Talk of the Sound recently hit a major milestone in becoming the first hyper-local site in New Rochelle to reach 1,000,000 unique visitors. Don’t expect any cheering from over in City Hall. After years of hoping we would just go away, the powers that be in New Rochelle have grudgingly come to realize we are not going away.
Mahatma Gandhi is often cited, incorrectly, as having said:
First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.
Readers can decide where we have gotten to along this continuum but the time has long since passed that Talk of the Sound is ignored.
Since Talk of the Sound was launched in 2008, we have grown from a few hundred readers a month to tens of thousands and had a major impact (for the better) on the way our local twin governments operate. For the first time in many years, there is actual investigative reporting occurring in New Rochelle which has resulted in exposing criminal wrong-doing, negligence and incompetence in our municipal government and our school district. Talk of the Sound played a critical role in the arrest of crooks like former DPW Fleet Manager Richard Fevang on public corruption charges and school administrator Jose Martinez on charges he repeatedly raped a student in his office. Residents now know there is an alternative to going hat in hand to school district or government officials to seek justice, places where it is rarely dispensed with equity or, in other words, not at all.
In just the short time since Talk of the Sound launched there has been something of a sea change in the local media ecosystem. Where there was no hyper-local online coverage of New Rochelle before 2008, there are now four online news outlets, including Talk of the Sound. The only Tier 1 newspaper in the area has all but collapsed — down to just six reporters and having outsourced its entire production capability to New Jersey. Verizon FOIS has grown to become a full-on competitor for Cablevision. Social media services like Facebook and Twitter have exploded. Smartphones with video capture and still photography capability have become ubiquitous, turning every citizen into a potential news gatherer.
All of this got me thinking over the holidays about why Talk of the Sound has prospered while many of our erstwhile competitors have floundered. While this critique of the local media landscape is not intended to be a detailed analysis it does reflect my impressions of the evolution of media that gathers and distributes news and information about New Rochelle whether that be in print, broadcast or online.
My thoughts on this are constantly evolving and nothing is set in stone so I would be particularly interested to hear the thoughts of our readers and get their critique. If I missed a media outlet or failed to note an important point please share that as well.
The Journal News is the only traditional “mainstream media” outlet operating in Westchester County. Over the years it has become a mouthpiece for the Democrat party, endorsing Democrats over Republicans by a staggering margin and consistently advocating for higher taxes and big government. This should come as no surprise. As the “paper of record” for almost the entire public sector in Westchester and Putnam County, the Journal News depends on what amounts to a government subsidy in the form of payments for legally required notices. Gannett knows enough not to bite the hand that feeds it.
When it comes to New Rochelle, the JN knows which side its bread is buttered on, too. For example, here is how the Journal News depicted the choices in the recent Mayoral race:
Bramson has helped foster a new partnership with Iona College, an economic powerhouse, to ensure that the college continues its growth in ways that best complement the city’s character. He touts work being undertaken to reconceive the city’s comprehensive plan that would make waterfront areas more accessible and improve infrastructure. Bramson, a consultant for Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, is seeking a second term. He was selected by his peers to fill the term of Timothy Idoni, now Westchester’s county clerk, in January 2006, and was elected in own right in 2007.
Richard St. Paul:
St. Paul is an attorney who worked on the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in 2004 and has represented former state Sen. Pedro Espada, who was rejected by voters in 2010 amid longstanding charges he used a Bronx health-care facility as his personal piggy bank. St. Paul, who stood with Espada at one of the disgraced senator’s denial news conferences, declined to discuss his work with Espada. In any event, we think the choice is clear. Re-elect Bramson on Election Day.
Notice a difference?
There is no doubt that St. Paul was a terribly flawed candidate but as a critique of the Journal news role in the campaign, it is clear that the paper was acting as an agent on behalf of the Democrats in New Rochelle.
The paragraph on St. Paul dwells primarily on a “guilt by association” attack by linking St. Paul, a lawyer, to the actions of one of his clients. This is the exact line of attack developed by Noam Bramson during a City Council meeting last February and repeated during their debates. The pattern emerges.
St. Paul’s respect for his ethical and legal obligations under attorney-client privilege is portrayed as something sinister. The pattern continues.
The Journal News comes up with “dirt” on St. Paul involving litigation between him and the mother of his child which undoubtedly was provided to reporter Ned Rauch by the Democrats. The pattern is complete.
According to circulation data from an Audit Report for the Journal News from April 2007, the paper had a 19.2% “penetration” based on 26,482 copies per day in Southern Westchester. That was four years ago and the numbers have continued to drop dramatically.
At The Journal News in Westchester, where circulation declined 38%, layoffs have been especially heavy, including during the last round of job cuts, in June. Also, like more than half of [Gannett]’s papers, printing has been outsourced.
A 38% drop from 19.2% would be 11.9%.
As Gannett continues its rush to prop up profits by cutting staff and resources, it is damaging its brand, its reputation for quality local journalism. It is the only edge it has over digital competition such as Patch.com and the thousands of hyperlocal Web sites popping up like dandelions in spring. But as the reputation of Gannett newspapers deteriorates, all the digital efforts will be diminished also.
A major part of that deterioration has to do with serving as a shill for Democrats and a platform of higher taxes and more government which is seriously out of step with a community that elected Rob Astorino to cut taxes and reduce the size of government.
Due its reduction in staff, the Journal News has largely taken to covering New Rochelle by picking up on stories on Talk of the Sound except for major events like City Council meetings, major public events, sports and police blotter stories.
The Democrats initially crowed about how they were going to turn Patch into their “antidote” to Talk of the Sound. To this day, the user-generated content on the site consists largely of Democratic Party district leaders and other Noam acolytes propounding the party line.
New Rochelle Patch began under Allison Esposito, an editor who came to the company after various jobs as a Democratic operative in Westchester and Albany. She was fired within days of launch after Talk of the Sound caught her plagiarizing content from our site. Her boss, Kathleen Ryan O’Connor, the Regional Editor for Patch Westchester, who previously worked for 10 years at the Journal News, was caught up in Esposito’s lies until Patch’s national editor called Talk of the Sound to personally apologize for the numerous false statements made by Esposito and O’Connor.
Patch’s parent, AOL, has hired an investment bank to explore options to selling or merging the company. There was some talk about a deal with Yahoo! More recently a large shareholder has written a scathing letter to AOL CEO Tim Armstrong complaining about the low valuation of the company and singling about Patch as a major financial sinkhole.
“…a complaint that Patch, which Armstrong bought from his own investment firm, will “lose as much as $150 million in 2011.”
In its 3Q-2011 Earnings Statement, the company announced that Patch nationally is getting 10 million monthly unique visitors and has registered 10,000 unpaid “bloggers” (i.e., registered users) for its 870 local Patch sites. That comes out to about 11,500 unique visitors per month per location and 12 “bloggers” per location. By way of comparison, Talk of the Sound has been averaging about 50,000 unique visitors per month and has over 2,000 registered users which includes dozens of active commenters and contributors.
AOL’s decline in operating income and Adjusted OIBDA year-over-year reflects lower total revenue, continued investment in Patch and other strategic areas and an $8.5 million increase in retention compensation related to acquisitions made in 2010 and 2011.
Patch is less about providing news coverage than about being a hyper-local advertising platform, recently morphing into a sort of Groupon clone (as is the Journal News).
Don’t expect Patch to be around much longer in its current form, if at all.
Daily New Rochelle
The Daily New Rochelle is doing a number of things right in their coverage.
A lot of the content is press releases filler but Justin Stock gets around town and covers a lot with limited resources. The stories are often “blurbs” of a few sentence and many bordered on the mundane with headlines like “New Rochelle Work Continues On Mill Road” or “Jet Plane Flies Over New Rochelle at Low Altitude” but it has gotten better.
Sadly, Daily New Rochelle has accepted the role as flack for the New Rochelle Board of Education which has successfully co-opted the Daily New Rochelle as its “antidote” to Talk of the Sound much the same way the Democratic Party has co-opted New Rochelle Patch. The paper went so far as to give the district a $5,000 “prize”, about as clear a conflict of interest as your are going to find from a supposed news organization. Like Patch, DNR is less about providing news coverage than about being a hyper-local advertising platform.
DNR’s coverage of obituaries and local sports is a plus.
Daily New Rochelle is owned by MainStreetConnect which is a regional version of AOL Patch, founded by the former owner of the Patent-Trader which was acquired by Gannett and folded in the Journal News.
Polly Kreisman does a good job covering Larchmont and Mamaroneck. The site does consider New Rochelle part of their coverage area but there is not too much New Rochelle news or information on the site. From time to time The Loop uses our content, with permission, in exchange for a credit.
This is a weekly newspaper out of Yonkers which occasionally has some New Rochelle stories. I know little about it and have only actually seen it “in the wild” once or twice so I cannot say too much about it.
Channel 12 News
Channel 12 News does about the best job of any of the TV outlets in the area. Brian Conybeare is a very good news anchor and they have increased their coverage of New Rochelle over the past three years. Part of that is due to picking up stories from Talk of the Sound. From time to time they use our content, with permission in exchange for a credit.
They are naturally constrained in their reporting by the fact that they operate in New Rochelle by virtue of a “franchise” awarded by the New Rochelle city government. Any news operation that is directly or indirectly licensed by the government, no matter how hard individual producers, news director or reporters work, is going to be tainted as a result.
Two senior employees at Channel 12 News have close personal relationships with important players in the public sector in New Rochelle. Reporter Tara Rosenblum is dating the Vice Chairman of the Westchester County Democratic Party and Capelli Enterprises spokesperson Joe Apicella. Capelli has been a major beneficiary of tax breaks in New Rochelle. News Director Janine Rose is the sister of New Rochelle Board of Education IT Director Christine Coleman.
That said, Channel 12 News has given New Rochelle the sort of TV news coverage it never had.
It has been about six months since Matthew Pryce and I were the first hosts to refuse to sign the station’s version of a “loyalty oath” (Hezi Aris also refused to sign) and were taken off the air as a result. I have avoided wading into WVOX issues since then to allow sufficient time to pass. It is a new year and a review of the media landscape in New Rochelle would not be complete without including WVOX so this is a good a time as any to put WVOX back on the Talk of the Sound radar.
As readers know, the only consistent critic of entrenched power in New Rochelle (me) was removed from the WVOX airwaves last August. This came about by station management creating a contract for all show hosts that banned “any on-air verbal attacks“, that required engineers and hosts to “immediately and instantly” cut-off any “tirade or verbal attack on anybody or anything. The agreement specifically banned “muckraking” and “investigative reporting”.
As a host I called in every Friday to Good Morning Westchester to promote the Talk of the Sound Radio show and was routinely introduced by Bob Marrone as “New Rochelle’s muckraking journalist”. Some have sought to claim otherwise but we will let readers draw their own conclusions as to the effect of the “contract” and the motivation behind it.
Of course, it is Bill O’Shaugnessy’s football and if he wants to pout, take his ball and go home he is free to do so but anyone who has listened to WVOX since August knows, the supposed policy against verbal attacks on “anybody or anyone” is routinely violated with impunity, most notably by station News Director Bob Marrone.
For anyone who had any doubts that WVOX morning host Bob Marrone is firmly in the pocket of Mayor Noam Bramson, the Democrats and the oligarchy that runs New Rochelle, note this quote from his latest column.
“He’s educated! He’s eloquent! He’s a decent human being! That’s why we hate him right down to the marrow of his bones. He is New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson. Listen every other week as he makes us sick.” This message brought to you by a small, but dedicated, group of conservative residents.
Marrone is constantly shilling for Mayor Bramson in print and on the air. He is always sure to have a Bramson supporter on the line to respond to any criticism that might be made. He takes every opportunity to seek to belittle or marginalize Bramson critics, routinely portraying opposition to Bramson and the Democrats as unwarranted, unfair or unhinged. About the toughest criticism from Marrone is that the Mayor does not shine his shoes enough (seriously, he said that).
Marrone freely admits that he is a liberal Democrat, he often rails against the Tea Party, Republicans, conservative activists and pundits and is a staunch defender of President Obama, Noam Bramson and the status quo in New Rochelle. That is all well and good for a talk show host.
The problem is that Marrone is also the News Director for the station, and as such, along with Station Manager Don Stevens, the person who issued and signed the directive stating that he would “not tolerate or countenance any on-air verbal attacks on any person, company or entity on WVOX. Having issued a policy directive designed to drive me off their air, Marrone fails to apply that policy to any host, guest of caller at the station including himself.
As he has done in his recent column, Marrone routinely confuses opposition to policies advocated by the Mayor with some sort of irrational and unarticulated hatred of Noam Bramson. If it were really true that people were calling his show and launching tirades or verbal attacks against anyone that would be a violation of station policy. In fact, a quick listen to Good Morning Westchester on any given day would reveal the opposite, that Marrone is the one launching tirades or verbal attacks against — take your pick — Republicans, the Harrison Police Department, the Tea Party, Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich, Richard St. Paul, Judge Susan Capeci, etc.
WVOX is privately-owned, does not pay for Arbitron Ratings and so has no information at all about the number of people tuning in to its broadcast. The AM signal is very weak and is inaudible in certain parts of New Rochelle.
The Westchester Guardian
The Westchester Guardian, where Peggy Godfrey and Bob Marrone are contributors, does a good job of running stories about New Rochelle. They are almost the antithesis of the Journal News, with a focus on city government in Yonkers and Westchester County government, especially the Westchester County District Attorney. Unfortunately, they only publish once a week and their web site leaves a lot to be desired.
The paper is opinion driven with little original news reporting about New Rochelle. When it does have original reporting they often have bombshell stories but, again, their focus is elsewhere even though the paper is headquartered in New Rochelle (the only publication, besides Talk of the Sound, so based).
Despite Bill O’Shaughnessy’s attempts to portray himself as the leading champion of “free speech” in the area, it is Guardian Publisher Sam Zerhka who has been fighting — and winning — actual First Amendment court cases in Westchester County. Editor Hezi Aris gives the paper a strong, combative tone.
Sound & Town Report
The Sound & Town is the best print coverage for New Rochelle. Unfortunately, it has gone from publishing once a week to twice a month and our favorite local reporter, Greg Maker is no longer writing for them.
The paper was also designated a “paper of record” by the City of New Rochelle which detracts from its ability to be a strong, independent voice but otherwise this is a solid paper.
The web site leaves a lot to be desired. Rather than cannibalize its print publications, the company waits to publish stories on the web until after the print edition is distributed so that stories are unnecessarily delayed. This strategy flies in the face of current trends in digital media.
New Rochelle Review
Primarily a collection of press releases with a dab of original reporting by Steve Lipken. This paper primarily exists to sell real estate ads and estate planning services for affluent North Enders so the content is light and fluffy, with an eye towards presenting New Rochelle as a place you want to buy a home, move in and stay, until you die.
New York City Media Outlets
Not so good.
The New York Times closed its Westchester section, the Wall Street Journal reporter for Westchester is based in Connecticut and the New York Post and New York Daily News rarely send a reporter north of the Bronx. Channel 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 11 cover New Rochelle occasionally with Channel 2 (Lou Young) and Channel 7 (Marcus Solis) doing the best job. A good deal of the TV reporting done on New Rochelle is either a major fire, an act of violence or a story picked up from Talk of the Sound.
The City of New Rochelle
The City of New Rochelle, under the guise of the Mayor’s GreeNR plan, has proposed Initiative 6.39: Civic Communication with the goal to “expand access to and improve awareness of general civic information, municipal decision-making, and community events, primarily through enhanced Internet and cable television communications, but also through traditional, non-electronic outreach, especially to underserved portions of the New Rochelle community. The goal is to “subscribe at least 50% of New Rochelle’s households to the City email notification system. Restore direct-mail newsletters as resources permit. Facilitate receipt of municipal news by non-English speakers.
The City website received approximately 26,000 page hits per day, including 1,100 hits to the home page, a statistic which may better represent the number of daily visitors to the site. Less than one thousand individuals subscribe to municipal email bulletins. The City does not currently maintain funding for newsletter production and distribution.
“Hits” are not a real term that is used in measuring web traffic. Web monitoring software tracks unique visitors and page views. It would be highly unlikely that the City of New Rochelle web site would be getting 26,000 unique visitors a day. As the number one search result in Google for “New Rochelle”, the figure of 1,100 unique visitors seems possible but the “bounce rate” may be high and the dwell time very low. This would be because the high Google ranking would mean that many people doing a search would be directed to the City of New Rochelle site when it is not what is is looking for so they would immediately click away — the “bounce rate” — and since they are only on the site for a second the average time people spend on the site — the dwell time — would decrease
More worrisome is the idea that the government solution to void in local media coverage is to rush to fill that void themselves. There is already a dearth of media outlets willing to “speak truth to power” in New Rochelle and replacing what little we have with more government sponsored media is a dangerous path.
UPDATE: New Rochelle Communications Director Kathy Gilwit provided the following data.
Unique Visits- 31,579 (to both pages and modules)
Dwell Time: 2:45 (2 min 45 sec) average per page
There are currently 2,557 subscribers to City email bulletins.
That’s about it. If I missed some outlet let me know.
We are going to talk about this on our radio show tonight at 7 PM. Click the Blog Talk Radio widget (top, right on the home page) to listen tonight and let us know what you think or leave a comment and let us know what you think about our local media landscape here in New Rochelle.