Why MainStreet Connect Is A Threat to Democracy -- and Dangerous for New Rochelle

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Why MainStreet Connect Is A Threat to Democracy -- and Dangerous for New Rochelle

April 25, 2012 - 18:12

UGH!!! I can't take it anymore. I have to say something. This pablum and drivel coming out of the Daily New Rochelle is driving me crazy.

As they came into New Rochelle, on the heels of Patch, yet another interloper pretending to know something about New Rochelle, I bit my tongue. I have tried to be friendly to both their original reporter and his replacement, Justin Stock. The final straw was Justin's "reporting" on a GreeNR presentation by New Rochelle Sustainability Coordinator Deborah Newborn at a League of Women Voters event at the New Rochelle Public Library. I will address that meeting at a later date.

I sent Justin an email:

Dear Justin,

Is it the policy of Main Street Connect to only report the government point of view on topics or is that just what they teach at the University of Arizona these days?

I refer to this article:

Normally, I would just bite my tongue at the drivel published on Main Street Connect and Patch but I just have to say, at least one time, that you are a disgrace as a journalist. Quite frankly you have no business even using that term to describe what you do. You are nothing more than a government propagandist.

You should be ashamed.

Robert Cox

Managing Editor
New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound

Not surprisingly, there was no reply.

Let me just say that my concern about MainStreet Connect is informed by my views on our local governance in New Rochelle. People like to argue about a weak-Mayor or strong-Mayor form of government, appointed or elected school board members or whether Republicans or Democrats have been better for New Rochelle over the years.

In my view, no governance or political system is a good system, without an active, aggressive media.

I believe that we should never trust any politicians from any party and that we can expect any group in power to abuse that power to one degree or another, and more so as they remain in power longer. I believe that a strong-Mayor form of government in New Rochelle would have a salutary effect in the near-term but that problems and abuses would manifest them over time just as has occurred with a weak-Mayor form of government. This is similar to having appointed school board members and elected school board members or voter approved budgets or not.

There is no "good" system but there are bad ones (dictatorships, oligarchies, etc.).

In my view the ideal system is a "not-bad" system that has an active, diverse media that speaks truth to power and gives a voice to community members with out fear of retaliation or retribution.

It is why I always press very hard on open meeting law issues and FOIL. We need to see with our own eyes what our government is saying and we need access to records to see that they are doing what they say.

It is why I believe there is a strong need for Talk of the Sound.

It is why I am critical of media outlets like the Journal News and News12 -- although they do some good reporting they do not do enough to challenge official accounts of events or actions.

It is why I was critical of Patch because they hired a Democrat Party operative as editor and were setting themselves up as the BramsonIdoniKlugman "alternative" to Talk of the Sound. I am no longer concerned about Patch because they hardly even cover New Rochelle anymore and they have never gained traction in New Rochelle as a news source.

It is a large reason why I absolutely loath MainStreetConnect and their Daily New Rochelle site. I shouldn't care, their readership is even less than Patch, but I do.

For those who don't know, and based on their traffic data you don't, Daily New Rochelle is part of MainStreet Connect, a network of hyper-local web sites founded two years ago by Carll Tucker who previously owned Trader Publications which he sold to Gannett in 1999. It is basically god-awful "reporting" packaged to sell advertising to moderately-affluent soccer mom's.

Don't take my word for it, the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review had this to say:

Most of the stories are very short, superficial pieces that give the sites a Pennysaver feel...

…the company’s “franchise” model—in which MainStreetConnect farms out the basic site infrastructure for a cut of the revenue and then steps back from editorial oversight—could also signal a lack of centralized quality control…

…When we talk about a journalistic experiment succeeding, there are two types of success to consider. First: is it financially sustainable, or potentially profitable? (Maybe.) And second: does it succeed editorially? (Not yet, not at all.)…

Several former employees commented:

I can tell you exactly WHY this company is not producing editorially compelling content: They're cheap. Instead of paying quality, experienced journalists what they're worth, Carll Tucker and co. are hiring rookies who will churn out mass amounts of work for next to nothing. The only problem, of course, is that the resulting copy is lackluster, to say the least…

…the company's focus on marketing, promotions and ad sales vastly overshadows its commitment to quality journalism….

It's actually worse than that. Daily New Rochelle appears to serve no other purpose than to amplify whatever message those in power want delivered to the community. The stories are not just bad they are actually dangerous. The company offers a journalism-like online experience masquerading as a news source. In reality it is a government propaganda outlet no different from Pravda under Stalin or Granma under Castro.

It such a pathetic publication that I have been reluctant to even waste reader's time remarking on Daily New Rochelle and given them unwarranted attention but having made up my mind to say something I just waited for the next event that I attended where Justin was "reporting" on the event.

So last night he wrote about the school board meeting at Davis school. For those who do not attend board of education meetings, Justin Stock follows around Paul Costiglio, the district PR guy, like a lost puppy. It is embarrassing. And sure enough he delivers a story that could have been written by Costiglio himself. In fact, it may have been -- or at least scripted by him.

New Rochelle Students Blast Teacher Cuts

If you are care to bother you can click the link and see for yourself how MainStreet Connect's faux-journalist distills a very animated, wide-ranging, three-hour board meeting into a simple, district-approved message: "students don't want teachers fired". The article is a child-like account of how a high school student spoke to the board about wanting the district to retain his favorite middle school teacher [wipe tears from your eyes here].

There is no mention of the board discussion on the school budget, the recommendations of the citizen advisory committee, a detailed discussion of questionable fund balance accounting, concerns raised by the board about a questionable contract for $720,000 with all the earmarks of a rigged-bid handout to favored contractors, nothing about the recent New York State Report Card alluded to by the Davis Principal in which Davis, Albert Leonard, Isaac Young and New Rochelle High School all failed to make AYP in different sub-groups on state exams, nothing about a board member challenging the Superintendent on his fuzzy math regarding projected NRHS graduation rates. Instead we get happy-horse hooey and a coded message from Organisciak.

Even in the small sliver he chose to report there is absolutely nothing about the REAL reason the teacher at ALMS is being fired even though that was discussed at the meeting (by me) and even though the student he quoted told me after the meeting that he knew the REAL reason and even though Justin Stock interviewed the kid after the meeting there is nothing in the story about the REAL reason the teacher is being fired.

As this is Talk of the Sound not the Daily Pravda, let me clue you in.

The ALMS Dance teacher is, by all accounts, a wonderful teacher. She is NOT being fired by the district. Her position is being eliminated. And her position is not being eliminated due to budget constraints. They are eliminating the position at ALMS because the district wants to fire the dance teacher at Isaac Young.

Got that?

Due to the Last In/First Out policy under the union contract, the district cannot fire the Isaac teacher without firing the Albert teacher so they are eliminating the position while attempting to guilt the Isaac teacher into quitting on her own. That is the real point of the quote attributed to Organisciak in the article, "Unless someone comes walking through my door and says, 'I’m retiring,' the position will be cut." He means that if the Isaac teacher does not quit on her own then both teachers will be fired. Apparently the hope is the Isaac teacher will be so overcome with remorse that she will quit on her own to save the other teacher.

In any case, you the great unwashed masses, are not supposed to know all this. For those who bothered to attend (or will watch on tape-delay on TV) you were treated to the usual melodrama about the great teacher that the kids just love sacrificed on the alter of greedy budget naysayers who "don't care about the children" or "the future" and won't "invest" in either. And, in case, you missed, Mr. Stock is there to relay this drama on the Daily New Rochelle web site.

There were 5 speakers, the all signed up and spoke in succession; clearly there was coordination occurring among some of them, if not all which suggests to me that if the one kid knew then all or some of the speakers knew. In fact, the kids mother told me she knew too. And the kids mother is someone who would likely know the REAL story because she is the President of the PTA Council, another important piece of information not mentioned in the DRN article.

So, how is this a budget issue?

What is the connection to the word "cuts" in the headline New Rochelle Students Blast Teacher Cuts and the references to the school budget? There is none and two of the people involved that I spoke with both knew that and portrayed it a budget cut anyway. And this suits Organisciak just fine -- more people pushing for more spending, keeping the PTA Council happy, no mention of an incompetent teacher working for the district -- and so we get a heart-warming story about how "students" are showing up at school board meetings to plead that a beloved teacher not be fired.

The reality is that the message of a PTA Council President is, for the second year in a row, being aired by her child, to articulate a position that both know to be entirely misleading and inaccurate. And right there to amplify the message is Justin Stock and the Daily New Rochelle.

What I found especially interesting in reading the CJR article on MainStreet Connect is the disclosure that the company uses a "franchise" model, raising questions as to just who is behind the Daily New Rochelle. What we do know is that MainStreet Connect ran a marketing promotion where they convinced schools in Westchester to "compete" for cash prizes provided by our local nuclear reactor based on how many opt-in email addresses each school provided to the company, email addresses which could then be used to push ads/content back to parents. We also know that there is a uniquely cooperative relationship between the local "reporter" for MainStreet Connect and the New Rochelle schools PR person. We also know that the PR person for the district operates under the bizarre notion that media outlets are under an obligation to publish "positive" coverage in exchange for access to schools, press releases and the honor of being pitched story ideas by Paul Costiglio. Shake it altogether and you have the strong appearance that the Daily New Rochelle is bought and paid for by the City School District of New Rochelle.

I don't think all that much of Patch either but Michael Woyton is I.F. Stone compared to Justin Stock.

There, I said it. I said my piece. I feel better.

A little anyway.