Sunday, November 29, 2009

They're Baaaack...

Okay, now we can exude the Christmas spirit; the Amherst Pelham Boy Scouts have set up shop on Kendrick Park as they have done for 50+ years (waiting, mercifully, until the day after Thanksgiving ) to sell trees over the next month where profits pretty much cover their overhead for another year.

As some of you may remember, the Town Mangler wanted them banished from the premises and taxed them $1/tree two years ago. Like trying to "take over" the July 4 Parade so anti-war folks could march, not one of his smarter PR moves.

One of the first edicts issued (unanimously) by the Kendrick Park Study Committee stated the Boy Scouts should have free access to the site for as long as they wish.

Even the Bulletin, eventually, covered it

Friday, November 27, 2009

And another one gone...

So it was announced at a Wednesday staff meeting that Department Head Epi Bodhi, Director of the Amherst Health Department is retiring. Ms Bodhi will probably best be remembered for the caustic Smoking Ban in Bars battle, dubbed the "issue of the year" by the venerable Amherst Bulletin for 1999. The ban, barely, held making Amherst for a brief while the only town with such an ordinance that now is now a statewide law commonly accepted.

And as a sizably-paid town employee (unlike the actual Board of Health that's made up of volunteers) she had to traverse a minefield as her boss Town Manager Barry Del Castilho and the Select Board lead by Bryan Harvey and ever so vocal pro-smoking Czar Hill Boss (affectionately refereed to a "Boss Hill") sided with the ultra vocal bar owners.

Yeah, you would think Public Health would be above politics--but not in Amherst. In fact, town officials will probably now use her retirement as fodder for the upcoming Override by adding her position to the body count of employees cut due to budget constraints (although a few of those cut have simply shifted to grant funding.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Thanksgiving Story

(From the archives 11/21/07)

Only in Arlington would posing for the greatest illustrator in American history on assignment for media juggernaut The Saturday Evening Post pass for routine.

Richard (Dick) Hagelberg returned to the family dairy farm after surviving five years in the 9’th Army Air Corps, flying 65 treacherous daylight bombings missions over Europe, including D-Day.

One summer morning he sat beside his 51-year-old mother Saara (Finnish spelling) for an hour of modeling; and two generations later, the scene still resonates.

Rockwell desperately recruited the Hagelberg’s at deadline. Initially they refused, but acquiesced when he offered them each $15. After publication, as he often did with models, Rockwell offered to gift Dick the original painting. He respectfully refused.

Last year Rockwell’s ‘Homecoming Marine’ sold at auction for $9.2 million and ‘Breaking Home Ties’ (a farmer sitting on the running board of a pick up truck with his son dressed in Sunday best clothes heading off to college) brought an astonishing $15.4 million.

Rockwell’s 1943 ‘Freedom from Want’, an extended family gathering around a sumptuous turkey dinner, would prove more popular than the minimalist “Thanksgiving, 1945: A mother and son peeling potatoes.”

But the earlier Post cover had a distinct advantage.

Part of Rockwell’s public relations war effort, the epic series of illustrations based on FDR’s 1941 State of the Union speech, ‘The Four Freedoms’ heartened a battered America still reeling from Pearl Harbor’s infamy.

The US Government originally rebuffed Rockwell’s sponsorship proposal so he settled on his regular employer, The Saturday Evening Post. The blockbuster results appeared over four consecutive weekly covers from February 20 to March 13, 1943.

‘Freedom From Want” hit the stands on March 6, 1943, so unlike ‘A mother and son peeling potatoes’ that appeared on November 24’th, 1945, it was not simply a seasonal Thanksgiving tribute.

The Office of War Information printed and distributed millions of full-color reproductions of the ‘The Four Freedoms’ and sponsored the originals on a War Bond Tour of major cities that raised $130 million.

Americans adored ‘Freedom from want’; but with Europe in ruins our struggling and beaten allies didn’t want a reminder that America’s heartland escaped war’s devastation.

For his Thanksgiving, 1945 cover Rockwell journeyed to Maine for a change in scenery, starting work in mid-August--the day Japan surrendered.

Rockwell drafted a 16-year-old boy for the veteran and a friend’s wife acted as his mother. When the illustrator returned to his Arlington studio he couldn’t make it work—the young man didn’t exude the stress of war.

Rockwell recruited two more locals but once again didn’t like the results, considering it too staged. Fortuitously, Dick, recently returned from battle, arrived to deliver milk fresh from the nearby Hagelberg farm. The illustrator had his subjects.

Rockwell originally posed Dick in a wheelchair striking a pensive pose imitating Rodan’s ‘The Thinker’, but decided it was too sad. The selected scene is still slightly incongruous, as Dick is performing one of the military’s more despised chores—KP duty—yet he radiates contentment.

Saara Hagelberg’s loving expression—the look only a mother can give—to a son who survived the ravages of a conflict that had claimed so many sons, personifies Thanksgiving.

Rockwell rejoiced: this time the handsome young man had weathered the misery of war; this time his real mother sits by his side.

So why refuse to accept the original painting? Rockwell, as he often did with models, took liberties with Saara adding twenty pounds and twenty years to her appearance. In fact, Hallmark later used her Thanksgiving image for an “I love you Grandma” card.

The dutiful son knew his mother—although proud of the overall result—was mad.

Saara Hagelberg died of cancer only two years later, a few months before the birth of her first grandchild. By then a priest had purchased the painting and he donated it to an American Legion Post in Winchendon, Massachusetts.

A Rockwell Museum expert rediscovered Thanksgiving, 1945 in the late 1970’s; aghast it hung in a smoke filled building with no fire suppression. The Museum borrowed it, where it remains to this day.

In 1988 the Hagelberg family returned from Stockbridge, Massachusetts disappointed the painting was not on display.

In an apology letter curator Maureen Hart Hennessey explained, “The museum has almost 500 paintings in its collection and can only exhibit 40-50 at one time. We also rotate paintings for conservation reasons to help preserve them for future generations.”

A few weeks later the Hagelberg’s enjoyed a private showing.

In 1993 Dick Hagelberg, after helping build a home for his daughter Nancy high on a hill overlooking the family farm that he also built, succumbed to cancer. His wife Olga, a proud WW2 Marine veteran, still lives in that home in Arlington, Vermont.

And lately, even around Thanksgiving, she briefly struggles…but then vividly recalls—keeping alive those magnificent memories.

Sad Update

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Media Internet revolution: Version 3.0

We believe in the nimble, street-level approach to collecting news. We hope to offer great writing from seasoned journalists as well as fledgling reporting from citizens who agree to cover public meetings. Life is a Journey, and we are unfurling our sails.

Mary Serreze
Publisher, Northampton Media

This is how the seasoned Gadfly/Journalist/Information Technology guru turned Publisher described Northampton Media upon its recent September 15 launch. When asked what motivated the new on line endeavor, she enthusiastic replied: “I felt compelled--I couldn’t help it! I love the city of Northampton and felt the local daily newspapers were not doing their job covering local politics.”

With an "angel investor" providing $5,000 and a plethora of free advice from experts who had made the transition from print to Internet bandwidth, combined with her three-year experience doing IT development for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton Media can easily become the poster child for local Citizens Journalism in the Digital Age.

Serreze almost sounds as though she is taking this on-line journalism course, as she describes her role as a "curator and aggregater" of all things Northampton, freely linking to news articles in the Springfield Republican and radio station WHMP, and others not hidden behind a paywall.

Her goal is to make Northampton Media a “One stop shopping experience for fans of Northampton news.” She starts every morning doing a Google news search for anything concerning her adopted City of Northampton, where she has lived for twenty years.

The website already displays links to 25 local blogs (including mine) on the home page and photos or video accompany all posts (bordering on daily). A volunteer Arts/Entertainment editor starts work soon to diversify the offerings and make the site more mainstream.

Northampton Media is still a work in progress as Serreze says she launched a little early in order to closely cover the recent November 3 Northampton Mayoral election which certainly was one of the more contentious and as a result most interesting over the past dozen years.

The website is a step up from her blog as she feels that bloggers have undeservedly gotten a bad rap when it comes to journalism, so this new platform slightly disassociates from the term but still relies on the instant ability to post writing, photos, video and color graphics pioneered by Wordpress and Blogger.

While online since 1999 the Daily Hampshire Gazette has not embraced the Citizen Journalism movement, although editor Noah Hoffenberg says it is “not harmful or threatening to mainstream media.” In fact, he even went as far as saying it was a “good thing” citing “more people involved leads to a divergent perspective and opinions.”

The Gazette currently uses no outside bloggers or Citizen Journalists and doesn’t plan to in the near future. When they rolled out a major revamp of their website last year they had a half-dozen in house blogs from staff and editors but only the youngish sportswriter (former Daily Collegian writer) Matt Vautour seems to have thrived using the medium.

The Gazette is still very much a bricks-and-mortar newspaper (circulation about 20,000) and the website (about 1,000 subscribers) an afterthought. They layout/build the print edition first and then export to the web. But with their pedigree perhaps it is little wonder: The Daily Hampshire Gazette is one of the oldest papers in the nation first coming off the printing press in 1786.

And a recent $10 to $12 million investment in a new Italian four-color process printing press and the extensive renovation required to house it at their Conz Street, Northampton location underscores their continued faith in the printing press.

Although the building expansion/renovation seems not to have impressed former long-time editor and now publisher of Ed Shanahan, who quoted a local architect on his website last year: “I swear to God, that’s the first building that’s ever scared me.”

The Gazette continues to consider the Springfield Republican newspaper as their main competition, as two years ago they switched from an afternoon distribution to the early morning to match their rival.

And while they abandoned the idea of a Sunday edition they slightly revamped the Saturday edition (with the highest circulation of the week) and call it the "Weekend edition."

The Gazette also saw major changes four years ago when purchased by Newspapers of New England, a private company owned by folks with ink in their veins.

When I asked editor Hoffenberg why they simply do not issue digital cameras to reporters to go along with company issued laptops, he responded that it was a "quality" issue. Citizen Journalist or blog photos often do not look like the kind of photo that would pass muster for the Front Page.

Their staff photographers take photos and are good at it, their reporters write, and editors edit. Fair enough, but with all those layers to orchestrate immediacy is sacrificed--although in the last year or so they have gotten better with getting breaking news up on Gazettenet.

And although ensconced behind a paywall, they have recently started allowing non-subscribers to access articles that come up via a Google search. So they are, at least, starting to get it.

Conventional wisdom claims you "can't teach an old dog new tricks." With Northampton Media now nipping at their flank, the Gazette may want to take a refresher course in Internet news distribution.

Especially since they can conveniently do it on-line.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sign sign everywhere a sign

Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind / Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign

So this large sign out by state owned Rt 116 coming into North Amherst goes one better on copyright "fair use" borrowing. Not only the white on blue and same font but also the cute little graphics (I like the martini glass).

But the sign is (just barely) on private property owned by the Jones family, Amherst's ninth generation entrepreneurs extraordinaire. And if Cinda Jones can get the Town Manager to publicly belly dance at a Chamber of Commerce gala it doesn't surprise me she could jump through all the hoops required to get this sign up--even in the People's Republic.

I'm just a tad surprised she followed the state's half-assed concept of making them only one sided.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A tale of two signs

So four years ago when the town ripped off the state's design logo for signage (that Mass charges $1,200 annually per location) Hickory Ridge Golf Course was paying for this sign in South Amherst, but Cherry Hill in North Amherst got theirs for free (two of them).

May sound like a minor competitive advantage, but another major one is Hickory Ridge pays the town over $17,000 annually in property taxes while Cherry Hill pays zero. Even the 9-hole Amherst Golf Course, owed by tax-exempt Amherst College pays over $7,000 annually in property taxes.

Just another hidden cost of our municipal white elephant.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Let's break out the booze and have a ball

The Lord Jeffery Inn

I owe you a draft beer Mr Marx, payable on opening night spring, 2011 at the Boltwood Tavern--assuming the newly renovated Lord Jeff Inn keeps the concept of a low-key, relatively inexpensive pub as part of the fancy more expensive Inn with rooms and fine dining.

Okay maybe it's not the ultra ritzy $24-30 million renovation originally planned, but I'll take a lousy $14 million anytime (seven times the current assessed value). Just get her opened again!

In addition to bringing folks to the downtown the Inn will pay significantly more property taxes (currently $30,000) increasing by a factor of 5 or 6. And they will also pay the newly increased lodging tax and meals tax. All in all, a bonanza for the town tax coffers and a much needed shot in the arm for downtown economic development.

All hail the purple and white!
Boltwood Tavern

Monday, November 16, 2009

When the State breaks trust

When Town Manager Larry Shaffer signed a 5-year Strategic Agreement with Umass for roughly $100,000 more than they had been paying Amherst for fire/ambulance protection the year before, he allowed them to take credit for the $100,000 Payment in lieu of Taxes Amherst receives from a separate account out of Boston.

Now, however, the Governor is talking about cutting that amount by $65,000. If so can we bill Umass directly--or take it out of the Town Manager’s pay?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Gotta love local TV journalism

Okay, so let's forget attractive young cub TV reporter Jackie Bruno (in a C+ market area) botched Umass President Jack Wilson's surname (not Williams); and how the NJ State Trooper was killed (not by a bomb but by a handgun.) or the assault on two Mass State Troopers (also from firearms not bombs.)

And she probably could/should have pointed out Levasseur was MIA when the despicable deed of gunning down that NJ peace officer occurred.

But I'm actually glad that Umass Prof Sarah Lennox "admitted" she did not "know much about this case at all." Neither did I, when first getting involved. Because, like Professor Lennox, I agree that Academic Freedom and Free Speech are SACRED.

Of the 200+ media articles carried on Google News one of them quotes Mrs. Raymond Luc Levasseur saying the violence was not "terrorism" but "sabotage." As Commander Spock would say "fascinating".

Terrorism is exactly what the word implies: do as much possible damage, slaughter as many innocent people in the most heinous way possible--preferably at the beginning of a news cycle designed for peak media broadcast. And, better yet, repeat the act a few moments later--because if you execute the first part properly, NOW the entire world is watching.

Sabotage means to incapacitate in a sneaky sort of way (although that could indeed cause human casualties) the opposition's machinery. But the attack focuses on the physical infrastructure--not the flesh and blood component.

Big difference. Very B-I-G!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A proud tradition indeed

(9:00 PM ) So tonight the forces of fear and oppression won out, and all of us are microscopically worse off.

The academic forum on a twenty-year-old sedition trial where the main culprit was acquitted, but served 18 years on other charges did go off tonight at Umass...without, however, the main culprit. At the the 11Th hour his parole person suddenly decided that to exercise his First Amendment rights in the great state of Massachusetts (where the war for liberty first started) could violate his parole.

Umass police--including the Chief--were out in force, as was the media. I arrived about two minutes after the 7:15 PM start time (as I had to teach my wife's karate class at the Club) and the room was already sealed. It will be interesting to see how the local and Boston TV stations who turned out with the their very expensive satellite trucks handle this now-turned-non-story.

Sure, about 100-150 off duty cops showed up to hold signs. Fair enough. Ironically they were peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights. Something they managed to deny Raymond Luc Levasseur.

Yes, this is America

So I can’t even remember the last time I disagreed with my friends at the Springfield Republican, but today they kind of blew it with an editorial on Ray Luc Levasseur’s censored Umass appearance.

On the one hand they “were ready to defend his right to speak at UMass. This is America, after all.” But on the other hand they’re “glad that Levasseur, a convicted terrorist, won’t be able to lead a three-ring circus that would mock freedom of speech.”

Say what? How is simply exercising your American right (yes even someone on Parole has rights) under the First Amendment making a mockery of free speech? And who is responsible for the “three-ring circus”?

The Boston Herald and conservative talk radio whipped up the masses in a classic yellow journalism campaign that would have made William Randolph Hearst proud.

I do not condone violence to achieve change (and apparently neither does Lavasseur anymore); as President Lincoln so succinctly stated: “The ballot is stronger than the bullet”. As flight 93 headed towards Washington DC on a suicide mission the passengers took a vote before attempting to retake the plane.

To advocate freedom of speech but applaud its denial strikes me as hypocritical.
This from The Boston Globe:
Not everyone who suffered in the Freedom Front’s wake agrees with stifling Levasseur’s voice. Edmund Narine, who lost a leg in the 1976 courthouse bombing, said despite a desire to protest a Levasseur appearance, free speech trumps his anger.
Levasseur “should be prosecuted again, and if I have to return and testify again, I would,’’ he said yesterday in a phone interview from Kampala, Uganda, where he is visiting family. “At the same time if he wants to talk about it, and I don’t know what he’s going to tell the kids, but I think he should be given the opportunity to speak.’’
“I think the public can learn from someone who’s carried out these sorts of heinous acts,’’ said Narine, 72, who is a writer in Mission Hill. “It’s important for us to hear why they did it, what motivated them. . . . It’s good for all of us to hear that, especially professionals, because it might help them to take preventive action in the future.’’
Levasseur said he was humbled by Narine’s support.
“I think that’s a tremendous thing for him to do. And I appreciate it given what he’s been through,’’ said Levasseur, noting that he never intended to hurt innocent civilians.
The Springfield Republican Speaks

Worcester Telegram & Gazette Columnist gets it right

UMass President Jack Wilson (before the Body Snatchers got him)

Even the Umass Daily Collegian gets it!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Worth dying for

UPDATE: 6:45 PM So the on-again, off-again speech by convicted domestic terrorist Raymond Luc Levasseur at Umass, you know, that bastion of higher education where the market of ideas--no matter how whacked--can be discussed in a civilized manner, is now OFF.

And if I had to guess, since a venerable duly appointed taxpayer funded government Parole Officer is involved, this time it's permanent. Now I know what Michelle Obama meant when she suggested sometimes you're ashamed to be called an American.

The Boston Herald "reports" (requiring three "reporters" no less)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Accuracy in reporting

UPDATE Wednesday morning The Boston Herald Screams

UPDATE Tuesday 10:00 PM The Boston Globe steps up

UPDATE 2:30 PM: So apparently it was not the Umass bureaucrats who reconsidered domestic terrorist Raymond Luc Levasseur's speech and showed some spine by allowing it on Thursday. It was those damn Professors. And you can certainly tell that from the "official" press release issued by the highly staffed "news office"--penned by former Gazette reporter now turned PR flack--Patrick Callahan:

Umass Office of News and Media relations, grudgingly, "reports"


UPDATE: 11:30 AM: So I'm seeing by Google news realtime updates that UMass has now reconsidered the cancellation of convicted domestic terrorist Raymond Luc Levasseur and his presentation is back on. Damn! Nice to see Umass bureaucrats have a spine.

So as if the People's Republic of Amherst is not getting hammered enough by conservative talk radio because the Gitmo story gets misrepresented that Amherst is embracing terrorists, now our local newspaper has to join in.

Town Meeting did not invite "Ravil Mingazov" to move to Amherst. They invited detainees who had been "cleared" of any wrongdoing and were free to leave Gitmo. In fact the word "cleared" appeared four times in the warrant article overwhelmingly approved by Town Meeting last week.

Yes, Ruth Hooke (the original petitioner) did mention his name as a possible candidate but he was not specifically mentioned in the article Town Meeting passed.

And maybe if Federal authorities read the venerable Daily Hampshire Gazette they will not clear Mingazov and then he will fail to qualify as "cleared" and as a result would not be invited to live in Amherst.

The Springfield Republican reports (with a more accurate headline and lead)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How high can you fly?

Should Citizen Journalists be trained?

Well of course there should be training! But then the question becomes who does the training?

The Umass on-line certificate program is of course a good start because it sets minimum standards that allow motivated individuals to tap into a proven brand name for journalism.

But once that training camel gets its nose under the tent, are you going to have government certification required?

In Massachusetts a hair stylist needs 1,000 hours of training and must past a test for a state license. The state legislature is now talking about licensing personal trainers at health clubs and massage therapists. As a health fitness professional (with a degree in Exercise Science/Sport Mgt) I would actually support both of those because someone with inadequate training could potentially hurt a paying client.

What is a “journalist”? Simply somebody who works for a mainstream media outlet and gets paid, or volunteers for a college newspaper, senior center quarterly or high school yearbook? And can their lack of training cause damage? Of course it can.

We have laws against libel/slander for an aggrieved party to seek retribution against a news outlet that publishes something a cub reporter failed to fact check and does damage to an innocent persons reputation.

But we also have something in a freewheeling, market driven system called “let the buyer beware.” If you act upon information gleamed from a Citizen Journalism site that nobody has ever heard of operated by anonymous contributors and it looks like it was designed by a pimple faced high school kid then you deserve to absorb whatever damage inflicted.

Chances are any site that consistently attracts eyeballs –especially enough for the owners to generate revenue from advertisers—must be doing something right.

Most karate schools have a color belt program so you can tell who is the beginner (white belts) and who are the more highly trained experts (brown and black belts). Schools that have lousy standards (selling the higher belts as long as the check clears) usually don’t last as students eventually figure it out.

Perhaps one way for government to ease into this fray is to make it mandatory that any news outlet that puts out their hand for a government subsidy (either tax exempt, non-profit status or outright stimulus funding) must have minimum training standards and a certification program for all reporters and editors.

Information gathering is easier if the sources know they can trust the reporter and the entity they represent. Although Woodward and Bernstein were not the most experienced reporters at the Washington Post the rock solid reputation of the newspaper itself more than made up for that.

While anyone can start a blog and call themselves a “journalist”, the ones that garner attention and make a difference will be those who take themselves seriously and exude that in everything they do.

Training and certification is just another step (leap) forward on the road to mainstream acceptance.

Friday, November 6, 2009

UMass Library Under Fire

No, not from "cleared" Gitmo detainees relocated to the People's Republic of Amherst, just from the usual suspects--right wing radio shock jocks who moonlight as Boston Herald columnists.

And yes these are the same folks who flamed Umass Amherst last spring when Nitwit left wingers interrupted and shut down conservative speaker Don Feder.

But when the shoe is on the other foot...

Yeah, the old First-Amendment-is-great-as-long-as-it-only-applies-to-me routine. You would think folks who make a living spewing vitriol would be passionate defenders of the right to say whatever the Hell you want. Of course this is the same journalist that told Amherst Selectman Gerry Weiss a few weeks back that "innocent until proven guilty" should only apply to Americans.

The speech/discussion by convicted domestic terrorist Ray Luc Levasseur scheduled for next week is now cancelled. But Herald columnist McPhee is dead wrong that the Governor "pulled the plug." UMass Amherst Libraries’ Department of Special Collections and University Archives director Rob Cox, with the greatest of regrets, pulled the plug. Because he feared a circus like atmosphere possibly endangering public safety.

Of course police officers should be upset with what this man once represented caused the murder of one of their own (not by Levasseur but somebody in his group so that still makes him complicit). But he paid his dues--twenty years of hard labor. And if you believe in our American system of justice he has a right to get on with his life. That includes using the constitutionally guaranteed protection of the First Amendment.

What better way to find out what motivates somebody to violence then to hear a first hand account; so that maybe in the future we can take measures to avoid it. Computer security companies love to hire hackers fresh out of the Federal pen and put them to work protecting systems they once pillaged.

The library was going to cover his travel expenses (so yes, some tax money was involved) but the small honorarium was going to be donated to the Rosenberg Fund for Children. And it's not like they were putting him up in a fancy Sheraton Hotel for a week and giving him champagne and call girls.

The Springfield Republican reports:

The Boston Herald brags

FIRE gets fired up

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me--
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


WBUR Boston radio reports (NPR affiliate)
Cartoon in today's Amherst Bulletin (also loaded with Letters and Columns on Gitmo)
Ruth Hooke addresses Amherst Town Meeting

UPDATE: 9:20 AM So conservative Boston talk radio station 96.9 WTKK called and will be interviewing me at 10:10 AM. Google search them as they stream live
Looks like this story hit the AP wire about an hour ago as the Boston Herald just published it and the 'Comments' are already pouring in (not overly complimentary of course)
ORIGINAL POST last night 10:30 PM

So batten down the hatches, dig the foxhole a little deeper or fire up the Romulan cloaking device, as Amherst will once again become Ground Zero for conservative scorn. The "advisory" article welcoming "cleared" Gitmo refugees passed Town Meeting muster rather overwhelmingly.

Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe gave a "minority report," but it was more an advisory to Town Meeting that she has done numerous interviews with all manner of mainstream media and heard from Umass officials concerned about safety and parents threatening to scratch Umass and Amherst College off their list of prospective schools.

Being a former PR flack she knows that the real story is not getting out--and that Amherst is being misportrayed as providing safe haven for terrorists.

Within hours of the horrific attacks on 9/11 democratic and republican lawmakers lined up at the capital building and sang "God bless America." Tonight I felt like trying to get Town Meeting to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, especially the closing: "with liberty and justice for all."

Princess Stephanie reads an apologetic piece.

To Be Continued...

Town Meeting that is. Tonight @ 7:30 (well more like 7:40)

Article #9 expanding the potential for medical establishments to locate in a research park will take at least an hour as the NIMBY's bring all guns to bear (fortunately they do not use IEDs.)

Articles #11-13 are also Zoning articles but the neighbors support the changes so those should not take long. So yeah, I think we will get to the Gitmo advisory article (#14) tonight.

And if I had to guess, I would say it will pass. And No, if Bill O'Reilly calls I'll not come out from under my desk to appear on his show (after all, he controls the microphone).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Amherst Town Meeting Fiddles...

Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe explains the Interstellar Alien Landing Port

But seriously folks, tonight the campaign for a multi-million dollar tax Override began.

The Finance Committee gave a verbal report that parroted the Assistant Town Manager's presentation a few weeks back to the illustrious Select Board projecting a $4 million budget gap next year.

Of course over the next couple hours during routine housekeeping warrant articles we learned the town has stashed in surplus $2.6 million in Free Cash, $2.8 million in a Health Care Trust Fund, $1.3 million in Stabilization, $1.4 million in the Water Fund and the Town Manager announced a $1 million state Community Development Block Grant in each of the next two years.

Yet...the sky is falling. Or maybe it's a UFO.

So notice Princess Stephanie trots out that old fallacy that Prop 2.5% does not allow municipalities to keep up with inflation (roughly 3%). She ignores the other part of the law that allows "new growth" to be combined; and the two have always exceeded the simple rate of inflation.

Even our toothless "watchdog" Finance Committee issued an Override Report last year that clearly shows Amherst homeowners have absorbed a 6% average increase in their taxes--or twice the rate of inflation. Welcome to the People's Republic!

An American institution

So, ugh, Amherst Town Meeting starts tonight--the 250th.5

Only 14 articles compared to around 40 in the Spring so it should not take all that long. And the only article that will generate interest is #14, last on the list, thus no chance it comes up tonight.

Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe is doing an interview this morning with NPR affiliate Boston radio station WBUR (while holding "office hours" at The Black Sheep) and the reporter is coming to interview me at the Health Club this afternoon at 1:00 PM.

Princess Stephanie voted not to recommend the Gitmo relocation advisory article because she does not think little old Amherst Town Meeting (established thirty years before the US Constitution took effect) should have a foreign policy.

I, on the other hand, honestly believe our nation is a shining city on a hill, a beacon to all, fueled by the blood of patriots.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hear ye, hear ye: Town crier needs material

What things would you do as editor of a Citizens Journalism effort to increase public input?

I would establish ‘beats’, ‘channels’, or compartmentalized sections on the site (just as a newspaper has national, local, sports, entertainment, living sections etc).

All of these sections would have their own Forum Comment fields for reader response/submissions BUT would be moderated. Anonymous comments would be acceptable (you can get great tips when a person knows they are protected) and with moderation you can quickly weed out off-topic comments or possible libel/slander.

Police beat: One of the best read sections of the Amherst Bulletin is the Police Log (they are public documents) so I would make sure to publish that every week. But I would also try to find a cop, spouse, or somebody "into" public safety to write a weekly analysis/report/editorial about crime--even if it is the small town kind.

School/education beat: As you pointed out some towns--like Amherst--spend 75% of their tax money on the schools. A blog in the area that consistently (when schools are in session anyway) beats mine is Catherine Sanderson's "My School Committee Blog" and it gets tons of comments. Since I know she does it for the exposure and not for money (School Committee is an elected but none paid position) it would not be hard to form a strategic alliance with her already successful blog.

Arts beat: These days everybody has a digital camera so I would establish a photo section where budding photographers could upload their work (no Porn of course).

Sports section: Every parent loves to see his or her kids names in print--even if only on the web. A knowledgeable coach would be happy to write a weekly column and I would try to get a lot of them covering everything from standard seasonal sports like basketball, baseball, football as well as mixed martial arts, cycling, running, triathlons, and yes, even bowling.

Health beat: With the graying of America combined with older folks embracing the web and the spread of broadband this is a perfect place to attract that older demographic that the national beer, auto, and entertainment companies seem to ignore in their advertising (going after the 18-35 kids.)

Heath clubs, yoga centers, chiropractors, sports medicine rehab centers would be happy to submit material and I would form a strategic alliance with Umass Exercise Science department as well, for articles of a more general interest (not just trying to drum of business) on safe practical exercise targeted at senior citizens or just casual couch potatoes.

Politics—or I should say local politics: As Tip O’Neil so famously stated: “All politics is local.” This one would of course be my favorite. I would enlist citizen journalists to cover all the major meetings of town boards and committees. My theory is if the town can find 5 or 6 people to staff these committees I should be able to find one person with a computer to cover them or even enlist one of the committee members.

Entertainment Beat: This would include all the staples--local bar and music scene, movies, music downloads, links to local radio and TV stations with a section devoted to music or video uploads from readers.

And all that mundane boring stuff that folks need/like to know: bus schedules, school schedules, weather, lottery results, crossword puzzle, horoscopes, free classifieds, etc

Hmmm…now after review it looks like all I’ve done is combine the best qualities of a local daily newspaper with a weekly free publication and put it all on the web where your audience can instantly interact and even move forward a story/issue.

But since all this happens on the web, the “burn rate” for overhead (unlike bricks and mortar media) is pretty close to nothing. And as Facebook has just demonstrated, if you attract enough “eye balls” advertisers will want a targeted piece of that action.