Friday, March 31, 2006

Hot enough for ya?

It's 68 and sunny. Gotta love it.

And, believe it or not, there's still several weeks of skiing left at Stowe. Seems millions of gallons of water from a snowmaking pond can go a long way.

Spring skiing notwithstanding, it definitely feels like a nice summer day out there. The signs of summer in Stowe are hard to miss: New Jersey and New York license plates have suddenly popped up everyone after a three-month hiatus; traffic gets backed up in the village big time (and thank goodness for the Mayo Farm Road); and seems like everybody's either moving or repainting/ renovating their pad.

This is also the time of year when we publish our annual Home and Real Estate section. That will come out sometime in early May and our staff has begun work on some stories. Here's a rundown of some ideas we kicked around the other day here at 49 School Street:

• What’s available for less than $300,000?

• What’s available for more than $1 million? What percentage of Vermont houses listing for $1 million and up are in Stowe?

• Home technology: Stowe firm can install controls to run your video, audio, security, pool, irrigation system, you name it.

• "10 questions" for Home people.

• Could have a series of 10 Questions for people in various parts of the Home industry. Builders, interior decorators, site-work bulldozer guys, electricians, plumbers, flooring crews, architects, what have you.

• Builders: What are they building? Cost trends? What’s the price per square foot these days? The Katrina effect on wood prices? Prefabs? Size of houses going up, or down?

• Real estate overview: How does the market look? Prices going up, holding line, or what? Time on market? Inventory for sale going up, down, or what?

• Renting in Stowe. What's the range in prices and what do you get?

• Who is moving here, and why?

If you have any suggestions for story ideas feel free to give us a buzz. Or, maybe you know the answers to some of these questions. In the meantime, get outside.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Graff is gone, but why?

The news yesterday that longtime journalist Christopher Graff is no longer head of Vermont's Associated Press bureau came as a shock to many people. There are also a plethora of unanwsered questions — was he fired, or did he resign? In any case, why did this happen, and why so sudden?

It's interesting to see how differently the story was reported in state papers this morning. The news was first reported by Darren Allen, head of the Vermont Press Bureau, writing yesterday in his online blog Hall Monitor. Allen's story today in the Times Argus and Rutland Herald says only that Graff "departed."

Over at the weekly Vermont Guardian, the headline says that Graff was "fired." It's reported that Graff was "dismissed without warning" and that his departure was a "removal."

Not so, according to the Burlington Free Press, which reports in its business section that Graff "resigned from the news service." Graff's boss at the AP, Larry Laughlin, "told the Free Press that Graff resigned, but declined to provide details on his departure."

Vermont blogs are hot on the trail, too. Seven Days' Cathy Resmer has a roundup over at 802 Online. The anonymous blog Will Chamberlain's Vermont, meanwhile, asserts that Graff was fired, but in doing so inaccurately cites Allen's Vermont Press Bureau story. Allen's report, as mentioned above, doesn't say what happened: "Whether Graff was fired or resigned was unclear Monday, although Laughlin's presence in Montpelier was unusual."

Unusual indeed.

— Scott Monroe

UPDATE: Romensko has a link to Allen's story on Graff as well, and carries this spicy headline, "Associated Press dismisses Vermont bureau chief Graff." Dismisses? Meanwhile, the blog PoliticsVT proclaims in its title that "AP's Graff Gets the Boot." That blog says the bureau chief was "fired" and "let go under unknown circumstances."

UPDATE II: Nice work by a keen blogger in catching today's (Wednesday morning's) New York Times story on Graff, which sheds a whole lot more light on the matter. The Times reports that Graff was "forced out of his job" and notes that "The move came after he put a partisan column on the wire, and as the news agency is consolidating some of its bureaus across state lines." Apparently, according to Emerson Lynn, editor and publisher of The St. Albans Messenger, Graff's dismissal might have been related to "the A.P.'s having told him this month that it was inappropriate for him to have posted a column by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, on the wire." Leahy's column ran as part of Sunshine Week, which highlights the need for open government and public records. The column also contained a section that's critical of the Bush Administration. Some of the fog is beginning to disperse.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Posts that go too far

One of the features at Stowe Reporter Online is the Reader’s Forum, a message board where people can post comments about local news and issues. I’m the gatekeeper for the forum — posts get emailed to me first before going live and then I manually activate the post before it goes into the forum.

I think this filter is important. As of late I’ve received a couple of post submittals that I’ve deleted before allowing them to go live, for various reasons.

One of those reasons is the post contains defamatory statements that could constitute libel, which is the legal term that describes defamation in writing. Here’s an example of a post I received by email on Feb. 10. Names and places have been replaced with "XXXXXXX," though the rest of the post remains as submitted:

"I / we lived in Vermont for about two years ...The term Flat Lander is a real attitude locals have towards anyone who comes to the area ...They forget that they were once ‘newcomers,’ and that the land originally belonged to the Indians. XXXXXXX stalk anyone coming out of a bar and XXXXXXX is a lying SOB. There is work for Electricians if you’re willing to work for $12.00 an hour with no benefits or future. Secretarial is about $8.00 per hour and if you’re new, you’ll get all the crummy hours, especially if you work at XXXXXXX in XXXXXXX. (Wouldn’t let my spouse go to her nieces dance recital for 30 minutes) ... Unless you’re wealthy and can afford top notch digs, real estate is expensive and there are the XXXXXXX, who will lie, cheat, and not return your deposit money nor pay you for work you did for their husband when he was in a bind. (Yes XXXXXXX, you still owe me $500.00). We left Vermont and did not shed a tear!"

Online libel continues to be debated in courts. According to the First Amendment Center, in the 2003 case of Batzel v. Cremers, "a defamatory e-mail message was sent to a Web-site operator, who edited the message and selected it for posting. The operator said he believed the sender intended the message to be made public. The sender, however, later claimed that he never intended the information to be made public; he merely wanted the site operator to be aware of it."

In the above post there are several allegations of fact masked as opinion, relating to several specific people and local organizations. Although the Reporter certainly wants to enable readers to speak their mind about local topics, posts such as these go too far. The newspaper — because we offer this online forum on our Web site — could potentially be held accountable for libel statements, especially because people can post anonymously.

Would the same hold true for a blog? The New York Times reported in October 2005 that "if an elected official claims he has been defamed by an anonymous blogger, he cannot use a lawsuit to unmask the writer unless he has substantial evidence to prove his claim." That decision came from the Delaware Supreme Court.


— Scott Monroe

Friday, March 17, 2006

When news breaks, we fix it...

So far as I can tell, the Stowe Reporter was the first one today to "break" the news that the Public Service Board has approved VELCO's big power line upgrade for Lamoille County. A teaser is posted on our Web site, because I'm sure the major dailies — The Freeps and TA — will have coverage tomorrow, or Sunday, or most certainly sometime before we next go to press, which is on Thursdays.

That's the tough part about being a weekly newspaper. Even really important stuff, such as the VELCO approval or last week's guilty plea of wife-killer Edgar Whitney Jr, are old news by the time our weekly edition rolls around. The challenge then becomes to distinguish the coverage from that of the dailies. To me, that means devoting more space and more time into telling the complete story, providing context and other helpful extras like timelines.

So, it's Friday afternoon and I'm thinking about what our coverage of the VELCO decision will look like in next week's paper. It's a big deal in this community.

In the meantime, if you're interested in getting a refresher check out some of our past stories: The power line's proposal for decision way back in October and how the electricity shortage has put a freeze on most new development in Stowe.

Before I write the story on the VELCO approval, I have to read through and highlight the 90-page decision. I'm on page 26. Almost half-way there!
— Scott Monroe

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

So long winter...

It may not feel like it, but rest assure that winter is nearing an end. My calendar says so.

Seems like as good a time as any to post some pictures I took this winter in Stowe that didn't make it into the newspaper. This one at left is from the finish at the Stowe Derby a few weeks ago. Below are random wanderings in the snow.

As you can see, Stowe did indeed have some snowfall this winter. If you blinked, you might have missed it.

Someone appears to have snowshoed across the Mayo Farm. Surely it wasn't a coniving reporter setting up a feature photo op. Nah.

Brrrr. Is it June yet?

-- Scott Monroe

Monday, March 13, 2006

Stowe's World Cup

And then there were three. Let's welcome the newest weblog to Stowe Reporter Online: Stowe's World Cup. This one is coverage and commentary of the local ski bum series by Race Stocks Sports guru Todd Carroll. Check it out!

— Scott Monroe

Budget battles: Town Meeting strikes back

A long time ago on a blog far, far away...

Yeah, it's been about two weeks since my last post — woe unto me.

Part of it had to do with the craziness of Town Meeting Day coverage in Stowe, which involved lots of debate on on the town government's capital budget and several hot items at the ballot box, including the third rejection of the Akeley Memorial Building renovation.

This was the third town meeting I've covered since joining the Stowe Reporter and it was definitely the most lively. So, what comes now? For starters, voters have both a school budget and a municipal budget. Thanks to approval of a 1-percent local option tax, the municipal tax rate is actually down a notch. Not so with the ballooning school budget, which is up some 20 percent largely because of the state education funding formula. Bottomline: Stowe property taxes are increasing double digits, despite attempts at cutting municipal spending and the addition of the option tax.

The Stowe Select Board will be meeting this Wednesday at 5 p.m. to start the new year ahead and tackle these and other lingering issues. See you there.

— Scott Monroe