Behind The Scenes
31Jan/130

Budget for Feb. 1, 2013 edition

Here's what the newsroom staff is working on for the Feb. 1, 2013 edition of the Reformer. Please note: Just because it appears on this budget, doesn't mean it will run in tomorrow's newspaper — some stories will be held to get complete information; some stories may be dropped completely. Stories might be held for space, or other timing considerations. Also, breaking stories may not appear on this budget.

If you have any information that could be useful to any of these stories, we'd love to hear from you (call 802-254-2311 ext. 7 or e-mail news@reformer.com).

Filed under: Budgets Continue reading
30Jan/130

Budget for Jan. 31, 2013 edition

Here's what the newsroom staff is working on for the Jan. 31, 2013 edition of the Reformer. Please note: Just because it appears on this budget, doesn't mean it will run in tomorrow's newspaper — some stories will be held to get complete information; some stories may be dropped completely. Stories might be held for space, or other timing considerations. Also, breaking stories may not appear on this budget.

If you have any information that could be useful to any of these stories, we'd love to hear from you (call 802-254-2311 ext. 7 or e-mail news@reformer.com).

Filed under: Budgets Continue reading
29Jan/130

Budget for Jan. 30, 2013 edition

Here's what the newsroom staff is working on for the Jan. 30, 2013 edition of the Reformer. Please note: Just because it appears on this budget, doesn't mean it will run in tomorrow's newspaper — some stories will be held to get complete information; some stories may be dropped completely. Stories might be held for space, or other timing considerations. Also, breaking stories may not appear on this budget.

If you have any information that could be useful to any of these stories, we'd love to hear from you (call 802-254-2311 ext. 7 or e-mail news@reformer.com).

Filed under: Budgets Continue reading
28Jan/130

Evolution of coverage (school lockdown edition)

Late Sunday night, along with many parents of students in the Brattleboro-area school system, the Reformer newsroom learned of a security issue schools would be dealing with on Monday morning.

That news reached parents late Sunday night in the form of an automated calling system. By the time the newsroom learned of the calls, it was past print deadline. The night editor called me at home, and we discussed possible coverage for several minutes.

There were several questions: Who could we reach late on a Sunday night? A town official? A school official? Surely the police ...

We reached out to the police, but the only information we could get was that "this was the schools' decision" and that they (school officials) would be the ones to answer any questions.

By this time, there was already several concerned posts on the Reformer's Facebook page asking for more information.

Knowing there was little to no information to be had (which is sometimes the case with any news story), I made the decision not to fan the flames of concern. Independently, day editor Bob Audette acknowledged the calls went out via a Facebook post.

Early Monday morning, people continued to post on Facebook throughout the night, frustrated at the lack of available information. Consider some of these posts from readers throughout the day:

"They wanted to sound like they were on top of things but with all the vagueness all they did was cause a mass panic. The kids are all scared and nobody wants to send them to school today."

"Very disappointed in the lack of info! These are our children!!!! This is why scary things can happen! All threats should be taken very seriously!"

"I appreciate that the schools and police are doing what they can to keep our kids safe in school. That said, they knew about this on Friday, sent the message on Sunday NIGHT, and released no details that might empower parents to make safe decisions for their children. I think our educators are amazing and dedicated people, but I think the WSESU and the authorities handled this appallingly poorly. Shame on them."

"Hopefully by morning the town officials/law enforcement will have enlightened us AND the media as to what the hell is going on ... They need to make any information they have public ... Just having the schools call parents with this little information is enough to put the whole county into panic ... If there was in fact a threat made then the schools should have been canceled ... We can't risk the safety of our children..or teachers or anyone for that matter."

I immediately got to work collecting any information I could -- on the call, the background, from officials. By 6 a.m. I was able to listen to one of the calls online and post a transcript, along with a brief statement from Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Ron Stahley from a local radio station and the comment from the night before from local police. By 9-9:30 a.m., the town had issued a press release. The WSESU office confirmed Stahley was visiting local schools and talking to officials all morning.

Various pieces of the puzzle continued to fall into place throughout the morning, until a reporter arrived in the newsroom and I was able to have a brief meeting to share all I had learned, and offer guidance on how to proceed throughout the rest of the day. By Monday evening, our full coverage was live online at Reformer.com.

Before leaving the office, I answered a few questions from the reporter on how we chose to handle coverage over the previous 12 hours or so:

The late notification also impacted how the threat information was disseminated in other ways. Reformer Editor Tom D'Errico said he decided to initially post the news on the newspaper's less-formal Facebook site while waiting for more information before publishing updates in the printed edition.

"We were trying to be very sensitive when this news first came to light Sunday night in the newsroom. Above all, we wanted to be able to provide information in context," D'Errico said. "Aside from the robocall parents were already receiving, no other officials were available at that time."

Whether it's a situation like today, a possible fatal accident, or perhaps vague reports of a shooting at well-known local hotspot, local news organizations had a responsibility to avoid reporting rumor, share news and "get it right." With the increased use of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, there's a constant pressure and demand to report the news faster. These tools make that possible, but at the same time it's our responsibility, as professional journalists, to continue following the rules that made us trusted sources of local news to begin with.

28Jan/130

Budget for Jan. 29, 2013 edition

Here's what the newsroom staff is working on for the Jan. 29, 2013 edition of the Reformer. Please note: Just because it appears on this budget, doesn't mean it will run in tomorrow's newspaper — some stories will be held to get complete information; some stories may be dropped completely. Stories might be held for space, or other timing considerations. Also, breaking stories may not appear on this budget.

If you have any information that could be useful to any of these stories, we'd love to hear from you (call 802-254-2311 ext. 7 or e-mail news@reformer.com).

Filed under: Budgets Continue reading
27Jan/130

Budget for Jan. 28, 2013 edition

Here's what the newsroom staff is working on for the Jan. 28, 2013 edition of the Reformer. Please note: Just because it appears on this budget, doesn't mean it will run in tomorrow's newspaper — some stories will be held to get complete information; some stories may be dropped completely. Stories might be held for space, or other timing considerations. Also, breaking stories may not appear on this budget.

If you have any information that could be useful to any of these stories, we'd love to hear from you (call 802-254-2311 ext. 7 or e-mail news@reformer.com).

Filed under: Budgets Continue reading
25Jan/130

Budget for the Jan. 26, 2013 weekend edition

Here's what the newsroom staff is working on for the Jan. 26, 2013 edition of the Reformer. Please note: Just because it appears on this budget, doesn't mean it will run in tomorrow's newspaper — some stories will be held to get complete information; some stories may be dropped completely. Stories might be held for space, or other timing considerations. Also, breaking stories may not appear on this budget.

If you have any information that could be useful to any of these stories, we'd love to hear from you (call 802-254-2311 ext. 7 or e-mail news@reformer.com).

Filed under: Budgets Continue reading
24Jan/130

Budget for Jan. 25, 2013 edition

Here's what the newsroom staff is working on for the Jan. 25, 2013 edition of the Reformer. Please note: Just because it appears on this budget, doesn't mean it will run in tomorrow's newspaper — some stories will be held to get complete information; some stories may be dropped completely. Stories might be held for space, or other timing considerations. Also, breaking stories may not appear on this budget.

If you have any information that could be useful to any of these stories, we'd love to hear from you (call 802-254-2311 ext. 7 or e-mail news@reformer.com).

Filed under: Budgets Continue reading
23Jan/130

Ongoing postal predicament (an editorial)

[A sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]

Note: This issue is of particular importance to small-town, local newspapers, who still rely on the postal service to deliver their products.

***

The U.S. Postal Service recorded a record $15.9 billion annual loss last year, and officials within the agency are saying that, without congressional action, the agency is likely to run out of money, most likely by October.

Competing Senate and House proposals to help resolve Postal Ser­vice finances expired when the old Congress left Jan. 3, according to a recent report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and two senators who have pushed for a postal overhaul retired.

“We have a just-in-time Congress that waits until the very last minute before doing things, and I think that will be the likely scenario with regard to postal reform,” Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, told the Post-Gazette in an interview.

Consider these figures: the latest estimates place losses at about $25 million a day; mail volume is down 26 percent from its peak in 2006; to continue operations, the USPS skipped $11.1 billion of required payments over the past two years for future retirees’ health costs; the agency also exhausted its $15 billion borrowing authority last September.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has over the past few years proposed several scenarios which would make USPS more financial­ly viable: Ending Saturday mail delivery (a move he claimed would save $3.1 billion annually); Closing hundreds of letter-sorting facili­ties and thousands of post offices; And consider union contracts to fire protected employees. Conversely, a new plan would let the agency set up an independent health plan, more easily raise rates (speaking of: there’s a new hike set to go through Jan. 27), and enter new businesses, such as delivering wine and liquor.

Citizens Against Government Waste has called the USPS business model “increasingly antiquated,” which echoes the Government Accountability Office proclamation that “due to USPS’s inability to reduce costs sufficiently in response to continuing mail volume and revenue declines,” the current model is simply not viable.

In a 2011 editorial, we called the elimination of Saturday delivery a minor fix, and one which would stretch far beyond carving off a per­centage of lost revenue: Cutting Saturday delivery may have little effect in most of the nation’s urban centers, but such a change in smaller, more rural markets could be catastrophic.

While it continues to improve, many Vermonters still live without broadband Internet access. The older generation, which makes up a fair chunk of the state’s demography, still relies on hand-written let­ters for correspondence. Many small, local businesses still rely on the Postal Service to deliver their bills and payments. Technological advances continue to be made, but we aren’t there yet.

“If Congress fails to act, there could be postal slowdowns or shut­downs that would have catastrophic consequences,” Art Sackler, leader of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, told the Wall Street Journal. Sackler’s group includes some of the country’s largest mailers, including eBay Inc., Time Warner Inc. and FedEx Corp., all of which use the postal service for the final leg of some deliveries.

Even a short shutdown would cost businesses that depend on mailed bill payments, Mr. Sackler told the Wall Street Journal, adding a shutdown could disrupt as many as eight million private-sector workers whose employment is tied to the mail.

Add the Reformer to that list. While our digital offers continue to grow (from our website to our mobile apps to our presence on social media), the daily paper is still a cornerstone to what we do. Elimina­tion of Saturday mail would greatly affect not only us, but most in the newspaper industry.

“While our industry and our company are growing electronic deliv­ery options, and therefore our digital audience is growing, we are still very much in the print and deliver business here in Southern Ver­mont,” Reformer Publisher Ed Woods said of the potential elimination of a USPS delivery day. “Our readers tend to be more mature than the average, making them more comfortable with traditional newspaper products. In addition, our communities are still working to build internet access in an area where coverage is still inconsistent. The need for reliable mail delivery is evident in that our print readership has not declined in recent years, but rather has stayed constant.”

The Senate earlier this year passed postal-overhaul legislation, though the postmaster said the bill didn’t go far enough. While that legislation did prevent the USPS from ending Saturday delivery until further study was done, that option certainly isn’t off the table.

Meanwhile, the USPS has begun trimming hours at many rural Post Offices. As announced last week, the Marlboro post office is one of about 13,000 across the country that is going to have its hours cut this year — by two hours — along with other Windham County locations in Grafton, Jamaica and Williamsville. East Dover, Wardsboro, West­minster Station, West Dummerston, West Halifax, West Wardsboro and Whitingham daily service will be reduced from eight hours to four. And the Cambrigeport post office will only be open for two hours a day.

“Only 4,000 post offices bring in enough revenue. It’s not a good sit­uation right now,” Walter Rowland, Postmaster of the Manchester, N.H., post office, told a group of residents crowded into the Marlboro town office last week. “Nobody wants to do this but we don’t know what else to do.” He added that there probably is not very much town residents will be able to do to help the situation.

The USPS hoped to save about $500,000 annually by reducing the hours, which still doesn’t do much to offset the steep losses.

“We have huge financial problems and the trend is clearly down­ward,” Tom Rizzo, the spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service North­ern New England District, told the Reformer last week. “It is only going to get worse.”

The U.S. Postal Service can generate nearly $35 million in revenues over two years by increasing its viability as a federal contract recip­ient, according to the USPS’ inspector general’s office, as reported by Government Executive magazine. “The General Services Admin­istration awarded about $340 million annually in 2011 and 2012, but only $1.2 million and $4.8 million to USPS, respectively. Contracts went overwhelmingly to FedEx and UPS.”

And as Post & Parcel points out, “For USPS to pull itself out of its current financial difficulties, it cannot just rely on pension and healthcare reforms and high-profile cost-cutting measures ... it must also find fresh ways to raise new revenue streams.”

Nips and tucks here and there aren’t going to solve the problem. The USPS needs to take a long, hard look at its own corporate struc­ture before making minor changes that continue to affect many peo­ple across the U.S. In addition, we call on Washington lawmakers to enact the changes needed to help USPS. There’s plenty that can be done to shore up losses without affecting service.

Filed under: editorials No Comments
23Jan/130

Budget for Jan. 24, 2013 edition

Here's what the newsroom staff is working on for the Jan. 24, 2013 edition of the Reformer. Please note: Just because it appears on this budget, doesn't mean it will run in tomorrow's newspaper — some stories will be held to get complete information; some stories may be dropped completely. Stories might be held for space, or other timing considerations. Also, breaking stories may not appear on this budget.

If you have any information that could be useful to any of these stories, we'd love to hear from you (call 802-254-2311 ext. 7 or e-mail news@reformer.com).

Filed under: Budgets Continue reading