Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Westchester | A N.Y. amusement park battle over Muslim headscarves, and the fight for local news

As Gannett disclosed details of another effort to improve news content yesterday, a story broke in New York's Westchester County that offers a vivid example of bruising competition on the local news front, especially from the 500-plus site Patch news network.

Although this involves The Journal News, it could easily have taken place in any of GCI's more than 100 U.S. newspaper and broadcast markets, where newsroom staff have been whacked to pieces in recent years.

The story: A brawl erupted among 30-40 people at the Playland Amusement Park in Rye, N.Y., after Muslim visitors became angry when the park, citing safety concerns, enforced its ban on headgear and prohibited the women from wearing traditional head coverings on some rides. Police from nine different agencies were called in. At least 15 people were arrested.

The story is now all across the Internet. New York media, naturally, have played it up: The New York Times featured a two-byline staff report on its homepage early this morning. So, too, did the New York Post and the Daily News. Yet, media as far away as The Washington Post took a bite, too.

'They got smoked'
Not surprisingly, it's the most popular story on the Journal News' website -- well ahead of the Hurricane Irene story featured most prominently on the site. And that's where Gannett Blog's Anonymous@12:44 a.m. weighs in.

They wrote a detailed account of how news coverage unfolded at several media outlets, focusing on the Journal News. "They got smoked by the competition, including the start-up,,'' 12:44 said. "Great story, possible national interest."

To be sure, that's only 12:44's version; I haven't seen any comments from the Journal News' side, and I would love to get them.

But a review of timestamps shows, indeed, that the Patch site in Rye was at least competitive -- and appears ahead on photos and video. Its first account was posted by at least 5:08 p.m.; that's when the first of 64 reader comments appears.

The Journal News' first account came earlier -- but not by much, judging from reader comments. Its story was posted by 4:15 p.m., according to the first of 173 reader comments.

Patch has two stories, at least 10 photos, and four videos. The Journal News essentially has one story, two photos and no video. (To be precise, I see two LoHud versions of what appear to be the same story; the paper is featuring the second one, with just 20 comments, on its homepage.)

Last stand: local news
Now, perhaps the Journal News was having an unusually bad day. Once more, its supporters could provide valuable context.

But one fact is certain: Local news is GCI's last stand. If the company can't hold that franchise, the game will be over.

That fear got underscored yesterday, when Nashville's Tennessean reported that its top editor, Mark Silverman, is moving to Corporate's News Department. There, the paper said, he "will be part of a team helping the company's news organizations transform their coverage and increase their local impact.''

His appointment comes after the department convened a meeting earlier this month of editors at the top 31 newspapers. They gathered to address a central question, according to a memo: "How can we create unique, high-impact journalism with smaller staffs?"

That was a reference to the latest round of newsroom cuts that came during the June round of 700 layoffs across all newspaper departments.

Yesterday's Playland Amusement Park story is just one example. No doubt, the Journal News will swing back today.

But as more stories like this one get lost to Patch and other rivals, GCI's decline will continue in a death by 1,000 local cuts.

Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.


  1. Lohud or The Journal News is not the first read in there home Market so piggybacking off the Patch or any other source seems to be part of the grand plan. It costs money to be first!

  2. Jim, once again, your bias is showing. You admit that The Journal News had the story first. The Post even quotes The Journal News in its story. The story dominates the front page of the paper, in the center with the lead headline. And yet, you highlight a reader comment from a disgruntled employee saying TJN "got smoked." Unbelievable. Then, somehow, you manage to drag Mark Silverman's move into it?

  3. TJN had the story first, by your own account. While I see the point you are trying to illustrate, the facts as you laid them out don't support the theory.

  4. 9:45 I appreciate your feedback. As I noted, 12:44's was just one view, and I wanted the newspaper's, too.

    My examination was of online-only coverage. That's where the competitive threat is greatest.

  5. Journal News may have posted the story a few minutes before Patch but thats only part of the job. On the digital platform, people expect more than just a news brief. How about a picture or two? Maybe even some video? Not from the Journal News. Good photogs, pitiful leadership.

  6. I can't speak for Jim, but it seems to me that Mark Silverman got dragged into it because he's being brought back to corporate specifically to deal with issues like this - bulking up the breaking local report when papers have fewer and fewer resources with which to report breaking local news.

  7. Decent photogs, embarrassing "leadership."

    TJN had a long weekend of over-hyped and stress-inducing Irene coverage. Since a lot of the area had little to no impact other than a rainy day, the photos out of storm-ravaged areas was more compelling.

    And as far as I can tell, there is one "night" photog assigned each day. The paper is forced to put up with whatever that individual is willing to cover. You get someone who just doesn't want to, or who already has 4 other assignments, or who is covering something across the river and can't physically make it to Rye before everything is over, and that's what you get.

    TJN is woefully understaffed. Exhausted from the ridiculous hype of what amounted to a heavy rain. Demoralized and every person in the newsroom is looking for a way out and/or is petrified of the next round of furloughs and layoffs. Not the way to get the best out of what little staff you have remaining.

  8. Re: Journal News photogs...A couple are outstanding. Others, not so much. A couple just don't give a $#@!. We lost a lot of talent (Photographers) from that department the last couple of years. And while we didn't "get smoked", we didn't do as good a job as we should. Kind of par for the course lately.

  9. The fact is almost no one in Westchester subscribes to The Journal News. It's beyond irrelevant as a news source. News12 dominates the marketplace. Patch and are already at the level of engagement of The Journal News since they both actually have more locally assigned reporters to Westchester - in fact, far more. That's a fact.

  10. I think it's splitting hairs to compare time stamps by mere minutes and the number of initial photos. How about quality over quantity?

    TJN had amazing photos today of the incident from an eyewitness, obtained emails between the park and county, and photographed and interviewed the girl who claims to have sparked the dispute. I don't know why people always feel the need to bash hardworking colleagues in their industry.

  11. This report of getting "smoked" simply isn't true. TJN had the story nearly an hour before Patch, learned and published the reason for the dispute long before anyone else, and updated the story into the evening (not "a few paragraphs", but a full story long before dinner). Patch's first update was two paragraphs saying cops had responded to Playland for some undetermined reason. (Four bylines, two paragraphs. That's what I call getting "smoked.") Oh, and "Main Street Connect," ostensibly the next new thing nipping at Patch's heels? Even slower on the pickup. Disgruntled former Gannett people can throw rotten apples all they want, but the facts on this one speak for themselves.

  12. The Daily Westchester has 32 hyper local town sites in Westchester. Patch has 12. Between them, that's 44 fulltime reporters assigned to each town. How can the Journal News, even in its heyday, compete with that? Anyone know the total number of fulltime Journal News reporters covering Westchester?

  13. Let's face it. The Journal News is beyond a sinking ship at this point. As noted, none of the reporters or photographers are motivated by the overmatched editorial leadership to even do mediocre work.

    And it shows. For the few who still bother to read the product whether in print or online.

  14. Has someone at TJN been assigned to monitor this blog to spin things to try to make CR and JM look good? All thosse pro-TJN comments sound like they're coming from the same person. Ain't going to work; they are overmatched. The rest of the staff is doing a very good job despite the lack of competent leadership. Now that I think of it, it's probably CR that's doing it. Lord knows she doesn't do anything else.

  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  16. I can tell you at our site, the staff is spread so thin that getting "breaking news" that isn't the most obvious (car crash/stabbing/fire)is worth your life. AME's and BNE's and digital editors (the one who didn't get laid off)are over loaded and still have to do the typical Gannett nonsense like spend hours in meetings. While they're in meetings there is almost no one watching the store (or at least who can post something on line) and that is how a Patch will beat Goliath (or at least beat them on the update and details while the same post remains on the GCI papers site for hours)

  17. A good point, 10:05, but as was noted, it appears Patch and the Daily Westchester may not be David in this battle with 44 full-time local reporters in Westchester to maybe 10 for The Journal News.

  18. That whole TD/CinDey "dynamic" has been a disaster for Westchester staff. Time to bring in a competent EE for however long the paper remains in existence. One thing's clear. It would be the first time Westchester has had a competent EE in over a decade.

  19. Full-time newsroom population — across all departments — is still above 120.

  20. It's also worth noting that page-views have neared or topped 1,000,000 every day since Sunday.

  21. "It's also worth noting that page-views have neared or topped 1,000,000 every day since Sunday." Spending the day in your cubicle clicking pages all day long again?

  22. Comments 7:54 and 7:57 were obviously written by the same person - I think we can all surmise who that is and the motivation behind the misleading statements.

  23. Th initials JK ring a bell, 1051?

  24. @ 10:51PM - what is misleading about those posts? The fact is there have been over one million page views each day since Sunday. There are, in fact, over 120 members of the Westchester LIC.

    Both statements are easily verifiable. Too bad no one that posts here is a journalist with the ability to do the investigation. Oh, wait........

  25. 7:21, good to see you are continuing your daily morning postings, however fallacious they may be. The question that was posed was how many full-time reporters does the Journal News now have that are assigned to cover Westchester. Since you are privy to size of the newsroom itself and page view totals, you surely must now. So what's the answer???

  26. 7:21 AM here. Sorry, 8:53 but I rarely post on this blog. Certainly not daily.

    Doesn't appear to me that post at 7:54 was answering a question; merely stating a fact.

    Yes, I do indeed know the exact number of members of the Westchester LIC. I don't even work in a LIC, or at the Westchester site, but it didn't take much to find out that information. Perhaps I should apply for an investigative reporter position.


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