Saturday, September 24, 2011


I really wonder where my beloved domain of community journalism is headed.

We all know why print journalism is like a lobster about to hit the boiling water. When the internet came along, having a website was prestigious and getting people to hit it an ego trip. The newspapers started giving away the stories for which consumers traditionally paid, and didn’t mind doing so.

When consumers get something for nothing, they aren’t likely to start paying for it.

I learned that the hard way when the owners of the minor league baseball team I administered in Glens Falls, N.Y., started giving away tickets in wholesale bunches. Ownership’s theory, since it was in the Burger King business, was that we would cash in at the concession stand; that empty seats don’t buy hot dogs and sodas.

What they didn’t consider is that the price of admission has almost no overhead and once you give it away, people lose respect for the product. Even if you get $1 a ticket, you’re still making consumers open their wallets. The ticket has some value.

Giving tickets away at the bottom of Burger King bags was like saying the game had no value. Giving the hard work of reporters away was like saying their work has no value. People said, “Why should I pay for the paper when I can go on line and get the information free?”

So how did the newspapers compensate for the dramatic downturn in revenue? Did the CEOs take pay cuts. Nooo! They cut back on reporters, cutting off the resource that enticed consumers to subscribe. They froze their wages, sending them to the exits to find better means of using their skills to make a living.

The papers in major cities, while they may be hurting, continue to thrive, but what of the small-city dailies that were the heart and soul of their regions for over 100 years? Some have perished. Others altered their philosophy, choosing to hire so-called reporters at bargain-basement prices and filling their whittled-down publications with the worst kind of trash.

Reporters are now paid paupers’ wages and asked to work well beyond the traditional 40 hours per week. The papers get what they pay for. Many of the new guard are egomaniacs who resort to filling sports sections with stories about THEIR favorite teams and telling readers what THEIR winning percentage is in picking college football games.

Some actually solicit controversy, providing an online forum for anonymous readers to rip on high school coaches and athletes. They publish inane readers’ comments while high school athletes toil in anonymity.

Where does that leave the legitimate need for local information? America On-Line started its Patch websites, which continue to evolve. Folks interested in local news and sports are beginning to understand that Patch is becoming more reliable than the dailies and timelier than the weeklies, although the weeklies certainly have their place. There are some great ones in the region.

Many fine journalists are now working for Patch and doing great jobs in a number of communities. Whether the model that AOL has established can be profitable is yet unknown. Consumers with an interest in local news better hope so. I hope so for the sake of all the terrific writers/reporters who used to populate daily newsrooms and always did their jobs thoroughly.

Some journalists I know have set up their own websites to share information. I wish them well and respect their intentions. Perhaps they can find a way to earn some cash for the time they are putting in. There aren’t enough hours in the day to make a living, write stories and solicit advertising on a medium that seems more difficult to sell, particularly in an economy with businesses failing in alarming numbers.

The bottom line is that the business of community journalism is evolving. It’s likely to continue evolving for years to come, long after I retire my laptop. My concern is that the awesome young athletes who give their hearts and souls for their schools will get proper recognition, not a litany of either no information or misinformation with error-filled reports and misspelled names.

Friday, September 9, 2011


To my dear friends in New Britain:

It hasn't been easy driving through the city since late last November, knowing that I was no longer writing stories for y'all.  My writing comes from the heart, and you know the thousands of stories I wrote over 15 years at the Herald, speak to the passion I have for the kids, the coaches and the people who make sports news in the city.

Well, I'm back, but don't look in the Herald for me!  I'm writing for a weekly paper, the New Britain City Journal, that was started by Robin Vinci and is doing very well.  The NBCJ hasn't had much in the way of sports so we decided that collaborating was a win-win proposition.

Below is my first effort for Robin and her loyal readers.  You'll see plenty on New Britain football, that wonderful boys soccer team that Matt Denecour has assembled, and all the other fall sports.  I still have my ear to the ground with the Rock Cats and perhaps we'll connect on them next season.  Look forward to hearing from you.

The intangible characteristic that depicts sports tradition in New Britain as time-honored beyond most is best described by a French saying that has found a niche in English because English scholars cannot find a better way to say it.

Je ne sais quoi.

A less elegant way of saying it is that when it comes to sports, New Britain has that “certain something.” Translated literally, it means, “I don’t know what,” but since I wrote sports in New Britain on a daily basis for 15 years, I DO know what. I don’t know exactly why, but I’ll give you the particulars.

It has to start with New Britain High School football.

I first felt that je ne sais quoi on Nov. 24, 1999 at Manchester High School. It may seem unusual that I never felt it to such an extent at Hurricane-charged Veterans Memorial Stadium, but such eerie forces generally cannot be explained.

The Hurricanes of Coach Len Corto – the steamrolling ground game provided by senior Chris Bellamy and sophomore Justise Hairston, the leadership of able quarterback Mike Donnelly, a couple of Madigans and thundering fullback Steve Wysocki – were on a roll. They dropped a 27-26 decision at Southington in the season’s second game, but just whipped up unmercifully on people for the next seven weeks.

In my heart and mind, New Britain had the best team in the state, yet with the Manchester game on the horizon, the Hurricanes needed help to get into the Class LL playoffs and the prospects were too far-fetched. Three undefeated teams and several once-beaten squads had mathematical advantages in the CIAC ratings race that only a series of unfathomable upsets could change. Help wasn’t coming.

The game against Manchester had already begun. My wife Lisa, a 1973 NBHS grad with a heart of (maroon and) gold, was in attendance. I never saw her so excited for a game, and that certainly shaped my emotional composition.

Far off in the distance, at the other end of the parking lot, it rose like a crescendo. The New Britain High School Golden Hurricane Marching Band had run into some Hartford traffic, but the unmistakable sound of “Bingo” pierced the night air.

As Bellamy, Hairston and Wysocki were in the midst of rolling up over 250 yards and nine touchdowns, I felt a trickle down my cheek. Wow, I knew I cared, but I didn’t know I cared that much. “Bingo,” and the band marching into the stadium has some deep-seated ethereal effect on me.

Well, New Britain’s 58-0 victory wasn’t enough for a playoff berth. The Hurricanes had outscored their foes 316-12 over the final six weeks, and that wasn’t enough either.

Masuk, Fairfield Prep and eventual champion Greenwich finished their seasons undefeated. Southington notched the fourth and final spot despite losing to Cheshire on Thanksgiving Day. New Britain was a staggering seventh in the ratings, but that day the Hurricanes sealed the number one slot in my heart.

Five years later, as Coach Jack Cochran drove the ’Canes toward their third ‘LL’ title in four years, I had another experience that convinced me just how special New Britain football is.

The date was Nov. 30, 2004. New Britain ventured to Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport to play Bridgeport Central in the semifinals. I got there good and early as I always try to do and was introduced to a man who personifies extreme dedication to NBHS football.

Eugene Johnkoski, 79 at the time, had relocated to Palm City, Fla., from the Hardware City in 1994. He missed his New Britain football so much that he would return home every fall to take his place among the Willow Brook Park faithful.

I can’t recall exactly what Mr. Johnkoski told me that chilly night in Bridgeport when I asked him why he did this, but it was something along the lines of, “Je ne sais quoi.”