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What are we to do with the Telegram & Gazette?
Most of the time these Worcester Sucks posts see me “going long” as they say on a particular issue and its underlying conditions. Like when I wrote 7,000 words on a transparently shitty but entirely forgettable Ray Mariano column back in January. In terms of metrics like read count and clicks and new subscriptions I’m not doing myself any favors by operating this way. Were it my first concern you’d be getting like three Worcester Sucks posts a week, half would be behind a paywall and probably more than half would be pretty hollow. But I don’t do that. The reason for that is this is my newsletter, I do what I want. “Going long” is personally satisfying (which is the most important part, as anyone worth their weight would tell you) and readers reliably take the time to tell me they find it valuable in some way. The internet is flooded with writing but the ratio of writing to valuable writing is a pretty warped one. To my mind this has a lot to do with the aforementioned “metrics” of the online attention economy. What makes for monetary success and maximization of “eyeballs” is at best irrelevant and at worst antithetical to what makes for a piece of writing worth reading. When a reader takes the time to write me a nice note or a thoughtful response, I know I’ve succeeded in publishing something worth reading, but it tells me nothing of whether my “metrics” are charting in the direction of “success.”
I’m explaining myself here for two reasons. The first is that it’s a prelude to me asking you nicely to sign up for a paid subscription!
I don’t do anything to drive subscriptions but ask nicely, and it’s worked out well enough so far. There’s no “perks” for subscribing except knowing that you’re directly responsible for the continued existence of this publication. Another way to do that is check out my merch store! I don’t have a lot of inventory left so in an effort to clear it out before ordering more, I’ve listed everything HALF OFF. KIDS SEATS ARE STILL JUST 10 BUCKS!!!
The second reason is that the essential critique of “success” in the attention economy as outlined above is very relevant to the main topic of this post: the recent antics of the Telegram & Gazette, our local paper of record.
A few days ago the Telegram published two articles on the Worcester Public Schools which each pose their own problems.
We’ll take a look at both these stories individually, but first we need to consider how the Telegram typically covers the public schools, how that coverage has recently changed for the worse and, of course, why.
Once was a time when the Telegram had a reporter covering the school district as a beat. They were the paper’s “education reporter,” and the machinations of the Worcester School Committee and administration and teachers union were their primary focus. This reporter would be expected to sit in on every school committee meeting and most of the subcommittee meetings. They’d cover the school committee races and do other such feature stories on district-related matters and they’d localize statewide or national stories of relevance to the district with comment from local officials.
Once was also a time it would be highly unusual for a city newspaper like the Telegram & Gazette to not have an “education reporter” like this. Education beat reporters were once standard components of local news operations. From my experience in a daily newsroom, the education reporter was the go-to expert in the newsroom on anything related to schools and it wasn’t a beat that just anyone got. It was the sort of position that would go to someone who had already proven themselves. Someone in that 3-5 years experience range. A journeyman position, if you will. Back in my time, around 2014-2018, when I was covering Board of Selectmen and Planning Board meetings in Metrowest and the Blackstone Valley, I would have considered it a promotion to be pulled up to the education beat. It wasn’t as good as the district court beat, and it certainly wasn’t as good as the “general assignment” guys who got to write the cool stories, but it wasn’t entry level. It was earned.
For a long time, the Telegram had one of these reporters. Way back in the golden years of print media they likely had several. But that ended when Scott O’Connell stopped working there full time, which as far as I can tell was around July, 2021. He freelanced several times after that, always on school issues, but next to his byline it read “special to the Telegram and Gazette” which is news lingo for “this is a freelancer.” Full time reporters at the Telegram have an author page with a blog roll of the stories they write. O’Connell’s stopped updating after July, 30, 2021, and the last post that’s not a dead link is a story localizing a state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidance on masks. On his author page, the bio reads this way:
I've been the educator reporter at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for the past five years. Previously I also covered schools and colleges at the MetroWest Daily News.
And he is very clearly listed as the paper’s “education reporter.”
It’s not worth confirming exactly how or why O’Connell left. These things happen. It doesn’t appear he was laid off or took a buyout, as is all too frequently the reason why a reporter leaves. But that makes this situation even more useful for understanding just how ownership companies go about the work of making local newsrooms like the Telegram worse on purpose. It doesn’t just happen by laying people off or forcing them out the door with a contract buyout, it also happens by attrition. When people leave positions uncoerced, like O’Connell appears to have done, the position is not filled 1:1. More like 1:0.5. So when O’Connell left, so did the long tradition of the education beat. And in its place, they appear to have added a position for which “education beat” is only one of several responsibilities. A pastiche of the role at best.
This is just one specific symptom of the disease plaguing legacy local news operations around the country. Ownership companies like Gannett, which owns the Telegram, gobble up local newspapers at a clip and quickly set out to downsizing them. It’s really the main engine of a company like Gannett’s business model. Revenue remains more or less stagnant. After all, where else are the local print advertisers going to go? At the same time expenses are diminished in the form of employees. Reporters and editors and page designers and sales reps are laid off or bought out of their contracts. The workload doesn’t change it’s just spread out among the remaining employees. People tasked with doing one thing well become tasked with doing two things adequately. People already tasked with doing two things adequately are made to do three things and the expectation of adequacy becomes unreasonable. The pay stays the same and the remaining people are made to feel lucky they still have work. They wait for their number to be called—and the longer they’ve been with the company the more likely it is—while they struggling to fulfill unreasonable job expectations. This happened very quickly at Worcester Magazine after it was bought by Gannett’s predecessor, Gatehouse Media, in 2018. In a matter of months an editorial staff of four was reduced to one. Just me! And I had to put the entire paper out myself for several months until the work was “consolidated” by way of making already-strapped Telegram employees do it with me, on top of the work they were already doing. This remains the arrangement and by sheer force of will Victor Infante & Co. have been able to meet entirely unreasonable expectations and get this new “Worcester Magazine” out every week.
This is not a new phenomenon nor is it specific to my experience. In his masterful 1986 book Inventing Reality: The Politics of the News Media, Michael Parenti identified the problem in a way that’s no less true today than it was then.
“One of the first things a big chain does when it takes over an independent newspaper is cut down on its staff in order to lower costs and maximize profits. The result is less news and less quality.
And if the paper enjoys the monopolistic advantage of being the only daily in town, it can raise its advertising rates and make still more money. Although chains control 75 percent of the nation’s daily circulation, they employ only 25 percent of the correspondents. In other words they make more money but offer less news.
Is this what the public wants? Less news and more high-priced advertising, the costs of which are eventually passed on to them?”
But back in 1986 the Internet wasn’t the Internet, and Parenti could not have foreseen the accompanying demands these chains would make on their local newspapers. Corporate owners like Gannett issue commands from on high to “transition” away from standard local journalism practices to ones they say are more befitting “the digital era.” I saw this myself back in my Milford Daily News and MetroWest Daily News days. Someone from corporate would come down and make us sit through a half-day PowerPoint presentation about how no one reads meeting coverage and people respond more to “alternative story formats.” Lots of ideas bandied about but they all amounted to putting a higher volume of content online at the expense of the quality of the content. At one point, they shuffled up the beats. No more reporters assigned to individual towns. Everyone became general assignment, with vague focuses like “environment” and “accountability.” The mastery of material and rolodex of contacts that comes with a specific beat was no longer a concern. Reporters were encouraged to shoot for stories that would do numbers online and a necessary though unspoken sacrifice of this new edict was the institutional knowledge gained by intimately covering specific government boards and agencies. In order to capitulate to the “metrics” of digital journalism, this had to go.
So in this general milieu, O’Connell left as so many reporters and editors before him. A few months later, in September, 2021, he was replaced by Jeff Chamer. But like I said this was not a 1:1 replacement. Chamer was not a new reporter filling an established and unchanged “education beat” role left by O’Connell. Chamer came on as “general assignment.” That’s how he’s listed on his author page. Not “education reporter” as O’Connell had been. The distinction is not a semantic one. While Chamer has been obviously tasked with covering the Worcester Public Schools, he does a lot more than that. Recent story topics include weather, vaccines and spot coverate of surrounding towns like Shrewsbury and Sutton. The “education beat” role O’Connell had is now just a responsibility among other responsibilities for a “general assignment” reporter. On top of that, O’Connell had close to a decade covering schools under his belt. Possibly even more. He worked the education beat at the Telegram for five years, and only came into that position because of his past education beat experience at MetroWest Daily News, a smaller paper. Chamer graduated journalism school just a few months before starting at the Telegram. This is saying nothing about Chamer’s ability as a reporter but he is green by any definition and he’s been tasked with filling the shoes of a veteran. And those shoes are just one of several pairs he is made to wear on a given day. It could be a young Seymour Hersh in Chamer’s position and the expectation of covering the schools as well as O’Connell would be no less unreasonable.
As promised up top, this is a post about glaring problems in two recent Telegram articles, one of which was written by Chamer. We’re going to get to the article. But to rip apart a piece—as I’m about to do with Chamer’s most recent work—without putting it in the wider context of the conditions endured by local newsrooms and without sympathy for people working in them is entirely unfair. More than unfair, it’s reductive. If I were to go after Chamer personally—make him or his editors the villain of this story—I’d be just as bad as the reactionary demagogues of on the right who see in the “liberal media,” a convenient scapegoat toward which to channel atmospheric grievances. If you were to follow me or anyone else down that path, you’d be no better than the MAGA people who eat that stuff up like slop in a trough.
Chamer as a person or writer is irrelevant to this critique. It’s the untenable position he’s in, and the people who made it untenable, who are the villain. It’s not easy to think about it this way, whereas it’s very easy to say “the Telegram is trash” and leave it there. It is trash. But to think of it as inherently trash and not consider why it’s trash leaves no room for identifying the source of the trash or envisioning a future in which the biggest employer of working journalists in our city is not trash.
We deserve better from our paper of record. But Chamer and everyone else who works there deserve better too.
The people causing the problem here are the executives and shareholders of Gannett, along with all the other media conglomerates with which they compete. This competition has nothing to do with journalism. The competitors don’t give a fuck about me or you or any reader or anyone working at the Telegram or the reputation of the institution or the civic life of the city for Worcester or journalism as a craft or what the absence of journalism means for our society. They care about one thing: a line on a graph. Every decision is oriented around making sure that line goes up up up forever and never goes down. A blockbuster investigation may or may not make the line go up but layoffs are a sure bet. Even though it’s the main goal, Gannett isn’t especially good at it as we can see...
And every time this line goes down significantly the layoff/buyout announcement follows like clockwork.
They know it’s impossible to make the line go up in perpetuity but that doesn’t stop them from trying. They have a fiduciary responsibility to the line, after all. And it’s a responsibility that takes precedent over any other. It’s non-negotiable. In fact it’s illegal to negotiate against it as a publicly-traded company. Can’t not lay journalists off if you run the risk of making the line go down as a result. That would be unfair to the shareholders! Malpractice!
Local journalism is the tool these particular conglomerates have chosen to employ in this Sisyphean endeavor of making the line go up forever. But tools break. And when tools break, as they all eventually do, you just find a new one. In the meantime, fiduciary responsibility dictates you get as much productivity out of the tool while it’s still useful. Even if you feel it breaking in your hands you gotta keep using it because fixing a tool is not as cost effective as replacing it when there’s no shortage of cheap replacements. And you can get a lot more out of a tool when you’re not worried about the wear and tear. In fact you even may find that the most effective way to use it amounts to breaking it on purpose. And there’s no consequences for breaking a tool on purpose. It’s not like there’s any laws against it or real financial consequences. A lot of people care about the tools and hate seeing them break but these aren’t the kind of people who could stop you. They aren’t people who matter and nobody who matters cares.
For Gannett, the Telegram is just one of hundreds of parts comprising their overall tool. It’s such a small part the tool would work just fine without it. A mere splinter of wood on the handle. But for people in Worcester and the surrounding towns, the cost of it breaking would be tremendous. The Telegram is the biggest employer of full-time journalists as well as the outlet with the largest reach and firmest institutional presence. Its editorial staff produces good work on a consistent basis. It holds local institutions accountable. It presents a real threat of consequence for local political officials. It has the resources to fight legal battles over access to information. It has reporters at press conferences and in the courts and at local meetings. Say what you will about the institution, all of these things are objectively true. The real frustration is that these things get less and less true every time Gannett diminishes the ranks of its newsroom. After every round of layoffs the institution becomes less and less able to do the things which made it an institution to begin with.
But at the same time, no one has come up with a way to replace it. Among the other outlets covering Worcester, including this one, there are none which have a legitimate shot at staffing a newsroom the size of the Telegram, even in its diminished form. Should Gannett decide to shutter the Telegram for good, as they’d have every right to do, there would be a hole that no other outlet has a legitimate shot of filling any time soon. The ability for people to meaningfully participate in civic life would diminish. Those with power would have an easier time abusing it. The whole city would suffer.
Short of a miraculous new financial model for staffing a newsroom that’s robust enough to carry the institutional weight of a daily newspaper, we are stuck with the Telegram. While we’re stuck here we do ourselves a disservice to write the Telegram off wholesale. As cathartic as it might feel at times to do so, it only serves to disconnect the paper from the community and make the employees even more willing to just run cover for the developers and the cops and ignore real issues. The “fuck you” energy is way more usefully targeted at Gannett, though it’s sure to fall on deaf ears. Way I see it we’re left with one option: meaningful critique and good faith engagement. Earnestly requesting they do better..
So that’s what I’m gunna do with these two stories. Understanding that the paper has been stripped of resources, institutional knowledge and the man hours that good work requires... hoo boy these articles sucked shit. Big fat shit.
Let’s start with the sex ed story. Running on Tuesday and appearing on the front page of the print paper, Jeff Chamer’s story was titled “More Worcester families are saying no to district's sex ed curriculum. What to know.” The story ran with a smiling profile shot of Shanel Soucy, a deeply problematic anti-sex education advocate who luckily lost a 2021 bid for Worcester School Committee. She was heavily and uncritically quoted. By nature of the quotes, their position in the overall structure of the story, the lack of fresh quotes from other people and the comments of the superintendent chucked in at the bottom like an afterthought, the story reads like a feature on Soucy. Of course, it isn’t. The story follows an “alternative story structure” Gannett frequently pushes reporters to employ. A traditional news story leads with the most important information at the top, then puts that information in a wider context, then gives background information and the opinions of people involved. This reads more like a Q&A where the reporter is both the questioner and the answerer. Though it’s less than 1,000 words, it’s broken up by five subheadlines—a device typically employed to break up more longform reporting—and each poses a question. “How does (the opt-out figure) compare to the past?” “What is the district's sex education curriculum?” “Why do families opt students out?” “How has the district responded?” “What does the new superintendent have to say?”
Each question is answered in the paragraphs that follow. Under the first two subheads, Chamer unceremoniously lists the requisite facts and figures and background information about the opt out figures and the sex ed curriculum. But under the third subhead, which asks why families opt their children out, the trouble starts. Here’s how it reads, minus a few lines at the end rehashing an old article:
Why do families opt students out?
While the curriculum has received praise for its inclusion of LGBTQ viewpoints and experiences, which some said had been lacking in the district’s previous health classes, others disagree.
Shanel Soucy, who previously ran for School Committee and has been critical of the 3Rs curriculum in the past, said she was not surprised more people opted out of the curriculum this year.
“I think that it's going to continue to rise,” Soucy said. “I'm just surprised that the School Committee isn't addressing it and trying to find a way to be inclusive to all parents. To find something that's going to work for families as a whole.”
Soucy has previously been connected with the Opt Out campaign, which encouraged parents and students to opt out of the district's "pornographic" sex education curriculum.
In a traditional news story, this is where the rebuttal from the “other side” would go. And the rebuttal is an easy one. The district is very transparent about the curriculum. It’s on the website. And they’re transparent about the option to opt children out of it. There are many vocal supporters to quote. But no rebuttal.
Worse, there’s a very glaring omission here in the fourth paragraph. A key piece of background left out. Sorely missing. Soucy has said very problematic things in recent memory on the subject of sex, gender and sexuality. These comments are relevant to the subject matter, they’ve been written about in other publications, and would serve to contextualize where Soucy’s coming from when she calls the sex ed curriculum “pornographic.”
From The Patch’s Neal McNamara back in October, 2021:
Screenshots of comments attributed to candidate Shanel Soucy on her personal Facebook page have been circulating on social media since early September. Most attention has been focused on a comment on which Soucy says she does not support "homosexual behavior" and ponders whether gay people are influenced by "demonic" forces.
"Some of my closest friends, clients and more practice this lifestyle and I have always been clear about my beliefs about it," the comment said, according to a screenshot shared with Patch. "I do not support it anymore than I support sex outside of marriage . ... Whether these behaviors come from demonic influence or the evils that lie in our own hearts, or both, it is not up to me to decide for anyone else."
Not someone to legitimize and embolden with a platform! Let alone quote uncritically, without even mentioning any of this! In a subsection that begins with the assertion the curriculum has been praised for its LGBTQ inclusivity! Woof!
The Telegram article describes Soucy as “connected” to the “Opt-Out” campaign made famous by the PornHub-looking lawn signs, but really Soucy is the key public-facing figure of this movement, as well as the moderator of the Facebook page they use to organize. On that page she’s a prolific source of misinformation about the curriculum that is almost certainly contributing to the opt-out figures. When I snuck my way into that Facebook group, there were myriad examples of her generating her own bits of misinformation and spreading them, like this gem:
“I read through last night and I just can’t believe what I’m reading. I also found what I believe to be critical race theory along with all other sorts of beliefs that are not fact based or health for my sons (sic) life or mental state.”
Under the next subhead—”How has the district responded?”—Chamer gets close to addressing the legitimate problem of misinformation circulating around the community. A whole story on the misinformation campaigns going on would be what we call good journalism. But he only touches on the misinformation tersely. Just one sentence, absent supporting evidence, and framed as a matter of opinion and not a real thing that’s happening. Worse still, he does not mention that Soucy herself is a source of the misinformation. The subsection opens:
District administrators have attempted to dispel “misinformation” about the curriculum and reassure parents that the content is age-appropriate.
Putting “misinformation” in quotes like that, especially when it’s not directly attributed to anyone, is a reporter’s trick for demonstrating critical distance. “That’s someone else using that word not me I wouldn’t go that far” is more or less what it conveys in most cases. Conveys it hard in this one, gotta say. This sentence is all the district is afforded in defense of the curriculum before Chamer hands the mic back to Soucy for a rebuttal. You’ll remember that no such space for rebuttal was offered after Soucy’s comments in the last section! But Soucy gets equal space in this section.
But Soucy said that even if the lesson plans shared on the district’s website may not mention things like performing sex acts, she has had parents say students end up discussing them after their health classes anyway.
It would have been nice to tease out how this comment contradicts her previously-cited claim the curriculum was “pornographic.” But no. We get another terse round of “he said she said” reporting where both perspectives are equally valued and given equal time. Because that’s the rules. That’s what objectivity is.
In a previous interview with the Telegram & Gazette, Megara Bell, director of Partners in Sex Education, a Newton-based organization that contracted with Worcester schools to help roll out the curriculum, said that the district was not “teaching people how to engage in sex,” as it would be “100% not appropriate in the schools at any age.”
Soucy said that while the curriculum is in place, she would like to see students who opt out offered an alternative course. But she would ultimately like to see the 3Rs curriculum dropped and replaced with something more “inclusive … so that we don't have to have over 15% of the student population not participating.”
The subhead might lead you to believe this section would center the district’s point of view, and it follows a subsection dedicated entirely to Soucy’s. A rebuttal of a certain kind. Isn’t how I would do it personally but it would check the “fair” and “balanced” boxes of traditional reporting standards. But no, we get one section which is all Soucy and another which is half Soucy and the other half is split equally by “the district” and an expert in the sex education field. But Soucy gets the last word.
The last subsection—”What does the new superintendent have to say?”—is just five paragraphs reworking what looks like a written statement from Superintendent Rachel Monárrez in which she says the curriculum is good but she respects the rights of families to opt children out and promised to notify parents about the availability of the opt-out process.
To my mind, this article is a clear example of a bad habit local reporters tend to have, especially when they’re green, of over-extending space and attention and credence to the obvious villain of the story out of fear they’ll be called out for “bias” and put in a position to admit they have biases like every other human being ever born and thus failing to live up to professional standards.
The salacious take on this article which I’ve seen floating around is that the Telegram skews conservative and this is an example of them being deliberately slanted toward the anti-abortion crowd.
I’m more inclined to believe this is the case of a young reporter clumsily stepping into a fraught issue and getting a first draft thrown to readers without anyone taking a good hard look at it. You gotta get that content online! There’s quotas to hit! I think what needed to happen here and didn’t is an editor saying “Hey take another look at this, here’s a few things to keep in mind about Soucy that might have been before your time” and “can you actually confirm Opt Out activists are driving the increasing number of children getting pulled from sex ed or is that an inference on your part?” and with a little coaching and a few revisions he could have put up something decent.
I’ve been the green reporter who needed that sort of help and got it and it saved me from publishing really bad work. But there were also times when I didn’t get that coaching. It was worse at the end of my run than the beginning, and with every round of layoffs the reads and edits weren’t as long a process. Several times, really embarrassing stuff slipped past editors who didn’t have the time to consider whether it was worth publishing or not, let alone read carefully. The ownership company doesn’t value quality writing or the time it takes, so other tasks take priority. The ones that help the “metrics” usually.
I don’t know what happened with the story in question but I’m thinking my hypothesis is a lot closer to the truth than the reporter just being a shitty anti-abortion loon and the editors liking that. Doesn’t really matter. The fact is it got published. It passed the review process and it was deemed fit for print. I’ve had a few really good editors in my day and most have been laid off or bought out or retired. All of the ones I really respected and learned from would have taken my ass to the mat if I turned this in. That’s what happens in healthy newsrooms. It clearly didn’t happen here.
The story only really accomplishes one thing and I don’t think it was the desired thing. What it does is lend Shanel Soucy a sort of tacit legitimacy and authority which she does not deserve. She is a far-right crank with Internet poisoning and has no legitimate claim to authority on the subject matter. Downright irresponsible to do that with these sort of people. Playing with fire. If you want to get a sense of what this sort of legitimizing can lead to, I’d highly suggest this piece in Texas Monthly about a Texas school board. Nightmare fuel. Don’t think for a second that couldn’t happen here.
Chamer’s story frames her as the figurehead of the local anti-sex ed movement, and that movement is in turn lent the legitimacy of being one side of a two sided issue where both sides deserve equal time and attention (and a little more for the obviously illegitimate side to cover bases). The question of whether such a group deserves legitimacy is not one an “unbiased” reporter can consider before presenting a narrative to the public. That would be bias in action! No bueno! So we end up with a warped narrative: “one side of the story” is conveyed to the public and thus legitimized through Soucy as the face of what Chamer calls a “campaign.” What goes unexplained is this campaign is a small collection of Facebook moms scaring each other into a panic in a private Facebook group with self-generated misinformation colored by splashes of racial anxiety and homophobia.
The “other side of the story” is the consensus of education experts writ large as represented by the district superintendent and an education professional who specializes in sex ed. The reading public was made to consider these “two sides of the story” as equally legitimate viewpoints presented by an objective and detached observer. That is not an “objective” reflection of the reality. At all.
It’s worth noting that this “two equal sides, equal time” ethic in local journalism has some notable exceptions. Stories about cops and the people they arrest, for instance, are not held to this standard. One side is dutifully reported verbatim while the other is ignored as a rule until the trial if the trial gets covered which it usually doesn’t. Most left wing activism is also outside the boundary of “equal sides equal time.” The first instinct there is to ignore at all costs and if it can’t be ignored, like when a cop killed George Floyd, the narrative of the powers that be is adopted uncritically and “restored order” is the assumed goal and the left-wing position is to be framed as “agitation” or “troublemaking” or “anarchy” and if there’s any street violence that becomes the sole focus. The confines of debate. The right gets the “equal sides equal time” treatment pretty reliably though and they don’t get ignored because that’s an act of bias as opposed to ignoring the left which isn’t. They’d have to do something really wild like storm the Capital Building to get the “agitator” treatment we see over on this side. Short of that though… all good.
And then of course there’s the uniquely troubling and newly emerging interpretation of objectivity as it relates to trans people, seen most clearly in the New York Times and recently taken to task in an open letter from thousands of contributors and media workers.
Let’s look at that second Telegram article from Tuesday. By Henry Schwan, a reporter with a “climate change/environment and health” beat, the article is titled “Electric school buses: Is Worcester behind the curve?” The subhead reads “It's a question worth asking as Boston and other Massachusetts communities already have electric buses taking kids to school.”
Like with Chamer’s piece, we see this weird format of a Q&A where the reporter is both the questioner and the answerer. An “alternative story format” as encouraged by Gannett.
The article is built on a value statement—“It’s a question to consider”—and since that value statement is posited by the author of the post it is reflective of his values and is thus not objective in any way but ah oh well. The article is framed around the news hook of Boston recently buying 20 electric buses, but Worcester is tied to the news hook by an obviously apples-to-oranges comparison: “Boston recently spent $7 million of its COVID-19 relief funds to buy 20 electric buses, while Worcester used $15 million of its money to buy 165 gasoline models.”
What is not clearly addressed here by the author is that Worcester had to buy an entire bus fleet because it brought the service in-house and away from a problematic subcontractor. Boston on the other hand added 20 buses to a 600-bus fleet that they already had. And this is explained in the story quite clearly and reasonably by School Committee member Tracy Novick.
“Seven million for 20 buses; you can’t do a fleet at that number. Until the dollars substantially come down, it will remain something of a pilot program. It’s not something most districts will be able to swing,” said Novick.
Still, the article attempts to paint Worcester as behind the times.
Other districts, large and small, appear to be ahead of Worcester in the electric school-bus curve, including Lawrence, New Bedford, Fall River and Beverly. The first three reportedly qualified for federal grants that will bring a combined total of nearly 80 electric buses to those districts.
But in the next breath, Schwan disproves his hypothesis.
Worcester is preparing to apply for a federal Environmental Protection Agency grant to pay for 15 electric buses. If everything falls into place, including securing additional funds for charging stations and other infrastructure, the 15-bus pilot could start transporting kids to school in the fall.
That’s the same way these other districts got their buses! And Worcester is doing it! Is this story about how Worcester is behind by a grant funding cycle or two? No. That may be the reality of the situation but that’s not story material. So Schwan continues to hammer away at his “behind the times” framing.
But why would the Worcester Public Schools spend $15.6 million in COVID relief money on 165 gasoline-powered buses when the trend is moving to electric?
My brother in christ they had to buy a whole fleet. A whole fleet of electric buses is an impossible purchase. None of the districts in this story cited as being “ahead” of Worcester have come close to doing that. What exactly is the point here?
The whole article essentially goes like this: Unfair question, reasonable answer, unfair question, reasonable answer and on and on until the end. The reasonable answers do not prevent the unfair questions, and to read it quickly at face value would leave you with the impression Worcester is doing something wrong when they aren’t. The peculiar framing at play here in the context of this “alternative story format” has the effect of making it an “equal sides equal time” story where the reporter is on one side and reality is the on other.
This one is not as potentially damaging at Chamer’s because there’s no far-right weirdos getting any wind in their sails but it betrays the same overriding problems that really boil down to the unreasonable conditions created by the ownership company.
A big point I’m trying to make here is that objectivity is impossible and these two Telegram stories are just local examples of haphazard attempts at achieving it. The notion in traditional journalism that objectivity is not only possible but a baseline professional standard, and that standard is in turn a central pillar of the “freedom” of the American press, which is in turn a pillar of the democratic system which makes us the world’s most exceptional nation and our military invasions acts of benevolence…
Philip K. Dick couldn’t dream up a better reality-bending machine than that.
Just as they set the staffing levels, ownership companies set the expectations of professional standards. What is permissible discourse and what isn’t. What I’ve written here today is well outside those boundaries. Unpublishable. And that’s what sort of upholds the whole thing, no? There’s a fiduciary responsibility in there to keep the journalism in line with the best interests of the owners and it would be quite irresponsible in this way to let journalism out of that box.
I can publish stuff like this here of course and it’ll have an audience and I earnestly believe it’s useful writing and an honest reflection of reality as I perceive it. And that’s what journalism should be! That’s the core goal of the craft! To consider the barriers in the way of achieving that goal, like the ones I articulated vis-à-vis the Telegram, is a better starting point for thinking about how to save local journalism than anything to do with the economics of it. We see in the Telegram that the people who uphold the confines of allowable journalistic discourse are also the ones content to sacrifice the power of journalistic institutions to quarterly gains for shareholders. They are simply managing local journalism’s slow decline in a way that yields personal short term profit. We’re waiting for them to run out of use for us. Any attempt to rebuild local institutions needs to start with that realization. Journalism, especially community journalism, is fundamentally at odds with the market.
Again please consider a paid subscription thank you!
Are these horizontal lines breaking up the sections useful or annoying? I can’t decide. And I’m partial to the little ~/~ at the end of the main post. But the lines make that redundant. Sound off in the comments in the event this is something you have an opinion about.
And since this the reach of this outlet spreads exclusively by word of mouth, your word of mouth is always greatly appreciated.
Enjoyed this story from Vital NYC on Memphis’ SCORPION unit and all the others like it:
Usually using unmarked cars, they blanket Black and Latine neighborhoods that have been deemed “high crime,” or focus on particular tasks, like seizing drugs or guns. They use traffic and pedestrian stops to instill a sense of omnipresent surveillance and as an excuse to search people and their stuff, especially their cars. They have been given permission by city and police leaders, whether tacit or explicit, to bend or break the rules (including rules on using force), provided they get “results,” as measured by arrests made, and guns and drugs confiscated.
There have been assertions in recent days that Memphis’ Scorpion unit was an outlier, and that these units need not be abusive: They just need better selection, supervision and accountability. But as myself and others who have investigated and reviewed law enforcement agencies of all types and sizes across the country for decades can attest, Scorpion was par for the course.
As I wrote last week and the week before that, Worcester has these units! The Gang Unit, the Vice Squad and the Neighborhood Response Team are all remarkably similar to SCORPION in their goals and methods! And we’re not talking about them as such! We’re just talking about maybe doing body cameras for the eighth year in a row! Provided we can give the cops enough money to wear them! And the new body camera policy on file by the Worcester Police Department specifically excludes them from having to wear cameras in a meaningful way. These are just some choice segments from an entire section of the policy outlining “special considerations for plain-clothes units”:
“Plain clothes officers engaged in primarily information gathering activity (i.e. neighborhood canvas, interviewing of witnesses/victims, retrieving video evidence, routine licensing checks, conducting searches of electronic devices) may not be required to activate their (body cam). The activation of an officer’s (body cam) during these circumstances shall be at the discretion of the officer and or the unit supervisor based on the nature and needs of the particular investigation.”
“Special consideration shall be given to plain clothes officers regarding the manner of placement of the (body cam) on their uniforms of the day, at the discretion of the unit commander.”
Emphasis is mine!
The recent Worcester Business Journal story on the disparity between black and white home-ownership is not to be slept on.
The gap between homeownership rates between Black and white households in Worcester is 32.8 percentage points, up from 6.1 percentage points in 2010, according to a study from Today’s Homeowner, an online home improvement publication.
The study released Feb. 6, where Today’s Homeowner used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, shows 23.7% of Black households own their homes versus 56.5% of white households in the city.
Throughout Massachusetts, the gap between Black and white homeownership is about the same as in Worcester at 33 percentage points. This compares with a national rate of 29 percentage points.
This is also roughly the period of time we might call “The Worcester Renaissance.” So... what would we call data like this? A feature or a bug?
As a chaser to the WBJ shot, MassLive did a nice thing and compiled all (or most?) of the city’s Black-owned restaurants: Addie Lee’s Soul Food, akra Eatery & Juice Bar, Noamesco International Bar & Lounge, Belmont Veg, Anokye Krom, Aretha’s Kitchen, Caribbean Flavor, Fatima’s Cafe, and MaMaebelle’s One Love Cafe.
Ashamed to admit that I’ve only been to one of these and I’m gunna fix that but for now I can confirm that Belmont Veg is on the short list for best food in the city. Love that place to death.
Don’t have much to say or any special insight about the Abby Kelley Foster cheer squad controversy but it’s definitely something to keep on the radar. Actually I do have one thing to say. This is salacious catnip for the Boston cable news folks and those guys are dicks and they act like dicks when they parachute in to cover something. Three cheers to Jennifer Gaskin for giving them the what for. Fuck those guys forever.
Speaking of Black-owned businesses, subscribe to Gaskin’s Bacchanal Business newsletter! It’s great.
And lastly I don’t know who needs to hear this but the DCU Center is giving away seats as they prepare to remodel.
Would make some exceptional day-drinking-in-the-garage décor if you ask me
P.S. The headline of this post was stolen from the incredible post-hardcore (?) band Self Defense Family and a song of theirs by the same name off their 2018 LP Have You Considered Punk Music. The record might be the finest example of “staring out the window of a bus music” ever made. I wasn’t thinking about the lyrics of this song at all when I wrote this post. The line just sort of steamed up from the compost heap in my broken brain and on reread stood out as the obvious headline. But I just took a look at the lyrics because I think the band’s singer Patrick Kindlon is freakishly good at them and I’ll be damned if this isn’t a relevant bit of poetry:
Late and let go
Downsized and broke
Nobody who matters cares