinking Feeling

Radioactive_2_2 The state of Vermont's Department of Public Service is now receiving monthly updates from Entergy on the performance of Vermont Yankee's Decommissioning Fund — you know, the amount of money that needs to be set aside to clean up the plant once its closed.

Anyone with a 401(k) knows the stock market has been in a bit of a rut. OK, a ditch. OK, maybe a canyon. Anyway, as I pointed out in "Fair Game" in October the fund's value has actually been dropping precipitously since the end of 2007.

So, here's a rundown with the latest, Nov. 30, 2008 figures tacked on.

March 31, 2006:   $391,882,501

Sept 30, 2006:     $402,410,980

March 31, 2007:   $422,182,237

Sept 30, 2007:     $440,003, 672

March 31, 2008:   $427,406,446

Sept 30, 2008:     $397,035,937

Oct 31, 2008:       $364,426,383

Nov 30, 2008:       $360,673,692

It's good to remember that when Entergy bought the plant in 2002, the fund's value was roughly $304 million. All of that money came from ratepayers. In other words, you and I, not investments or corporate profits.

Given that taxayers in Connecticut and Massachusetts were asked to pony up the shortfall when their nuke plants were shut down, it should give anyone pause that the cost of decommissioning Vermont Yankee could run as high as $1.2 billion.

VY officials contend the plant could be mothballed for up to 60 years until enough investment money accrues in the fund to break down the reactor site.

The tanking of the fund only adds to Vermont Yankee's woes as it tries to convince lawmakers to give it a thumbs up to operate for another 20 years. At least one key lawmaker has said he doesn't expect there to be a vote taken this session, but rather in 2010.

A group of anti-nuke activists hopes to fill that void by putting Vermont Yankee's relicensure request up for a public vote on Town Meeting Day 2009. So far, people in about 40 towns have expressed an interest, according to Dan DeWalt, one of the resolution's backers.

The resolution asks the Legislature to:

  1. Agree that the power produced by Vermont Yankee's equals 2% of what is used in the region, and that such a small amount of power can be replaced with renewables and conservation;
  2. Operating VY beyond 2012, a time in which it will be 40 years old, does not benefit the general welfare of the state; and,
  3. Entergy should be held liable to pay for the full cost of decommissioning Vermont Yankee.

Meanwhile, Entergy has dumped its long-term lobbying team of Gerry Morris and Allison Crowley DeMag. In Mid-October, Entergy hired on MacLean, Meehan, and Rice as their lobbying firm of choice. Christopher Rice will serve as the nuke company's chief face under the Golden Dome.

Iraqi Refugees in Vermont

Mainteaser This week's cover story, "Exiles on North Street," introduces Vermonters to some of their newest neighbors: the 50 or so Iraqi refugees who've been resettled in the Burlington area in the last year. Their stories, like those of other recent immigrants who've fled war and bloodshed in their home countries, are tragic and heart-wrenching.

One story not told in this week's article is that of Egyptian-born Ashraf Mohamed, a physical therapy student studying in Burlington who's become the Iraqis' unofficial guide to life in Vermont. I first met Ashraf five years ago while working on a story about how Vermont's Muslim and Arab community was coping with the deplorable discrimination being leveled against them in the post-9/11 climate. At the time, the Migration Policy Institute had just released a report detailing the abhorrent wide-scale roundups, detentions, and interrogations of Muslim and Arab men throughout the United States, most of which were gross violation of their constitutional due-process rights. Though that report reads like a description of a Soviet-era gulag, as we were to discover, those events were just a hint of worse policies to come.

Mohamed 's story was typical: In August 2000, he was stopped in Fort Wayne, Indiana while driving a van for FedEx as an independent contractor. In a case of mistaken identity, Mohamed was accused of stealing a car in Westchester, Pennsylvania, was arrested, detained and held incommunicado for 18 days without access to an attorney, his friends or family members. Mohamed claims he was extradited to Pennsylvania in the middle of the night, shackled in body chains the entire trip. He had no prior criminal record and had never even been arrested.

After arriving in court, everyone realized Mohamed wasn't the right man and he was released. His attorney assured him he had grounds for a lawsuit. But three months after September 11, the attorney called him back to say that he'd dropped the case. The judge wouldn't even consider it. When asked why, his attorney replied, "Because you're Muslim and you're an Arab. And that's the end of the story."

December 09, 2008

Fox Columnist Covers Hinesburg Nonprofit

Last Monday, coinciding with a new round of UN negotiations on climate change, Dr. Rachel Smolker entered the D.C. offices of the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund. Along with 20 other protesters, she decried the fund's positions on climate change.

Smolker, 50, works for Global Justice Ecology Project, a Hinesburg nonprofit that fights for social and environmental justice. Smolker's father, Robert, founded Environmental Defense in the 1960s. But she is disappointed with the nonprofit's stance on climate change.

Specifically, Smolker has a beef with ED's support of cap-and-trade carbon exchanges. "We and a growing movement of people around the globe oppose these market based solutions because they don't work," she told Seven Days last week.

On December 4, Fox News columnist Steven Milloy reflected on the D.C. protest in his weekly column, "Junk Science." In the installment, "Green-on-Green Violence," he wrote:

While this column’s position is that global warming alarmism is the ultimate in junk science and that the proposed solutions to this non-problem amount to economic and social suicide, for those who believe in the need for global warming regulation, the [Global Justice Ecology Project] activists do indeed have a point — cap-and-trade is a charade.

Milloy's previous column addressed President-Elect Barack Obama's plan to create a new public works program.

For Vermont context on this issue, see our January, 2008, cover story, "Carbon Copy?"


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