New Haven Public Schools spokesman resigns

Word came last night that Chris Hoffman — the New Haven Public Schools spokesman who grabbed New Haven Independent managing editor Melissa Bailey’s video camera, berated her and could be heard dropping an F-bomb on school property — has resigned.

Hoffman made nearly $79,000, and though I’ve been told he is fundamentally a good guy, he clearly was out of his element in a job that taxpayers probably shouldn’t have been asked to pay for in the first place.

Here’s another account of the incident, by Mary O’Leary of the New Haven Register.


An ugly confrontation leads to an apology

The first time was kind of funny. On Wednesday it got quite a bit uglier than that.

New Haven Independent managing editor Melissa Bailey showed up a little before 10 a.m. at the Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy for a scheduled interview with the principal, Pam Franco. Management of the K-8 school was turned over to a private contractor this year as part of the city’s nationally recognized education-reform program.

Waiting for Bailey was Chris Hoffman, spokesman for the New Haven Public Schools. Hoffman, Media Nation readers may recall, was the star of an amusing video standoff with Bailey last May. This time, though, he jumped ugly when Bailey tried to shoot video of him. He lost his temper, pushed her camera down and can be heard uttering what sounds like an F-bomb into his cellphone as he walks away from her.

He then stomps back toward Bailey with the order: “Turn the camera off.”

Bailey: “Please stop. I’m in a public place, Chris.”

Later in the day, Hoffman contacted the Independent and issued the following statement: “I apologize to Melissa Bailey for my conduct today. It was wrong and unprofessional, and I deeply regret my actions.”

Here is Bailey’s account of what happened.

The great newspaper retrenchment of 2012

I’ve got a piece up at the Nieman Journalism Lab predicting that 2012 will be the year of “the great newspaper retrenchment” — an embrace of paywalls and tradition, and a deliberate turning-away from the need to reinvent a business whose long-term prospects remain bleak.

Nieman’s “Predictions for Journalism 2012” series is well worth checking out. I plan to sit down and read them all when I get a chance.

Violence deepens in Kazakhstan

Unrest in western Kazakhstan has taken an ominous turn, as a video has emerged showing police shooting unarmed protesters. “The video was apparently taken by a witness from her apartment window and was posted on YouTube on December 20,” reports Radio Free Europe.

I’ve taken an interest in Kazakhstan, an important U.S. ally, since April 2009, when I attended the Eurasian Media Forum in the Central Asia nation’s largest city, Almaty.

The country, a former Soviet satellite, mixes authoritarianism with some elements of democracy. I interviewed critics of the government who seemed to have no fear of speaking (or writing) freely. Yet the president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, though thought to be popular, rules with an iron hand, and was in the midst of a campaign to censor the Internet during my brief time in Almaty. You can find my blog posts about Kazakhstan here.

From my very sketchy perspective as an outsider, it seemed to me that Kazakhstan’s troubles began earlier this year, when Nazarbayev, according to this New York Times account, almost certainly stole an election he probably would have won anyway, claiming 95.5 percent of the vote.

In November, the Peace Corps withdrew its 117 volunteers from Kazakhstan for reasons that were unclear. Though one of the reasons given was that the country had become too economically advanced to need the Peace Corps, there was also speculation — according to the Christian Science Monitor — that the move was related to attacks by Islamist terrorists. That’s an ominous development in a country with a reputation for being secular and Western in its aspirations.

The recent unrest is related to a strike by oil workers, which has been going on for some time but which has escalated recently, according to the BBC. Adil Nurmakov, Central Asia editor for the Harvard-affiliated blogging network Global Voices Online, wrote about the unrest on Dec. 19, offering what strikes me as a balanced approach between the government’s version of events and that of the protesters. (My video interview with Nurmakov is here.)

So I was struck by a post Nurmakov wrote on his Facebook page today. Nurmakov wrote in Russian, but according to Google Translator, he said:

This video has changed a great deal in my attitude to the events. Yes, by the time the meeting has ceased to be a rally, much has already been burned and looted the city, the situation became uncontrollable. However, in this video is not visible outside of police self-defense can not be seen as protecting the civilian population or any property. It is clear that the police used force disproportionately and arbitrarily and cruelly. And here it must be said directly — the state must recognize that the security forces crossed the line, then to not having sufficient grounds. The state should investigate all the facts of injury and homicide, identifying and publicizing their circumstances. The state must find the perpetrators of the facts of unjustified violence, and punish their police.

Nurmakov posted much the same thing on his blog, too.

Kazakhstan is largely off the Western media’s agenda, but this is important. On the one hand, an Arab Spring-like awakening would be welcome. On the other, a descent into violence and radicalism would be a tragedy for the Kazakh people — and incredibly dangerous, given that Kazakhstan is a rare oasis of stability and prosperity in that region.

Winter storage

Click on image for larger views

Sailboats on the Beverly side of the Salem-Beverly Bridge, December 18, about 10 p.m.

Is the Times Co. ready to sell the Boston Globe?

Within days of Janet Robinson’s sudden retirement as chief executive of the New York Times Co., word leaked that the company was looking to sell its smaller papers in the South and the West.

Which raises a question: Is the Times Co. finally ready to sell the Boston Globe? I review the rocky history of Times Co. ownership in my latest for the Huffington Post.

Mehanna verdict: Speech, actions or both?

Was Tarek Mehanna of Sudbury found guilty because of his loathsome but constitutionally protected free-speech activities on behalf of Al Qaeda? Or did the jury believe he actually engaged in terrorism, especially during a trip to Yemen, where prosecutors say he sought training?

I hope reporters covering the case will seek to interview every juror, because the answer is vitally important. Right now it’s hard to know whether the verdict was an outrage against the First Amendment or something quite a bit less than that. In following coverage of the trial, it was clear that prosecutors tried to conflate the two — using Mehanna’s expression of pro-terrorism views to prove he was an actual terrorist.

Boston Globe reporter Milton Valencia tweeted a little while ago, “Judging by verdict, this was more than 1st Amendment decision. Was also centered on Yemen trip. Found guilty of conspiracy to kill.”