Northfield News: Not Local, Not Original, Not News

I was proud to make the top of the front page in The Northfield News this week.
This hasn’t happened since 1994, when Mark Albury wrote the headline “Freeman Unveils Three Men.”  The piece was about the granite art monument in my front yard, titled, not surprisingly, “Three Men.”
Mark’s piece, as with everything he wrote, was written in his own words.  He called me for a short interview and turned out an original story.  The headline was cringe-worthy, but all in good fun.  Mark wrote what he saw with a sense of humor and an original twist of literary style. 
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I couldn’t help but think of this when I read “Selectman Nate Freeman Leaving for Alaska.”  The writing was lifted almost entirely from this website — without permission or attribution to NatesUpdates.com.   My Update, “North to Alaska, is certainly newsworthy.   But Editor John Cruickshank’s quote-dependent article lifted well over half of my original work.  Basically, I wrote 65% of an article he published as his own.  
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My disappointment with Cruickshank’s article isn’t about the story.  My soon departure to Alaska is relevant news.  However, as a professional writer, I am flummoxed with Cruickshank’s utter laziness in reporting.  I found the article so amazingly quote-abused, I decided to take the time to see what else Mr. Cruickshank printed as if his own.  I’ll get to that in a minute — what I discovered is important for you to know.
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Before we get there, let’s put the quality of local reporting in context.  The magic of The Northfield News has always been about local writing and reporting.  What made the Paper of Record vital to our community was its voice.  Editors wrote engaging, funny, and thoughtful columns — the tone of each piece reflected unique perspectives and personalities.  Reporters conducted face-to-face interviews, attended public meetings, and roamed through the community to see what people were up to.    It didn’t matter what was written — the magic was that we could count on the paper to be local, original, and interesting.  
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We don’t have that anymore.  We don’t even get news anymore.  The News looks like a newspaper, but it’s not.  
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If you read the paper, you’ll probably notice a call to action and contact information at the bottom of almost every article.  This is because you’re reading a series of press releases.  9 out of 14 reading pieces in this week’s edition of The Northfield News are press releases.  Here’s the breakdown of what passes as original content in this week’s edition:
  • 9 Press releases.
  • 1 Syndicated Column
  • 1 “Staff Report” plagiarized from the Selectboard meeting minutes.  
  • 2 Local Columns
  • 1 headline article written almost entirely by me without my knowledge
There are several reasons to find the state of The News disturbing.  Here are the first four that come to mind:
1.  Not Local.  The “news” this week comes almost entirely from towns outside of the paper’s coverage area.  You can read all about what’s going on as far away as Weston, Dorset, and Enosburg Falls.  Two pieces  are from Randolph, one is from Brookfield, one is from Montpelier, and another is from Berlin.  For a paper that covers Northfield and Williamstown, there’s not much of a sense of what’s going on locally.
2.  Not News.  As noted above, The News has become a weekly rag stuffed with unedited press releases.  It’s not a newspaper — it’s a press release aggregator.
3.  Not Original.  Yes, I’ve made my beef about unknowingly writing the headline article for this week’s Northfield News.  But surprisingly, this is the most original piece in the entire paper.  Cruickshank wrote about 100 words from his own pen.
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4.  Plagiarism.  The Staff Report copies the Selectboard Meeting Minutes verbatim.  Seriously, you can’t get a better example of plagiarism than this.  The News is free to publish any public document in full — but it can’t credit itself as the author.
Here’s an excerpt from “Northfield May Get Gold Star Monument” credited as a  “Staff Report” at the Northfield News:
Mr. Wobby said about six  months ago he was approached by a national group that designs Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments about situating a monument in Vermont.  After consultation with Governor Phil Scott’s office, Mr. Wobby recommended that the best location would be in Northfield adjacent to Norwich University.
Now take a look at the June 27th official meeting minutes published on the Town’s website:
“Mr. Wobby said about six (6) months ago he was approached by a national group that designs Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments about situating a monument in Vermont. After consultation with Governor Phil Scott’s office, Mr. Wobby recommended that the best location would be in Northfield adjacent to Norwich University (NU).
The “staff report” is copied directly from the minutes.  The quote above is just a sample.  If you read The News side-by-side with the Meeting Minutes, you’ll simply be amazed.  This is the kind of stuff that gets students kicked out of college.  It gets reporters fired.  Claiming credit for someone else’s work isn’t just unethical — it’s illegal.  
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The funny thing is, all Mr. Cruickshank needs to do is credit the article with a byline, “Selectboard Meeting Minutes.”  Plagiarism problem solved.  Instead, he credits the public document to “staff” and copyrights the article under his own banner.  “All Rights Reserved.”
This is why I got a little rankled this morning when I read my North to Alaska post almost in entirety in The Northfield News.  What is this laziness about?  This isn’t the article Mark Albury would have written.  It’s not what John Donahue would have written, nor Edna Cain, nor Brad Denny.  The News has a long history of editors who took pride in their work.  They crafted articles with thought and rigor.  They wrote The News as the voice of the community.   They were leaders who wrote about Northfield in whatever way they believed was appropriate.  Whatever words landed in print, the one thing you could count on was that they did the writing.  
This is no longer true.  Today’s Northfield News is empty, lacking vigor and value.  Imagine for a moment you were visiting Northfield for the first time.  You pick up the paper.  What does The Northfield News say to you?  This week on Page 5, The News says, “Go to Weston, Dorset, or Enosburg Falls. Go to Randolph.  Go to Berlin.  Go away.  There’s nothing here.”
It doesn’t have to be this way.  All you need to do, Mr. Cruickshank, is to please write your own stuff.  Write whatever you want.  Be pleasant, be mean — be whatever you want to be.  Stop copying stuff.  Pay attention to Northfield and Williamstown.
And while you’re at it, please request permission to quote from my privately owned and operated website, NatesUpdates.com.  It’s a professional courtesy thing.

 

 

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Author: Nate Freeman

-- DIrector of Strategic Partnerships Northfield Community Development Network (NCDN) -- Selectboard Member, 3-year term -- Member, Economic Development Committee -- Member, School Improvement Team at the Northfield Middle/High School -- Member, Northfield Teen Center Advisory Committee

4 thoughts on “Northfield News: Not Local, Not Original, Not News”

  1. Nice article. I stopped buying the Northfied News years ago, primarily due to my disgust over the local high school sports coverage (it is not the Williamstown paper, is it?). However, I did identify on several occasions letters to the editor that were in fact fake letters written by conservative activists, including one that was purported to have been written by a Canadian nurse but was in fact written by an anti-Obama care blogger. It took me about 30 seconds on Google to find this out. Lazy, dishonest, and with an obvious agenda. Sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with your general characterization of the Northfield news. While I do subscribe to it it is definitely the worst weekly paper in Vermont. . There are some very good ones, there are some not-so-good ones and there is the Northfield news

    Like

  3. It is sad that you seem to see no redeeming social value in The Northfield News. I purchased the paper 10 years ago when John Donahue was going to shut it down and have kept it going because I believed that this town needs a newspaper. It has been a tremendous personal sacrifice and has been a terrible drain on my personal finances over the years to keep it going. I am dedicated to assuring that this town will have a paper at least so long as I live. We do cover entertainment items from all around the state that I believe might be of interest to Northfield residents. We have been lucky to find people who volunteer their time and effort to contribute articles to the paper. I would hope that you will get a copy of the paper coming out this week which covers a number of articles and a photo gravure of the Roxbury fourth of July parade. These are all contributed by volunteers. It is expensive to keep a paper going. Perhaps someone younger might do better but I am all there is a this juncture. It is too bad that you have decided that you do not want to contribute but would rather only criticize.

    Like

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