Friday, February 24, 2006

This ain't no horse race

Local political races can be so refreshing. No attack ads. No mud-slinging. No campaign fund-raising. Just normal people — your neighbors — talking about community issues.

And if you stopped by the Stowe Reporter's first annual "Meet the Candidates" forum last night, Thursday, you might have gotten some free pretzels and water out of it, too. Held at the Stowe Free Library's Community Room, the forum was a chance for folks to ask the candidates about a range of town issues.

I'd say we had between 40 and 50 people in the community room from 5-6:15ish - a welcome sign that people are interested in the Stowe Select Board race: Five candidates running for two open seats. Running for a three-year term: Francis "Paco" Aumand and Joe Mooney. Running for a two-year term: Larry Lackey, Marie Duquette and Steve Chambers. For more information on the race and town meeting, check out the Reporter's coverage. Elections will be decided by ballot on Town Meeting Day, March 7.

A few interesting nuggets from last night:

Impact fees. These are levies placed on new development in town. The revenue would likely go into a targeted account with the specific purpose of paying for capital projects that are needed as a direct result of growth. What did the candidates have to say?

Marie Duquette: Not familiar with impact fees, but favors "anything that will alleviate the burden" on taxpayers.

Joe Mooney: Supports them also if they are a "way of lifting the burden off property taxes."

Francis "Paco" Aumand: Wants more study first. In general, though, he supports them so long as they're not used to pay for the town's operating budget.

Larry Lackey: "I think they're worth looking at," especially in funding things like highway improvements.

Steve Chambers: It's a "worthy concept," but most cost-savings will be found by having a "true zero-base budget strategy" in town government.

What's the most critical issue facing Stowe and how would you address it?

Paco Aumand: The tax burden, and by extension, allowing the people to vote the town budget by Australian ballot, if that's what they want. But his role as a selectman would be to "make every effort to further trim the operating budget."

Larry Lackey: A new public-safety facility for rescue, fire and police officials: "We can't afford to not give those agencies what they need ... it's time to settle on a building."

Steve Chambers: A town manager is needed to manage local government, instead of an administrator: "All in town would be better served by that structure."

Marie Duquette: She'd approach all issues with an open mind - cautious not to let issues become divisive: "The town is different than it used to be."

Joe Mooney: Town budget needs to be voted on Australian ballot: "It provides greater opportunity for voters to provide some direction to town government."

Other nuggets:

o A 1-percent local option tax is favored by all, though they differ on how the revenue should be spent.

o The $450,000 bond toward a conservation easement on the Adams Camp land. All except Duquette and Chambers were wholly supportive. Duquette said that, in general, conserving land with municipal funds might not be such a good idea, and Chambers said that he's voting "no" on the proposal at town meeting. Chambers said he and his wife disagree on the Adams Camp issue: "Our votes are canceling each other out."

o The Stowe Police Department. Aumand, Mooney and Lackey said they'd like to examine the department, which is the most costly in Stowe town government. Aumand: "I'm concerned with the amount of (police) vehicles." And Mooney: "The overtime (pay) issue needs to be looked at further." And Lackey: Starting this summer, the select board should further examine police services.

All in all, a very informative evening. Hopefully, voters thought so too. See you at the polls.
— Scott Monroe

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Blogspeak



Print + weblog / Stowe Reporter = Blogspeak.

Beginning next week (hopefully) we'll be introducing a new feature to the print edition of the Stowe Reporter called Blogspeak. Basically, it'll be snippets of posts from this place and - as more blogs are eventually unleashed - other Reporter weblogs, too. This past week, we took a step in that direction by reprinting reporter Marina Knight's At the Olympics blog in the "Stowe Scene" section, along with pictures and accounts of the Torino, Italy Winter Games.

I happen to think it's cool to cross-pollinate web and print material, though it's an emerging frontier with some gray areas. A Delaware reporter, for example, was recently fired over postings at his personal weblog. For journalists the weblog is an interesting beast: it's not exactly the same thing as a news report, or is it? Depends. When I think of journalism, I identify with the hallmark of editing and oversight. Most weblogs, I think it's fair to say, don't have that filter.

Which is also the strength of weblogs in general. This software encourages stream-of-consciousness writing and, for me at least, compels a different cadence than I'd normally use in the newspaper.

So, what are the implications of merging blog and print? Is it really worth it? Are blogs being over-hyped? Is the rush to get them into print a little silly? Or, is there perhaps something bloggers and journalists can learn from one another? Maybe some good, maybe some bad. Let's find out...

On a totally unrelated track, I've posted a few more pictures within this entry from my wandering Boston this past weekend. You might have noticed that already. I have no particular reason for doing so. That, I guess, is what you'd call blogthink.

--Scott Monroe

Monday, February 13, 2006

NEPA report: Part II

Two blocks down the street from each other: Snowmaking machines at the Boston Common park and a homeless man standing in front of afternoon traffic holding a cardboard sign with the message, "Please help! Homeless looking for work. Thanks! God bless!"

It was Friday and the snowmaking guns were laying down fresh powder on six acres for the first Boston Winter Festival. The event -- hosted on Saturday in part by Vermont ski areas, including Stowe Mountain Resort -- was themed as a salute to the U.S. Ski Team and the 2006 Winter Olympic Games commencing the same day in Torino, Italy. Boston, like all of Massachusetts and New Hampshire that day, didn't have any snow at all on the ground. Apart from the frigid temps in the teens, you might have thought it was an autumn day in the park.

So, over at Boston Common, the snow guns blasted away. The man who packed up the snowmaking hoses in his van, the elderly woman who walked past the white gusts walking her chihuahua, and even the cop leaning against the tent -- all must have known, as I did, that a big snowstorm was coming. On Sunday, some two feet of snow dumped onto Boston.

A few blocks down Beacon Street: a homeless man with his sign. I snapped his picture and then walked up to the concrete island he was standing at. I asked him his name.

"Was that you taking my picture?" he said.

I told him yes.

"You should ask people before you take their picture," he said, revealing his two missing front teeth. "Someone might take your camera away and smash it."

I asked him if he minded having his picture taken.

"Whatever," he said, lifting his sign up high as taxis, buses and cars passed by.

"Have any cars stopped for you?" I said.

He smiled wide, as if anticipating the question: "Some of them do."

I thanked him for his time and headed down Charles Street. From noon 'till 2:30 on Friday, I had "free time" in between journalism workshops at the New England Press Association convention. I decided to ditch the park plaza hotel for the streets of Boston, camera and notepad in hand.

When I met Debra, a cold north wind was blowing down Stuart Street. I sat next to her on the curb. She could have been my grandmother, except she was black and a city woman. She held a styrofoam cup in her right hand, filled with quarters and dimes. I gave her a $2 bill I had, courtesy of Union Bank in Stowe.

"Never heard of Stowe before," she said, after asking where I was from.

"You got gloves?" Debra, who had gloves, noticed I didn't. I smiled and told her I had forgotten them at the hotel.

"You should get inside. Cold out," she said, getting up. "I'm staying at a friend's for a while. Nice meeting you."

Before I returned to the park plaza hotel, I walk through the park. Geese graze on the ground; blue towers in the distance. A plastic bag in the half-frozen waters of a pond. On a park bench scribbled in black magic marker: "Bloodgang eck311, All dayz every dayz tel tha day I die. Bloodgang." At the crosswalk, a dozen first-graders hold hands crossing the street. Car horns moan as if calling out to whales.

And, from there, I go to a workshop on municipal finance for dummies. Expenses, revenues and rules. That's the order of things.
-- Scott Monroe

NEPA report: Part I


Here's my promised "report" on the New England Press Association convention in Boston myself and three others from the Stowe Reporter attended over the weekend: very cool. Part 1 is a quick recap of the convention itself. Part 2 will be ramblings about my wandering Boston. Above, I snapped this pic of a local television reporter interviewing people on Stuart Street in Boston on Friday. He asked folks if they were wearing something called an "ipod" and why. Cool.

A few nuggets from the NEPA convention:

• Of the five workshops I attended, "Effective Writing" was my most memorable. It's encouraging for me to get a fresh perspective on community journalism. The main theme from veteran journalist/ editor Jerry Larson? Humanize the news story, especially the uber-dry municipal meetings, if it's appropriate.

"Keep it personal," Larson told us. "Bring us humanity through ideas. Tell ideas through one person."

Indeed, it's easy for reporters who cover the minutia of town government, courts, education and all other officials areas of interest to get caught in formula. "The Stowe Select Board voted today to ban feeding wild turkeys...," as opposed to "Joe Smith raised his hand, cleared his throat and defended his passion: feeding wild turkeys." OK, maybe that's a lame example, but you get the idea. Whenever you can, it's best to bring as much humanity as possible to a story.

• Other nuggets: Municipal finance was a yawner. Just kidding. It was a yawner but it was educational to get the perspective from the town administrator of Dover, Mass., on what goes into the creation of a municipal budget: "Expenses, revenues and rules," a mantra he repeated at least a dozen times.

Online access to court records: Apparently, Vermont's Web site is second-worst only to Rhode Island when it comes to the disclosure of PUBLIC court information on the Internet. Information about district and superior court cases are available in calendar format, for a one-time $10 activation fee, but actual documents (police affidavits, briefs, motions) aren't. Currently, that's a service that only the federal courts offer and states are debating whether such information could potentially violate privacy rights, among other concerns.

• Also: Not many of those at the "Don't fear blogs workshop" seemed to write blogs as reporters or editors. Some didn't really know what a weblog is, and some objected to the notion of newspapers having one at all. This workshop was presented by Steve Safran of the weblog Lost Remote and featured an honest discussion of pros and cons of blogging, especially for community newspapers. Ultimately, I tend to agree with Safran in his assessment of what role blogs should play in the media landscape: "The best ones act like a fifth estate and hold us accountable in a meaningful way."

Exactly. And newspaper readers, eager and able more than ever to chime in, need to get access.

"Our readers are not going to be passive recipients of the news," Safran said. "They want to become players, at least some of them do."

Unfortunately, I'd say most people currently view the "blogosphere" as being either a shout-session between extreme left and right-leaning political wanks or a journal about what Joe Smith has for breakfast this morning. But a blog, as Safran rightly pointed out, is just software. What someone puts on that blank canvas is open-ended and full of possibility.

Finally: The Stowe Reporter's photographer Glenn Callahan won an award for his pictorial photo "Frosty Ferns." Way to go Glenn!

– Scott Monroe

Thursday, February 09, 2006

NEPA in Beantown

I'm off to the annual convention of the New England Press Association at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston, Mass. Should be groovy.

I'll have a report on that after I get back on Saturday. My main interest in going, aside from shooting the breeze with other journalists and editors, is the chance to take several workshops and come back to Stowe with some spiffy new ideas on reporting. Among the workshops I'll be checking out:

• Tell me a story: Effective writing techniques

• Municipal finance for dummies

• Court records: Online access and beyond

• Religion, culture and politics

• Reporting in the era of blogs and hyperpartisanship

That last one should be interesting. I'm curious to find out how many reporters and editors write blogs associated with their newspapers. I bet at least a third do. Anyway, stayed tuned for the lowdown. I'm sure you're on the edge of your seat.

— Scott Monroe

Thursday, February 02, 2006

'Now this...'

I don't own a cell phone.

I say that, frankly, with a little bit of pride and a little bit of embarrassment. And, every year that goes by such an admission feels even more alien, more absurd — even though it's been perhaps only a decade or so since it became a mainstream must-have.

But enough about my dinosaur technology know-how. Now this...

There's a great post over at PressThink, the weblog of New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen. The post comes from Andrew Postman, son of the late Neil Postman, who wrote my absolute most favorite book from college, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Like the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Postman's circa-1985 book was way ahead of its time. Interesting aside: Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd, named his solo album, Amused to Death, after Postman's book. And, Pink Floyd nearly recorded the soundtrack for 2001: A Space Odyssey, but backed out at the last minute. And, Pink Floyd's song "Echoes" plays relatively in sync with the last 20-minute act of 2001. Anyway, now this...

As Andrew Postman points out in his post at PressThink, who then would have imagined a media landscape that included the Internet, cable television, TiVo, DVDs, blogs, ipods, PDAs, HDTV, call-waiting, instant messaging and, yes, cell phones? Certainly Postman didn't imagine all those things, and yet 20 years later his words ring amazingly true. His "Now this" concept — in which the reporting of rape and murder on the 6 o'clock news is segued into a story about a local event featuring silly dog tricks, which is followed by commercials for Viagra, Ford trucks and Capital One no hassle credit cards. The sequence of ideas is so random — some would argue insane — and yet it's something we've all grown accustomed to, especially with television.

But we see it in all media, too. If you're reading these words right now, you probably got here through a link from the Stowe Reporter Web site, and to get there you might have googled "Stowe." Diversity of opinion, or information overload? Fragments instead of whole sentences. Sound bites in place of context. Spliced images over words. He said this. She said that. Breaking news scrolls — the suicide bomb in Israel, Jennifer Aniston's latest date, how not to gain weight by eating raw meat, a squirrel on water skis, the budget deficit, outrage over a Vermont's judge's sentence for a sex offender, bird flue is coming, Seahawks won 26-17 in overtime.

Anyway, Postman's book is a great read, and I'd recommend it to everyone. And now a word from our sponsors...

— Scott Monroe