Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Sentinel is giving me an ice storm headache

It looks like the Unitil power company isn’t the only service unable to deal with the enormity of the recent ice storm. The Sentinel and Enterprise is also starting to crumble. The paper is apparently buckling under the fatigue and stress, as they are reporting stories from the future and carrying on conversations with imaginary friends.

For instance, take this report on one hard-hit Fitchburg neighborhood:
FITCHBURG -- When Highland Avenue resident Kevin Starr looked out of his house for the last nine days he could see neighborhoods all around him that had power. But he and a patch of about 20 houses near his home had been without electricity for 11 days...

Starr said he arrived home Monday to a welcome sight: Utility trucks in his neighborhood working on power lines.

"It's the first time I've seen them since the power's been out," he said.

By Tuesday night his home finally had power again, he said.

"It's a relief," he said. "But it doesn't change how I feel about Unitil."
What makes this story particularly insightful is that it was posted at 6:06 this morning…that is Tuesday morning, before Kevin Starr had been interviewed about his relief in having power restored, which also hadn’t happened yet according to the story.

The ability to report from the future will undoubtedly be the one thing that saves the newspaper industry…congratulations to the Sentinel for getting ahead of the curve.

Less innovative—but no less unusual for the Sentinel—is an editorial criticizing Unitil for their poor response to the crisis. Here is the start:
Twelve days after an ice storm hit North Central Massachusetts and thousands of residents still remained without power, National Grid has taken over power restoration in several Unitil towns and cities, including Fitchburg, Lunenburg, Ashby and Townsend.

National Grid took over power restoration after local officials and state lawmakers -- along with Gov. Deval Patrick -- became convinced that Unitil could not do the job itself because so many people remained without power 10 days after the storm.

Patrick said Saturday he will have the Department of Public Utilities investigate the response once all the power is restored.

"The governor and lieutenant governor are deeply concerned about the lack of progress to restore power to families in the Unitil service area," Sullilvan said in a statement. "Once power has been restored fully, the governor will ask the Department of Public Utilities to conduct an investigation into why it took Unitil so long to restore power."
Who the hell is “Sullivan?” Is he editor Jeff McMenemy’s imaginary friend? An Irish pop star so cool that he only goes by one name? An anonymous source whose first or last name has been omitted to protect his innocence?

No, apparently he is Governor Patrick’s Press Secretary Kyle Sullivan. If you look at this news article from Monday, you’ll notice that McMenemy has again resorted to the practice of taking a news article from the previous day, sticking an opinion on the end of it, and calling it an editorial. But McMenemy apparently left out Sullivan’s first name or position—he probably got confused about whether or not this was a “first reference” because it was referenced correctly in the story he was copying. So exact is the reproduction that this typo from Monday’s story also appears in Tuesday’s editorial:
Officials in Lunenburg, Fitchburg, Ashby and Townsend spoke to Patrick, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and Unitil officials Sunday morning in a conference calls...
Unfortunately, the copy-and-paste editorial isn’t a reaction to the stress of the moment, its common practice at the Sentinel. Instead of hammering the rag for its incompetence, perhaps we should celebrate its consistency—in these times of great crisis it’s comforting to know that day after day the people of the North County can count on the Sentinel to screw something up.

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