Saturday, February 28, 2009

Jim Calhoun Acted Poorly

Jim Calhoun, the head coach of the UCONN men's basketball team, acted unprofessionally a week ago. During the post-game press conference following UCONN's victory over Seton Hall, Calhoun was asked an inappropriate question. An activist who conned his way into the press conference by securing a photographer's credential asked Calhoun if he was concerned about receiving a very large salary when the rest of the world faced economic uncertainty. (Since he works for the University, Calhoun is technically a state employee.)

There's no question the question was out of line. But Calhoun's reaction was equally out of line. Rather than taking the high road and saying something like: "How about we discuss this after the press conference, as I am still pretty focused on what happened on the court," Calhoun lashed out at the reporter. In the process, he made news headlines and also propelled the issue of head coaching salaries into the national spotlight.

I watched both of UCONN's games since the incident (two victories over Marquette and Notre Dame), and during each contest, the announcers rushed to defend Calhoun. Dick Vitale on ESPN Thursday said Calhoun does not have to defend how much he makes, given the revenue his team brings into the University. Just this afternoon on CBS, Jim Nance said the public officials who criticized Calhoun's reaction should take a close look at what Calhoun has done for this state, at how much he has given to charities.

Both Nance and Vitale miss the point, that professionals should never act unprofessionally, especially when the camera is on. I have a suspicion that the defense of Calhoun is motivated more to assure Nance and Vitale that their calls to the coach are returned moving forward.

The ironic part is if Calhoun had kept his composure, the incident would not have been covered or noticed, and the announcers would not have to rush to defend him. In the end, the questioner who was out of line ended up winning; as the debate over coaches' salaries has been front and center in the sports world this week.

The Death of Journalism

It was a rough week for the newspaper business. The Rocky Mountain News, the oldest newspaper in Colorado, shut down yesterday. On Tuesday, the owners of the San Francisco Chronicle said they might have to go out of business. The Chronicle news is especially striking--while Denver has another paper (Denver Post), the Chronicle is San Francisco's only newspaper.

Newspaper journalism has been hurting for a long time, but lately, it seems to me at least, the situation has gone critical. The problem is pretty basic. Less and less people are buying newspapers, and more and more are relying on the Internet to get their information.

When I was a student at Boston University, I would buy the New York Times every day. I got into the habit of flipping through the paper at the desk in my dorm room or inside a conference room at my part-time job downtown. I got into the habit of reading the newspaper, and that habit has carried to this day. I still buy the New York Times each day on the way to work (delivery doesn't save me anything), and lately I have purchased the Boston Globe more and more, given my interest in local political races.

We had the Internet when I was in college (I am not THAT old), though it was in its infancy. My dean at BU, Brent Baker, used to say that the "newspaper will never go out of business, because you can't take your laptop into the bathroom." While that's still true, the new young news consumers, like my brother Brett, just don't buy the newspaper. They consume their news online.

With the rise of online journalism, consumers can get all the news they want online. Beyond losing revenue from selling a product, newspapers are hurting because of declining or stagnant circulations, which means less revenue from advertising. Also, because the Internet provides a direct channel to consumers, businesses are only beginning to experiment with communicating directly to consumers; no newspaper or reporter needed.

Everyone is a journalist today. Companies publish their own blogs. Even regular Joes like yours truly wake up on Saturday morning and decide to write something interesting (I hope). I have had an ongoing debate with a co-worker (yes, you Chuck) about whether or not this is a good thing.

On the one hand, more writers means more perspectives. Adam Gaffin over at Universal Hub reads what I write, along with potentially thousands of other blog and Twitter posts each day from other Boston-area residents. He then presents what he thinks is most interesting or pressing on his blog, along with his own thoughts. Reading his blog gives one a nice review of what's happening around Boston, sometimes with the perspective of several contributors provided on one topic.

On the other hand, with the close of newspapers and the rapid decline of journalism, we are losing good writers. I am not a professional journalist; and I don't pretend to be one. My thoughts on this blog are often opinionated. I don't always look to get both sides of an issue and present an objective argument, either because I don't want to or because I don't know how.

I read a troubling story last year about how the number of White House correspondents is dramatically less than it was when the last new President came to Washington. This means there are less professionals writing about Washington. There's less content for amateurs like me to read and use to develop our own opinions.

In college I learned that no journalist can be 100-percent objective. It's just too hard for a human to do. However, if you understand this as a news consumer, you then understand the importance of getting your news from numerous sources, so that you can make your own judgement based on several "objective" accounts. It's scary to me that the number of sources is dwindling quickly, making it hard for the consumer to receive the varied viewpoints it needs.

With President Obama, the White House has become a very aggressive publisher. The posts to the White House blog are numerous and often quite detailed, and they include pictures. The President himself broadcasts his weekly address on YouTube. Are the blog posts written by "journalists"? Probably not, since they aren't objective. But as long as you understand the posts are clearly not objective, there's no reason you can't consume them.

Many other companies are publishing their own content. This trend will continue. And it brings interesting consequences. When I was in high school in Connecticut, I wrote a report on caffeine for a science course. I called up Coca-Cola public affairs in Atlanta, and they sent me troves of information arguing that caffeine is not addictive. Their arguments were persuasive, but something tells me they cherry-picked their data. Good reporters can be very persuasive, too, if they want to be. For that reason, a good reporter writing for one company is unsettling to me.

There are a lot of good writers on the market. Today, there are many newly available ones in Denver. Smart marketers at companies will hire them and will start publishing their own content directly to consumers. I only hope that readers are smart enough to understand that those former journalists aren't journalists any more.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mayor Menino Greets Younger Residents in West Roxbury

Tom Menino greets a Boston resident
West Roxbury
Boston, Mass.
February 22, 2009

Boston Mayor Tom Menino stopped by West on Centre in West Roxbury today to meet with younger Bostonians, an event promoted through the blossoming Mayor fan groups on Facebook.

The Mayor was non-committal at the event about whether he would run for re-election, saying only that in the coming weeks there will be an announcement as to whether he is in, or not.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hess Truck

David Levanto (my nephew)
At My Parents' House
Franklin, Conn.
February 15, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Tribute to Socks

Socks, the cat who roamed the halls of The White House while President Clinton was in office, died today at the age of 20 after a battle with throat cancer.

This blog is named after Socks.

As a sophomore at Boston University, I penned a column for the student newspaper, The Daily Free Press. A fan of President Clinton, I named the column "From the Desk of Socks, The White House," as I meant it to provide a refreshing observation on politics and the world, perhaps from a more caring and optimistic perspective.

I met Socks a year later in 1996 while an intern for Vice President Al Gore. He lived with President Clinton's former secretary, Betty Currie, after the Clintons left the White House.

One of the most famous felines in the world passed away today, but his column lives on.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cleaning Up Beacon Hill

Perhaps the day will come soon when trash is not on the side of my street for 42 hours of each week.

The Beacon Hill Civic Association is pressing yet again for what's called "same-day" pick up, which means neighbors are required to place their trash on the curb only on the day it is picked up. The trash trucks roll through Beacon Hill starting at 7 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Same-day pick up means no trash will be allowed on the street before midnight on those days.

I am a big fan of same-day pick up. With it, the time that ugly, unsightly trash bags will be on the sides of neighborhood streets will be cut in half. (The 42 hours number above is derived from trash being permitted at the curb from 5 p.m. on-- the current rules.)

The Beacon Hill Civic Association is circulating an online petition to gauge neighborhood support for the same-day concept. I have signed it.

In reality, there is a portion of the state sanitary code that requires trash to be outside of homes only on the day of pick up, the BHCA is asking for enforcement of this portion of the code. (Hence the language of the petition).

Of course, same-day pick up is only effective if Boston's Inspectional Services Department can enforce the law. A similar effort eight years ago was not successful, primarily because the green tickets ISD issues to trash scofflaws are not enforced strictly in the city.

City Council President Mike Ross, State Representative Marty Walz and others support a state law that will give Boston new ways to enforce green ticket penalties. The law suffered on the Governor's desk last month and was subject to a pocket veto. I am hoping it will be passed, and signed, later in 2009.

I also recently spotted the video below of a new street sweeper that the city is investigating. It uses far less water than a typical street sweeper. It's great that Boston Public Works and Transportation Chief Dennis Royer is investigating these types of new vehicles.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Sports Allegiances

Connecticut does not have any professional sports teams, with the exception of development teams (Hockey teams that feed pro clubs, and Division AA and AAA baseball teams). A child growing up in Connecticut typically ends up following a diverse set of pro clubs. I am no different. Below is a review of my top five allegiances.

1. UCONN Huskies. I say there's a law in Connecticut that if you grew up there and did not go to a competing school (e.g. a Big East school or Duke), you are by law a UCONN Huskies fan. (Why someone from Connecticut who rooted for UCONN at all in their lives would go to Duke is another serious matter.) UCONN men's and women's basketball is currently ranked number 1 in the country. You might as well call UCONN a pro team, given that so many of their players go on to the NBA.

2. New York Yankees. A fan since I was little and the Yankees were horrible (yes, it wasn't long ago that the Yankees were not good). Yankees fans refer to this period as the "Don Mattingly" years. You have to give me some props for remaining a Yankee fan for so long now that I have been living in Boston? P.S. I don't *hate* the Red Sox, and yes it's possible for Yankee fans to not hate the Red Sox.

3. New England Patriots. I admit I became somewhat of a bandwagon fan in the early part of this decade, but being from Conn. and a childhood fan of the 49ers, why not? Since I cannot wear Yankees attire in Boston, I have a closet full of Patriots gear.

4. Boston University Hockey. Obviously I root for all of the clubs wearing the colors of my Alma mater. Hockey is the one that usually gets the most national air time. BU hockey, by the way, won Boston's Beanpot tournament this past week and is ranked number 1 in the country.

5. Hartford Whalers. Bring back the whale! Now the Carolina Hurricanes, every Connecticut native waits for the day when they come back. How could you not like a team that has a theme song?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

All I Want is a Good Chocolate Shake

Boston City Council President Mike Ross and Councilor Sal LaMattina hit the road last night, presenting their thoughts regarding urgently needed Boston Common improvements at a well-attended community forum.

The forum was hosted by the Beacon Hill Civic Association (of which I am a board member). Several heavy hitters regarding the Common were there, including Henry Lee, the president of the Friends of the Public Garden Group, and Tom Kershaw, owner of the Hampshire House and the man behind the Frog Pong skating rink.

Many of the ideas presented by the Councilors require money that will be hard to raise in the current economic climate, but one of them does not. President Ross said if he were Parks Commissioner, he would immediately put out an RFP for outside interests to refurbish decrepit buildings in the Common and create new restaurants or eating establishments. Such commercial interests would bring new positive activity to the park and make the commercial entity a partner in park safety and cleanliness. I like the idea a lot.

The impetus for Councilor Ross's recommendation is found in New York, where during a trip last year he, Councilor LaMattina and others saw how eateries in a few Big Apple parks greatly enhanced the experience. I wrote last year about experiencing something similar when I bought a cheeseburger and a chocolate shake at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. That place is so popular there is a web cam online that monitors how long the line is.

We will see what happens next with Councilor Ross's plan for the Common.

City Council President Mike Ross (standing in back) addresses a group at the 74 Joy Street building, Beacon Hill. To his right is Councilor LaMattina. Standing to the right of the photo is Colin Zick, chairman of the BHCA Parks & Open Spaces Committee. Seated is Henry Lee.
Beacon Hill, Boston
February 11, 2009

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sam Yoon Enters the Boston Mayoral Race

Here we go.

Three candidates have now declared they will run for Mayor of Boston, as current Boston At-Large City Councilor Sam Yoon announced his intentions today. He joins his colleague Michael Flaherty and South End businessman Kevin McCrea as announced candidates. Assuming all three candidates get enough signatures when candidate papers are filed in April and May, there will be both a preliminary and general election in the fall to pick the Mayor.

Of course, the current Mayor, Tom Menino, has not announced whether he will seek re-election.

Yoon is a young city councilor with a promising career, but there should be emphasis on the word "young." I have significant concerns about his lack of experience, and I hope citizens will not be swept up in the current trend of change to overlook the need for experience in today's difficult times. (See my earlier post discussing the slippery slope of political "change.")

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Boston Ward 5 Democratic Caucus; Convention Here I Come

This morning at Boston's Ward 5 Democratic Caucus, I was selected to be a delegate to attend the Massachusetts Democratic Convention in Springfield, to be held in June. It will be my second Convention. I am excited to attend along with the full slate of Ward 5 and Boston delegates, including Josh Dawson, George Alex, Jim Ryan, and Rajan Nanda.

The caucus was more exciting than I expected. Attendees were greeted at the door by a representative from Boston City Councilor John Connolly's office, who distributed a letter from the Councilor as well as a recent clipping from the Bay State Banner. In addition, two volunteers stood at the door holding campaign signs for Aaron Michlewitz, who is running for the State Representative seat vacated by former House Speaker Sal DiMasi.

I have to say, it's somewhat impressive to see Aaron Michlewitz as organized as he is. Sal DiMasi's former district includes one lonely Ward 5 precinct (out of 11 precincts total), and yet his volunteers were very visible this morning.

Ward 5 Democratic Committee Chairman Rob Whitney noted at the caucus that the committee would be discussing a game plan related to the election that will fill DiMasi's House seat at its next meeting, scheduled for February 17. At that time, the Committee will discuss a possible candidates forum and endorsement vote to take place at a later date, assuming additional candidates enter the fray (and rumors were flying at the meeting about who they might be).

Representative Marty Walz noted that the special primary to pick the Democrat running for that seat will be held on May 19. The special election itself is scheduled for June 16.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Lonely Road

At route 89 mile marker 29.
Randolph, Vermont
February 1, 2009