Alas, things have not been going well for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, with labor unrest its latest headache even as declining ads and readership have reduced the publication's size on some days to a step above a glorified pamphlet. It has been a challenging time for all newspapers, especially those in the mid-range level like the DHG.
Lacking the deep pockets of a media conglomerate overlord like the Springfield Republican, while still too big to hunker down in the grassroots like The Reminder Publications, the DHG is almost the poster child for a paper on the brink of crisis. Its demise would be a local media disaster, as that would also sink the sister papers it also produces, the already considerably downsized and scaled back Valley Advocate, plus the long struggling Greenfield Recorder and Amherst Bulletin.
Happily, the DHG and its media step-children (the Advocate, the Recorder and the Bulletin were once independent publications before the DHG rescued them from their death spiral) are refusing to go down without a fight. They have been seeking new ways to expand their readership base, and have recently made an overt overture to a group that they have to this point pretty much ignored, if not outright ridiculed - Pioneer Valley political conservatives.
That is a potential audience larger than you might think. For example, 1,870 residents of Northampton voted for Donald Trump, who also got another 1,233 votes in cobalt-blue Amherst. 3,140 Trump voters reside in Belchertown, while another 3,254 can be found in South Hadley. Trump beat Clinton in Granby outright, all just part of the 1,083,069 voters in the State of Massachusetts who rode the Trump Train in 2016.
In the 2018 midterms, not once did I hear a single statement from any of the cookie-cutter liberals elected across our Valley, that seemed designed to address or even to acknowledge the existence of their thousands of GOP constituents. Yet all the winning candidates were continually prattling the buzzword "inclusion" throughout their campaign speeches and literature. I guess their brand of inclusion includes only their fellow lefties.
To their credit, the DHG, hoping to attract the interest of right leaning readers, has put out a call for conservatives to submit columns for consideration to appear on their editorial pages. You would think that local Republican/conservative activists would jump at the chance to join the DHG's lonely current conservative, Dr. Jay Fleitman. Yet, it appears no one from the Right has stepped forward. Why not? Brian Cooper of Sunderland thinks he has a clue, as expressed in this letter that was published in the DHG last Friday.
It has been expressed on these pages in the past several months that the Gazette is lacking — and seeking — a greater diversity of opinion. The new editor put down words to this effect at the outset of her role, and more recently, columnist Jay Fleitman set off his usual firestorm of responses by criticizing the paper for its perceived failure in this regard thus far.
It’s no secret that the general editorial tone of the Gazette and much of its readership is well to the left of center. But it only seems appropriate that in a community where diversity and inclusivity are so tremendously valued that we also seek diversity in thoughts and ideas. But do we?
Go check out some of the doctor ratings websites to see how that’s been working out for Dr. Fleitman and his medical practice. He has dozens of votes between several of those forums where he’s been given the lowest possible rating, some with comments specifically denouncing his newspaper column, votes which skew downward the overall score of his business in the eyes of prospective patients. Having accompanied a family member in need of assistance to Dr. Fleitman’s office and sat through several appointments with him, I can attest that he is both a thorough doctor and a kind, compassionate man. I draw the conclusion that most of the negative reviews came from the disgruntled readers of his column and not from actual patients.
In other words, local people in our community are deliberately and maliciously trying to have a negative effect on his ability to earn a living because they disagree with the opinions he expresses outside of his business.
Dave Ratner of Soda and Pet City fame must know this narrative all too well. As reported here and elsewhere, he was threatened with a massive boycott of his pet food stores by people enraged that he would dare accept an invitation to a White House ceremony to represent a trade association of small business owners he’s active with. Proof of his dance with the devil was forever enshrined in a photograph that was published, depicting Dave appearing in the Roosevelt Room with the Bad Orange Man himself. That kicked up a hornet’s nest of hundreds of negative reviews of his business on Facebook, Yelp and elsewhere. Yelp caught onto the vandalism and pulled the plug on his page altogether until the swarm had moved onto something else to be offended by. Again, local people right here in our community were trying to snuff out someone’s life’s work and livelihood because of a perceived political position they didn’t like.
Also last year, when people participating in a protest in Northampton parked in a local auto repair shop owner’s business lot and their cars were towed, it was automatically assumed to be in direct retaliation for the protest itself. Dozens of online reviews of his business were left over the next several days making false claims of being cheated out of money, receiving shoddy auto repair work, and numerous personal attacks. All because local people in our community wished to punish a man and his ability to earn a living for assumptions they made about his politics.
Similar searches of online reviews of some of the academics and authors who contribute left-leaning work to the Gazette yield no such online mobbing whatsoever.
So I ask: What person in their right mind would voluntarily expose their livelihood and thereby their families to certain and malicious, mean-spirited attacks by contributing a regular, conservative opinion piece to this newspaper and the community it serves?
Pretty strong words, and every one of them true.
Meanwhile, I am glad to see that the blog Turtleboy won its first Amendment lawsuit in what is a victory for all who blog and step on the toes of public officials.
Turtleboy focuses primarily on Worcester area politics, especially the McGovern crime family which has dominated Worcester politics for years.
Turtleboy has been known to wander into Valley terrain.
The Turtleboy blog is named after Worcester's most famous statue, which features a naked teenager doing something with a turtle. Is he trying to capture it? Is he riding it?
The turtle doesn't look too happy.
At an art gallery this week:
Later, coffee downstairs at the Haymarket:
Explorations of the harmonically bizarre in Greenfield recently.