Monthly Archives: April 2012

Father Michael McMahon

In April of 2011, the Paxton Record — a weekly published by the Champaign (Ill.) News-Gazette — ran a letter to the editor in support of gay rights and identified the author as Michael McMahon, a Catholic priest and boys’ school headmaster. The letter also said McMahon is president of the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Association of Vermilion County. (“I’m guessing the Paxton Record was an unwitting participant in a stunt,” a News-Gazette commenter notes.)

The Record apologized and ran a correction, but the priest still wants at least $50,000 from the paper. His suit says:

The representation [in the letter] that Father McMahon, who is charged with the safety and spiritual growth of young Catholic men, was the leader of a sexually active, gay advocacy group headquartered at a Catholic boarding school imputes to him an inability to perform and want of integrity in the discharge of his duties as a Catholic priest and Headmaster.

Publisher John Foreman calls the suit “spurious,” and says “we don’t believe that Father McMahon was defamed by a letter suggesting he was sympathetic to the societal problems faced by gay people. That’s not defamatory.”

* Catholic school’s headmaster sues paper for libel

Peter Behle

Michael Miner’s story about the Chicago Tribune-Journatic deal includes this gem: About a month ago, Journatic executive editor Peter Behle sent employees a notice that said in part, “Reporters will be sniffing around — and they are not authorized to talk with anyone about Journatic under any circumstances. Better yet, if you receive a reporter inquiry and tell us about it (without responding), we’ll pay you a $50 bonus.”

Miner points out:

That’s good money for dropping a dime. A Journatic writer would have to write 13 stories to earn as much, and that’s even if they were the important $4 stories.

* Tribune Co. does a deal with Journatic (Chicago Reader)
* Journatic expected to work with Baltimore Sun and LAT, too (Crain’s)
* “Tribune was smart to turn to Journatic for help with TribLocal” (Street Fight)

Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter James Grimaldi tells Romenesko readers:

After 12 exciting, rewarding, fascinating years at The Washington Post, I am accepting the Post’s buyout offer.

I have decided to join The Wall Street Journal as a Senior Writer. After considering multiple offers, I’m very excited about joining a newspaper with a long and impressive tradition of original and groundbreaking investigative reporting.

With his departure, the Post has lost all three reporters who won its Pulitzer in 2006 for coverage of the Jack Abramoff scandal. (R. Jeffrey Smith is at the Center for Public Integrity, and Susan Schmidt took the Post’s buyout in 2008, joined the Wall Street Journal, then started her own company.)

Grimaldi worked at the Seattle Times before joining the Post. He’s also done reporting for the Orange County Register and the old San Diego Tribune.

Marie Kemph, reporter covering the Boner sexual harassment case

When a county property assessor named Bill Boner was accused of sexual harassment, Murfreesboro Post managing editor Michelle Willard knew her staff had to “get all of the cheesy headlines out of their system” before getting serious about the story.

She had them distribute their best, unprintable headlines, including:


“We had a lot of fun with it in the last week,” says Willard.

County official Bill Boner is accused of sexual harassment

But staff writer Marie Kemph — the reporter on the Boner beat, if you will — says she’s working hard to play it straight.

“It’s not a funny topic,” she says of the sexual harassment allegations, “so I try to keep it serious. A lot of the residents are very offended by what he’s supposedly done, and they’re taking it very seriously. We’re a conservative town. This is the kind of thing that people think would happen in Nashville.”

Still, the 29-year-old Kemph admits that the Boner sexual harassment case “is a gift to journalists.”

* Boner rejects sexual harassment allegations
* “Aptonym of the week? Yeah, I’m still 12 years old”

The Murfreesboro Post newsroom has fun with Boner headlines

I’ve asked the AP reporter to tell us more about his project. (UPDATE: AP’s social media editor has posted a comment.)

Last Thursday, the New York Times Magazine asked readers to help identify people in photos from the 1960 Democratic National Convention. There were a lot of names tossed out in nearly 100 comments. What’s the Times going to do with them? I asked Samantha Henig, and she responded:

There were a lot of thoughtful responses to the post. Exciting to see crowd-sourcing work so well. We’re doing some additional research now to see if we can get to a point where we’re confident that any of these suggested IDs are correct. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

* Help us identify who’s in these photographs

Lee Enterprises execs just can’t stop giving the finger to employees.

In 2011 — the year the newspaper chain filed for bankrupcy — CEO Mary Junck and Co. got 30%+ raises.

Then in March, Lee’s executive compensation committee decided Junck and CFO Carl Schmidt deserved a total of $750,000 in bonuses for doing their job and refinancing some loans.

Over the weekend, Lee employees received this notice from the company about their Pulitzer Pension Plan: “The employer [Lee] sponsoring your pension plan has made an election permitted under Federal law to delay funding for the plan. The election applies to the plan year beginning on January 1, 2011 and ending on December 31, 2011.” Lee’s union has told members:

What appears to be occurring is that Lee seems to be taking advantage of some delayed-funding mechanism under the law in order to hang onto cash a little longer (gotta find SOME way to pay for those bonuses, right?).

Obviously the Guild is disappointed that the employer would delay fully funding pensions – something our members spent a lifetime earning and something that needs to be there for them at the end of their careers – and wishes they wouldn’t engage in such financial sleight-of-hand but they are within their rights, it appears.

On Monday — shortly after receiving this news — somebody sent me a link to a Lee website about “the downsides of unions.” It states: “We do not believe union representation is necessary, desirable or in the best interest of our employees.”

According to one former employee, the company threatens to fire staffers who even mention union.

* After paying big bonuses, Lee delays funding pensions
* Lee editor threatened to fire me for union talk

* James Murdoch begins testifying about his role in the phone-hacking scandal. (Washington Post)
* Jim Kirk leaves Crain’s to become Sun-Times Media editor-in-chief. (Chicago Sun-Times)
* MSNBC’s Jeremy Gaines named Gannett communications vice president. (New York Times)
* Seattle Times Pulitzer winners donate prize money to IRE training. (IRE blog)
* Rick Bragg gives “Last Lecture” at University of Alabama. (Tuscaloosa News)
* Columbia Journalism Review to move off campus, expected to land in offices off Times Square. (Capital New York)
* is free now through May 6. (You give your email address for access.) (Boston Globe)

It was announced earlier today that the Chicago Tribune has invested in Journatic and will be using it to cover hyperlocal news.

A Romenesko reader writes:

I’m a former Patch editor who worked in a town also covered by TribLocal. The Tribune put considerable resources into TribLocal in advance of Patch’s mid-2010 launch into the Chicago suburbs. Prior to that, it was mainly a bulletin board for UGC [user-generated content], with the occasional staff-written story.

In summer/fall 2010, the TribLocal site was redesigned, additional staff hired to beef up news coverage and a weekly print version launched. TL even contracted a few freelancers to write columns and sports stories–something it rarely had done previously. For a while, coverage was robust, but it dropped off around the time Patch cut its freelancing budget last fall. In recent months, it appeared TL staffers were covering wider areas and had less time to focus on more in-depth coverage.

Coincidentally, I talked to Journatic after leaving Patch in 2011 and was told it was piloting a program for TribLocal. (It looks like the Oak Lawn TribLocal site is one of those currently being produced by Journatic.) I could find little online information about the company, beyond its origins in BlockShopper. I found Journatic to be very disorganized, as if it were growing faster than the folks at the top could handle. It has been running ads for writers and copy editors almost continuously for months. It resembles a content farm, with writers and editors paid on a piecework basis equating to $12 or $14 per hour.

Visitors to started asking questions about Journatic last December. Here’s what one person wrote:

This is a group from the same people that run BlockShopper. I think they started this Journatic stuff because BlockShopper is getting pounded with complaints about printing people’s personal information. What they do is take public records and print them. Perfectly legal, but ethics wise, not a good sell for public relations.

They also do real estate Sunday sections for newspapers looking for cheap help.

I did a Skype interview for one of these positions last year, and didn’t get the job. At that point, most of their page designers were in the Philippines. They only would have a handful of people in the US who would proof the work from the outsourced jobs.

You can google “Blockshopper” and “BlockShopper complaints” to get a better idea of who they are.

* Here is Journatic CEO Brian Timpone’s Twitter feed
* Here is Journatic editorial director Kathryn Swartz’s LinkedIn resume.

Tommy Tomlinson

Longtime Charlotte Observer columnist Tommy Tomlinson is leaving the paper to cover sports for the new USA Today Sports Media Group/Major League Baseball Advanced Media website. (Joe Posnanski is leaving Sports Illustrated to work for the same venture.) Pulitzer finalist Tomlinson writes:

This is hard. I still love the Observer, and always will. My wife, Alix Felsing, will still be working for the paper. We’re staying in Charlotte. I’m not running away from the Observer. I’m running toward this new thing, with the hope that one day it’ll make me as proud as I’ve been to work 23 years for this great newspaper.

* Tommy Tomlinson: Well… I have an announcement
* Read the comments from his Facebook friends
* Earlier: Tomlinson on making words work for a living