How a Connecticut journalist unmasked ‘Edward Clarkin’

Christine Stuart via Facebook
Christine Stuart (via Facebook)

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

The recent sale of the Las Vegas Review-Journal is such a strange and complicated morass that it’s hard to know where to begin. There was the shroud of secrecy that was pierced when we learned that the buyer was casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. The threads connecting the transaction to Russel Pergament, a former top executive with The Real Paper, the Tabnewspapers, and the short-lived commuter tabloid BostonNOW. And, above all, the role of Michael Schroeder, a former BostonNOW executive who’s emerged as a principal player in all of this.

If you haven’t been following the epic tale, The New York Times has a decent overview, though it lacks the sense of drama and just plain weirdness that have already made it one for the ages.

Since I have to begin somewhere, I’ll begin with Christine Stuart. She’s the Connecticut journalist who appears to have solved at least part of the mystery involving an article that was published by the New Britain Herald criticizing a Nevada county judge who had tangled with Adelson.

Last week the media world was astir over one of the more bizarre aspects of the Adelson saga. The Review-Journal, which has been fearless in covering the sale and its aftermath, reported that in the weeks before staff members knew their paper was for sale, they were ordered to “Drop everything and spend two weeks monitoring all activity of three Clark County judges.”

Their work appeared to be for naught. Later, though, their notes were apparently used in a plagiarism-riddled story published more than 2,600 miles away in the New Britain Herald under the byline of someone named Edward Clarkin—a reporter who, according to the Hartford Courant, could not be located and might not exist.

Here’s where Stuart comes in. She and her husband, Doug Hardy, run an online news service called CT News Junkie that covers politics and public policy in Connecticut. Last Wednesday, while waiting in an airline terminal, she posted screenshots on Facebook and Twitter showing that New Britain Herald owner Michael Schroeder’s middle name is Edward and that his mother’s maiden name is Clarkin.

“I got a tip that Edward Clarkin first appeared in 2008 when Schroeder was the head of BostonNOW,” Stuart told me by email. “I found it in the Wayback Machine and tweeted that, which got me thinking about pen names. I searched the obits and it led to Schroeder’s Facebook page, which listed his mother’s maiden name: Clarkin. Mystery solved. All during a delay at Bradley on Dec. 23 when the airport ran out of fuel. I helped other reporters put together that story too by contributing info from the terminal. It was a busy day.”

Why Schroeder? As it turns out, he was originally the only person listed as an officer with News + Media Capital Group, the Delaware corporation set up by Adelson to purchase the Review-Journal from New Media, an arm of GateHouse Media. It was GateHouse, according to the Review-Journal, that gave the order to monitor the three Nevada judges. Based in the suburbs of Rochester, New York, GateHouse owns more than 100 community newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, including such notable titles as The Providence Journal, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, and The Patriot Ledger of Quincy. (But not, I should note, the New Britain Herald.)

And GateHouse will continue to operate the Las Vegas paper. So of all the myriad questions that still need to be answered, more than a few of them should be directed to GateHouse chief executive Michael Reed, whose answers to reporters thus far have ranged from the noncommittal to the patronizing. For instance, when the Review-Journal contacted him about the matter of the judge-monitoring, he reportedly replied: “I don’t know why you’re trying to create a story where there isn’t one. I would be focusing on the positive, not the negative.”

Stranger and stranger: In March 2010 I attended the premiere of a documentary titled On Deadline: Is Time Running Out on the Press? Held at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, the film told the story of the New Britain Herald and the Bristol Press, which nearly went out of business after their corporate owner, Journal Register Company, declared bankruptcy. Their savior: Michael Schroeder.

Among those taking part in the post-screening panel discussion were Stuart and Schroeder. Unfortunately, I no longer have my notes from that evening. But I wrote about it in The Wired City, my 2013 book on hyperlocal and regional online journalism, as well as for my blog. (You can still watch the trailer, too.) I remember talking with Schroeder afterward, and he struck me as amiable and civic-minded, but by no means wildly optimistic about the future of the papers he had just rescued.

And by the way: One of the stars of On Deadline was Steve Collins, a Bristol Press reporter who resigned last week, telling Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple in part:

I have watched in recent days as Mr. Schroeder has emerged as a spokesman for a billionaire with a penchant for politics who secretly purchased a Las Vegas newspaper and is already moving to gut it. I have learned with horror that my boss shoveled a story into my newspaper—a terrible, plagiarized piece of garbage about the court system—and then stuck his own fake byline on it. He handed it to a page designer who doesn’t know anything about journalism late one night and told him to shovel it into the pages of the paper. I admit I never saw the piece until recently, but when I did, I knew it had Mr. Schroeder’s fingerprints all over it.

Christine Stuart was literally the first person I interviewed for The Wired City. I met her in March 2009, when she was running a one-person operation at the Statehouse in Hartford. When I caught up with her again a few years later, her husband, Doug Hardy, had quit his job at the Journal Inquirer of Manchester, Connecticut, to manage CT News Junkie’s business side, and they had assembled a small staff.

Stuart is fiercely competitive. She bought CT News Junkie in 2006 because she wanted to cover the Statehouse and knew it would take too long to get there if she stayed at her newspaper job. When I pointed out that she might have had to wait five or 10 years, she replied, “Right. Or kill off another reporter.”

She laughed, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be standing in her way.

As for the fate of the Review-Journal, it is likely to be grim. The editor, Mike Hengel, has resigned. No doubt the staff will soon be ordered to stop poking into Sheldon Adelson’s affairs. But what does Adelson intend to do with his newspaper? Promote his casino interests? Advance his support for Israel’s Netanyahu government? Both?

Michael Schroeder, meanwhile, has added to his holdings by purchasing Rhode Island’s Block Island Times. “It’s close enough and a beautiful place and they do a really good job,” Schroeder told the GateHouse-owned Providence Journal. No doubt Schroeder—like his business associate Michael Reed—will be keeping his focus on the positive, not the negative.

Advertisements

Las Vegas editor out as details emerge about judge story

Sheldon Adelson in 2010 (photo via Wikipedia)
Sheldon Adelson in 2010 (photo via Wikipedia)

The editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the paper that was recently purchased in secret by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, has resigned, The New York Times reports. Michael Hengel “described his decision to leave as ‘mutual’ and said he did not believe he was forced out,” according to a brief item in the Review-Journal.

In an editorial posted Tuesday night, the “new owners”—Adelson is not mentioned by name—pledge to invest in the paper and “to publish a newspaper that is fair, unbiased and accurate.” The paper’s archive of recent tough articles and editorials about the new ownership appears to be intact, including this blockbuster about a judge who had angered Adelson.

According to the story, Review-Journal reporters were ordered to scrutinize Nevada county judge Elizabeth Gonzalez during the weeks leading up to the sale of the paper, a period when Adelson’s interest was not known. Later, a lengthy story that was critical of the judge appeared in Connecticut’s New Britain Herald, a tiny daily owned by Michael Schroeder, a business associate of Adelson’s and a former top executive at BostonNOW, a now-defunct free tabloid.

If you just can’t get enough, Matthew Kauffman has a fascinating story in today’s Hartford Courant. Among other things, several people quoted in the New Britain Herald article say they were never contacted, and the reporter whose byline appears on the article may or may not actually exist.

Timothy Pratt has a good overview of the whole situation at the Columbia Journalism Review. He quotes me, and yes, we did talk.

Frankly, I think a lot of us have been expecting either mass firings or mass resignations. We’ll have to see what kind of newspaper owner Adelson proves to be—although, as I told Pratt, he is not off to a good start. The Review-Journal staff, on the other hand, has proven itself to be enterprising and courageous in the face of a serious threat to the paper’s independence and integrity.

Update: Josh Nathan-Kazis of the Forward reports that “Adelson’s family foundation is the largest single funder behind JNS.org, a Jewish news service that serves a growing number of American Jewish news organizations.”

JNS’s publisher is Russel Pergament, a former Real Paper advertising and circulation executive and the founder of BostonNOW.

Previous coverage:

The Boston connection to the Las Vegas newspaper deal

IMG_0224
Yes, I really own this rare memento.

Congratulations to the staff of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which fearlessly revealed Wednesday night that the money behind its new owner is casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. Adelson is not normally the shy, retiring type, but in this case he tried to keep his ownership interest a secret. Predictably, his cover was blown within days.

So my conspiracy theory that the sale involved some sort of a shell game being played by New Media and its sister company, GateHouse Media (which will continue to manage the Review-Journal), proved not to be the case. But there is an interesting Boston alt-weekly angle to all this that’s worth keeping an eye on.

As had been reported earlier in the week by the Review-Journal and others, a newspaper executive named Michael Schroeder is listed as a manager of News + Media Capital Group, the newly formed company that bought the Review-Journal and several smaller papers for $140 million. And Schroeder, whose holdings include Connecticut’s New Britain Herald and Bristol Press, is the former publisher of BostonNOW, a free tabloid that competed briefly with Metro Boston.

The founder of BostonNOW was a well-known local entrepreneur, Russel Pergament, who began his career as an ad salesman extraordinaire for The Real Paper, which competed with The Boston Phoenix during the 1970s. Pergament later founded the Tab chain of high-quality community weeklies in Boston’s western suburbs.

During the ’90s Pergament sold out to Fidelity, which was then amassing a Greater Boston chain of weeklies known as Community Newspaper Company, or CNC. Fidelity eventually sold CNC to Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell, who turned around several years later and offloaded them to GateHouse Media, based in Fairport, New York, a suburb of Rochester. Pergament’s creation still survives, sort of, in the form of GateHouse-owned papers like the Newton Tab. Perversely, the Tab papers are not longer tabs.

After folding BostonNOW, Pergament moved to New York, where he started a similar free tabloid called AMNewYork—which, like BostonNOW, competed with the local version of Metro.

Will Pergament, through his connection with Schroeder, have any involvement in News + Media? Here’s what the Review-Journal reported on Tuesday, before the Adelson connection was definitively confirmed:

Pergament, BostonNOW’s publisher and CEO, is CEO of NAN Holdings, a Massachusetts venture capital fund that helped finance the startup of Jewish News Service.

JNS has an exclusive agreement to distribute content from Israel Hayom, an Israeli newspaper owned by Adelson. Both JNS and Israel Hayom have been widely criticized for a perceived tilt in favor of far-right Israeli politicians.

Pergament has not responded to requests for comment.

Given that most observers believe Adelson wants to own the Review-Journal so that he can use it as a platform for his views on Israel—including strong support for the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—it’s not hard to imagine a role for Pergament somewhere. Indeed, he and Adelson are already business partners.

I’m going to email this to Pergament at the last known address I have for him and update it with his comments if he responds.

Correction: The original version of this post misstated the location of GateHouse Media’s headquarters.

A pair of heartfelt tributes to the Boston Phoenix

I want to share with you two extraordinary reflections on the Boston Phoenix and what its loss means to the city and the region. There have been a lot of such reminiscences, and many of them have been terrific. But I look at these as putting a cap on it, unless I decide to expand on my own recent effort, which came off as more sterile than I would have liked.

Harvey Silverglate
Harvey Silverglate

The first, by Harvey Silverglate, appeared late last month in the final, online-only edition of the Phoenix. Harvey is a friend and an occasional collaborator. (We are currently brainstorming ways to keep the Phoenix Muzzle Awards alive, and we hope to have an announcement within a month or so.)

Harvey began writing his civil-liberties column for The Real Paper in the early 1970s. When Stephen Mindich, the Phoenix owner, absorbed The Real Paper into the Phoenix later in the decade, Harvey’s column was renamed “Freedom Watch,” the name it carried up until the end. I had the privilege of editing Harvey in the early 1990s. He writes in his final column:

It’s no surprise to me that assaults on freedom — the mainstay of my long-running column — have outlasted the newspaper I could always count on to publish even my harshest critiques of the criminal justice system. Unlike, it seems, the institutions that work hard to subjugate others, newspapers, which are essential to free the subjugated, are not immortal.

Make sure you read the whole thing — and check out the photos, taken by his wife, Elsa Dorfman, a wonderful portrait photographer.

Al Giordano
Al Giordano

The second piece, which I’ve been anticipating since the end of the Phoenix was announced, finally popped into view on Tuesday — a 4,000-word-plus reflection by Al Giordano, who covered politics (among other things) for the paper in the mid-1990s. I was the news editor for the early part of Al’s time at the Phoenix. We struggled over Al’s radical, activist inclinations and the more mainstream direction the Phoenix was then taking, and he describes those struggles accurately and fairly.

I always respected Al, and my admiration for him only grew after he left the paper, moved to Mexico and launched NarcoNews.com, which covers the so-called war on drugs from a Latin American perspective. When Al writes about the Phoenix crusading in his defense after he got sued by “narco-bankers,” he is referring in part to this article I wrote in 2001.

Al’s essay on the demise of the Phoenix is impassioned and, in parts, poetic. It was not meant to be excerpted, but I’ll take a shot at it anyway:

My success at manipulating daily newspapers had stripped from me any sense of myth or magic that dailies had so carefully cultivated among the reading public. I liked reporters but felt badly for them: Their mothers thought they were powerful, but they were really slaves to the daily deadline, which more often than not denied them the time to ponder or think about a story before having to put their name on it. Spared from the popular illusion that anyone could be Woodward and Bernstein if he could just get to a big-enough daily, I pointed my ambition elsewhere: The Phoenix job, for me, was the pinnacle, top of the heap. It was all I had aspired to be.

Al is a force of nature, and had a hugely positive influence on the newsroom and what readers saw every week. By the time he left, I had moved into the media columnist’s slot. I was sorry to see him go. But, as he writes, he “never stopped being part of the Phoenix family.”

The Boston Phoenix comes to the end of the road

I’m not even going to try to write a real post about this today. I’m getting bombarded from all directions, and besides that, I’m devastated. But I did want to note quickly, in case you haven’t heard, that The Phoenix — the erstwhile Boston Phoenix, reinvented as a glossy magazine last fall — is closing down, as is its affiliated Internet radio station, WFNX.com.

The Providence and Portland Phoenixes will continue, as well as a few non-journalism businesses.

Here is Doug Most’s report for Boston.com. [5:07 p.m. update: That report now carries Joe Kahn’s byline.]

The Phoenix gave me 14 great years, and it’s hard to believe that the end has come. There are way too many people to mention, so I’ll leave it at this: Peter Kadzis and Stephen Mindich were great bosses, smart, tough and loyal. Carly Carioli has done tremendous work on the reinvention, and it’s a tragedy that he ran out of time. I rely on David Bernstein for his deep reporting on politics and Chris Faraone for an alternative look at the news. Here is Mindich in a statement to the staff:

What I can and will say is I am extremely proud, as all of you should be, of the highest standards of journalism we have set and maintained throughout the decades in all of our areas of coverage and the important role we have played in driving political and socially progressive and responsible agendas; in covering the worlds of arts and entertainment, food and fashion – always with a critical view, while at the same time promoting their enormous importance in maintaining a healthy society; and in advocating for the recognition and acceptance of a wide range of lifestyles that are so valuable for a vibrant society….

We have had an extraordinary run.

And this is an incredibly sad day.

More: Unlike many who got their start at the Phoenix in their early 20s, I was 34 years old and thought my journalism career was over. In the late 1980s I had tried my hand at launching a regional lifestyle magazine in the suburbs northwest of Boston following some years at the Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn. The magazine failed, and I was doing what I could to survive.

I was picked up on waivers in 1991 from the Pilot — yes, the Catholic paper — where I had been doing layout and production. The Phoenix hired me as a copy editor, but I kept an eye out in case something better came along. Yes, I had grown up reading the Phoenix, Boston After Dark and the Real Paper, but any romantic notions I’d had of the alternative press had pretty much dissipated.

Gradually, though, I got sucked in. And when I inherited the media beat in late 1994 from Mark Jurkowitz, I became a made member of the Phoenix family. It was the most formative experience of my career. Without the Phoenix, I can’t imagine what I’d be doing today — PR for some politician? Ugh.

Copyright hypocrisy at the New York Times

Last Saturday the New York Times posted a PDF of a 1976 article by the legendary Boston sports journalist Clark Booth that appeared in the Real Paper, an alternative weekly that was published for several years in the 1970s. The article accompanied a column by Joe Nocera on football injuries, about which Booth wrote perceptively some 36 years ago.

I have to confess I didn’t think twice about copyright, figuring Booth, whom Nocera interviewed, had given him permission to reproduce his words. But now Boston Phoenix editor Carly Carioli has pointed out — rightly, in my view — that, in fact, the Times has violated the Real Paper’s copyright and that of the photographer(s) whose work was reproduced. And since the Phoenix acquired the Real Paper’s assets when the paper went out of business, the Times must answer to the Phoenix.

The Times’ reproduction clearly fails the fair-use test, most obviously on the grounds that it reposted the Real Paper article not for the purpose of commentary and criticism, but so that its readers could enjoy reading it. I imagine the Times could also get whacked for taking too much of the article (i.e., the whole thing). Even though it would be tough to argue that anyone lost any money as a result of the Times’ actions, another important fair-use test, I’d guess a judge would favor the Phoenix if it ever came to that.

But Carioli is not concerned with the negligible harm the Times has done to the Phoenix so much as he is with the behemoth’s rank hypocrisy. Former executive editor Bill Keller, now a Times columnist, has been obsessed with the nefarious forces whom he believes have been improperly profiting from Times content. And, Carioli notes, the Times reached out and killed a pretty cool iPad app called Pulse merely because it reproduced headlines without permission.

Writing that “copyright in this country is a goddamn mess,” Carioli continues: “We want an internet and an intellectual-property regime that rewards discovery and innovation. We won’t get it with copyright construed the way it is now.”

And we won’t get it with the Times saying one thing and doing another.

Addenda: (1) I had the privilege of copy-editing Clark Booth’s weekly sports column for a short time in 1990, when I was working at the Pilot, for whom he still writes; (2) you can also read Booth in the Dorchester Reporter.

Disclosure: I’m a contributor to the Phoenix, and was a staff member from 1991 to 2005. I have a standing disclosure here, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to remind people.

Real Paper alumni get together this Thursday

Veterans of the Real Paper, a Boston-based alternative weekly in the 1970s, will get together in a Ford Hall Forum event this Thursday to discuss what they learned and what lessons that might hold for the future of journalism. The event will take place in Suffolk University’s C. Walsh Theatre from 6:30 to 8 p.m. You can find out more here.

As we old-timers well remember, the rivalry between the Real Paper and the Boston Phoenix was intense during the decade or so that they both published. The Real Paper was formed in 1972 after Stephen Mindich, the founder of Boston After Dark, bought the Phoenix, which was sometimes known in that earlier incarnation as the Cambridge Phoenix. Mindich called his new paper the Boston Phoenix.

The former staff of the Cambridge Phoenix, rather than going away, founded the Real Paper, which during its first few years operated as an employee-run collective. The paper ceased publication in 1981.

This Wikipedia article on the Real Paper strikes me as an accurate summary of those years.

The Ford Hall Forum event brings together a number of well-known former Real Paper staff members: Harper Barnes, Jan Freeman, Mark Zanger, Laura Shapiro and Paul Solman, assembled by Monica Collins, herself a Real Paper alumna who’s also vice president of the Ford Hall Forum.