Friday, December 28, 2007

Sentinel a self-described car crash!

A friend who for some bizarre reason reads the Worcester Business Journal forwarded me this semi-interesting interview with Chuck Owen, the publisher of the Sentinel.

Most of it's boring business-speak, but there are a few telling bits. Shall we quote them? We shall!
People go to stock car races not so much because they want to watch it go around and around and around. They go to see the car crash. We're reporting on certain pieces of news, news that people may not like, and they may call it negative, but it gets people to respond, to clean up, to take an active role in their community.
Well, what an enlightened approach to news reporting! I've never heard anything like that before!

Okay, I have. But it's usually used as a derogative way of describing the pathetic state of news reporting. Bragging about it is a touch bizarre.

Now, he's probably right that people go to stock car races for the crashes. But that's a fucking stock car race! Its primary purposes are to entertain rednecks and to sell advertising space!

The Sentinel, on the other hand, is a newspaper (albeit a poor one). Its purpose is ostensibly to inform people about the news, not to entertain them with fiery crashes and traumatic head injuries.

Now, I can't claim to have watched sports reports about stock car racing, but my bet is that they tell you about more than just the crashes. No doubt certain crashes are mentioned, but I'm willing to wager that they also tell you about who won the race, maybe some of the tactics, maybe some analysis of the flow of the race itself, et cetera. Which I guess makes them more newsy than our local paper, which only cares about the crashes.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not opposed to reporting on negative things. If anything, I think the media is too timid about doing so (when's the last time you saw a war photo in a newspaper that actually conveyed the horrors of war?). But it can't be your only focus, and it can't exist in a vacuum. You need context or these sorts of stories are both misleading and pointless.

Sure, you can run your depressing stories like "A Family's Christmas Nightmare". But while a family getting robbed of its hard-earned XBox 360 and Video iPod does indeed suck, you've got other families out there who didn't get robbed because they had nothing to steal.

Do those families not have nightmares too? When you can't even consider pricey electronic gifts because you're struggling to figure out how to both heat your home and feed your kids this month are you not newsworthy?

No, you're not. Not for the Sentinel, at least.

It's not sexy to suffer from complicated societal ills. There's no car crash moment in slowly wasting away. There's no easily identifiable burglar to demonize when the whole system is at fault. So your problems aren't going to be in the paper. Sorry about that!

How about the assertion that this negative focus "gets people to respond, to clean up, to take an active role in their community"?

Well, it's bullshit. Going back to the car crash analogy, what role does the average citizen even have? I'm not a doctor, I'm not a fireman, I can't fix cars. It's a one-time event that's responded to by the people best suited to respond to it. If anything, these stories give people a feeling of helplessness. That the world is rough, but that they can't really do anything about it.

What we really can do something about are those bigger context-laden stories (the ones that don't get reported because they're not sexy). You know, big issues like poverty and homelessness and suffering. They're things that take a lot of people doing a lot of work to really make a dent, but they're not dramatic.

And if they don't get reported on, they're not even visible problems to a lot of people.

So there you have it. The Sentinel will start giving a shit about you and me just as soon as something exciting (and terrible) happens to us. If you're slowly starving to death or something, don't look to them for help. It's just not car-crashy enough.


the bartender said...

The purpose of any newspaper is to sell advertising and newspapers. Read a business journal, get a business perspective.

Donna said...

Media minds much greater than that of the publisher of the Sentinel have discussed over and over the difference between hard news reporting and reporting of sports and entertainment. There is little if any comparison between the two beyond they use paper and ink.

Labor Nrrd said...

Need a reason to read the worcester business journal?

An excellent coloumn on labor in central mass (by someone who may or may not be my wife)

May said...

Yes! Thank you for writing this! I a senior at the charter school, and I have seen what the sentinel has done to attack my school, without looking at all sides of the story, without focusing on the fact we recovered and are better than ever (I am one of the original students in the first class to go from grades 7-12). I have seen letters to the editor disappear, my words twisted to make the school look bad, and good actions our school has taken make our school look unsafe. It's insane that our suspicions have been confirmed!

The Unicow said...


Glad you enjoyed it!

If there's one thing the Sentinel does well, it's attack things without ever looking at the bigger picture or getting the facts. And they'll twist things any way they can to promote their own biases. That's just the way they are.

To be honest, I've become convinced at this point that the Sentinel is one of the biggest problems facing Fitchburg in its quest for rejuvenation. It's a cancer on this town.

Unfortunately, your suspicions were absolutely accurate.

Incidentally, I checked out your blog. Very nice.


ReallyRachel said...

I sincerely hope your post had something to do with the sudden departure of yet another S&E publisher. Why don't we conduct a letter writing campaign (or email?) to the Denver group that owns the S&E and DEMAND that they change their policy of trashing Fitchburg and that they send in a publisher with a track record of supporting his/her community.

Our options include something better than a subscription boycott. We can contact S&E advertisers and promise to withhold our financial support of them as long as they continue to advertise in the Anti-Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise.

Enough is enough and now there's an opportunity to be heard.


The Unicow said...


As much as I'd like to believe that, I doubt my little blog has any impact on such things.

I doubt there's much to be gained from going after the publisher, or Media News Group. They seem to love these sorts of destructive papers (the Lowell Sun is another good example of a crap paper owned by the same group).

I agree about the advertisers though. That's the only really effective way to effect change. We need some organization if we're really going to take this on, though. And a list of advertisers, I reckon.

MissMaggie said...


I highly doubt that you know the inside and out of the newspaper you trash. Also I am 100% positive you don't know Chuck Owen. He speaks highly of Fitchburg and the surrounding communities. He also thinks your new mayor will do great things to help Fitchburg's economy and the town as a whole. If you knew the man, you would have a different perspective.

Hey Rach, don't go attacking the previous publishers of the paper. Most left the Sentinel because of underlying issues that is not any of your concern. Get your facts straight, don’t just say yet another departed publisher.

Maybe instead of typing a blog about all these issues with the newspaper, take a stand and speak up, because right now aren't doing anything else but being an ass that doesn't know shit about Mr. Owen or the Sentinel, Lowell Sun, and the other surrounding community newspapers.

The Unicow said...


Writing a blog is not speaking up? Should I be on a streetcorner with a megaphone or something? Funny, I think I might reach more people this way.

Anyway, you're right about a couple of things. I don't know all the ins and outs of the Sentinel. I've never met or talked to Chuck Owen.

What I do know is what he says in public. And what he says makes him look like a jerk who cares more about sensationalistic bullshit than reporting the news. What he thinks in private matters not one bit when his actions follow that mode. Perhaps he's really swell in person, he still published a really terrible newspaper.

Similarly, all I know of the paper is what I read in it. In fact, that's all that 99.9% of the people are going to know. And what you get from reading it is that:

1) They see only the negative, and harp on it relentlessly.
2) They delight in stirring up controversy based on fear, not facts.
3) Bias, bias, bias.
4) They're really an incredibly shitty newspaper.

I'm going to assume that you somehow have a connection to the newspaper and know all sorts of beatific ins-and-outs about it. Bully for you! Maybe it's a wonderful place to work, full of thoughtful, intelligent people.

Which would be really swell, but would also make it even more of a shame that they write like such total assholes.

The Unicow

The Unicow said...

Also, just an afterthought.

If you're going to defend the Sentinel, next time try doing it on its own merits as a newspaper and not the supposed personal views of people involved with it.

I mean, at least that would be good for a chuckle.

Chuck said...

Hey Madcow,

You know, I read your comments when you first posted them back a few months ago and I came across them again as I was looking into something on line. Let me offer you something, I am that departed publisher and I still stand by my words from that article. What is interesting is that you were not in the room when I was being interviewed so you wouldn't have a clue about the context of the question. Like many people who hide behind blogs, is that your an expert on many things but you probably don't have the character to speak with the person directly or go before a group publicly. What does come through pretty clearly in your writings is that your a pretty angry person. The bartender hits the nail on the head when he states some of the primary roles of a newspaper is ad sales and circulation of the paper but, to state it as if that's it's only purpose is wrong. Mr. Bartender, I grew up in the newspaper business and have worked in it from the business side for over 20 years, I have a very solid business perspective of the business. So when it comes to my understanding the role of newspapers, why don't you stick to mixing cocktails and pouring Bud's!! The content is important to many who buy it and read it on line. When you look at the Sentinel over seven days, there is a whole lot of good positive things covered and they out weigh the negative. That is what was being discussed.

The Sentinel has been recognized by it's fellow papers in Massachusetts and N.E, for some of the articles written over the last couple of years winning awards in their category and newspaper size. You don't get that from the wind, you get those results from very young reporters who are probably working their first full time gig. They are led by a person who cares greatly about how they do their jobs and is passionate about his work, Jeff McMenemy. You may not like Jeff's views in his editorials, I didn't always but, to my point that it gets people to respond, is important. He continues to work with reduced budgets and staffs like many business have to do today and because the these jobs are handled by new fresh out of college kids their average time at the paper is barely over 2 years on average. Many pursue the next level if they can and move on. It's not perfect, if you want a deeper dive into the human tragedy of not being able to afford an XBOX or any presents at all at Christmas, your fortunate you live where you do, pick up the Globe or the T&G and read the deeper dive into it. They have the resources to commit the attention it rightfully deserves.

Sorry Rachel, the posting of Unicow didn't have a damn thing to do with me leaving. They were between me and my employer. Before you take up the practice of bashing what I did or didn't do, let me tell you a little. I attended many of the debates in Fitchburg from School committee to Mayor, I met with many of the Rotary members at their luncheons, I meet with many business owners in the area and attended openings. I spoke with Lisa Wong on several occasions and to make certain I was fair in my own approach, I spent an afternoon riding around the city with Councilman Donnelly, learning as much as I could and listened. I met with the Mayor of Leominster and other community leaders in both cities. Doing this while trying to lead a sales team as a market was sliding and tend to other aspects of running a newspaper.

Don't flatter yourself Madcow, you would reach more people standing on a street corner with a megaphone than reading your ranting blog. The only reason I found it back in January was when I happened to google the Sentinel and my name together. Let's be clear on something, sensationalism isn't what I was promoting, it's what people most often respond to in papers and click through on news web sites. People use papers for many things and everybody differs on what they like and dislike. The Sentinel isn't the problem in your area, if you insist that it is, your misguided. Poor economy, poor leadership over a stretch of many years, the electricity provider in the area runs like a monopoly. With Lisa Wong in place and a number of new faces on the city council, your headed in the right direction. Your state reps should be pushing for high speed rail to run out through Fitchburg. Shortening the commute to Boston substantially would drive housing in many of the areas, bring in more money into the communities and would help with traffic.

To be truthful Madcow, I'm not going to judge you based on your writings, clean up your use of the vulgarities it really shows your age, early twenties? If your older than that, grow up. Oh but wait a minute that would infringe on your first amendment rights? The only place you would get published is on your own blog.
The part that gets me the most is how judgemental you and some of your fellow bloggers are. Don't let the title fool you, I'm more of a regular guy than anything else. I don't pretend to have all the answers and they more than likely don't align with you. When people ask for an opinion, I'll give it. Every body wants to be liked but I'm a big boy and what you or others like you think really doesn't matter. They usually come from people who don't want to put a face to the words, who don't want to get involved with the process from a public service stand point and generally they just want to complain and bitch about things while feeling they have all the answers but not the stones to try and bring them forward.