Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Most popular video in March

In late March, there was a fire at Devil's Hopyard State Park in Haddam, which caused the response of 14 different fire departments. The video from the first night of the fire, which kept burning for almost three days, is one of our most popular videos during March on The Middletown Press website.

We also had a video from Day 2 of the the fire, where officials were just waiting it out and making sure it didn't get too close to local homes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Celebrating Sunshine Week at The Middletown Press

Information wants to be free, but we here at the Press are not always successful in our efforts to release public information from the shackles of bureaucracy.

In honor of Sunshine Week this week, a national project by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, The Middletown Press is taking a look at some of the Freedom of Information requests made in the past year and following up on their progress.

Sunshine Week is meant to get people talking about government transparency and inform the public about their right to obtain information.

Documents prepared, produced, used, received or kept by a public agency are available to the public, including property and tax records, state-wide test scores, local and state-wide audits and police reports. Sometimes agencies can hide behind things like “it concerns a minor” or “it’s a pending investigation” to withhold information, but even then it is worth at least asking to see it first.

While some departments easily hand things over, others ask for something in writing before they will let you look at their documents. Then there are others who simply deny you the right to see public documents, and you have to file a complaint with the state’s Freedom of Information Commission.

At the Press, we have asked for, under the Freedom of Information Act, lists of tax delinquents in all Middlesex County Towns, contracts involving paining the town hall in Cromwell, the former acting police chief’s calendar for specific days, copies of settlement deals involving town workers, mileage records for city employees and details on the arrest of a former Middletown police officer.

Sometimes we get the records right away, other times the process takes longer.
While the state law says the agency must provide this information in a “reasonable amount of time” and at a “reasonable cost” (copying fees, etc.), it is sometimes difficult to assess what is “reasonable.” Usually, this is based on the amount of information you are asking for.

One of the main problems we have run into is that our staff hasn’t always kept copies of their requests, so they have been difficult to follow up on. While the requests themselves become public documents once they are filed, we found out that they are not always on file with the correct department.

In fact, a request to see copies of any FOI requests to the City of Middletown made by Middletown Press staff during 2011 only produced three results from the town clerk, while we know of at least two more that were filed that nobody seems to have a record of.

We are still waiting for information from the Middletown Police Department in regards to animal control records we had requested, about mileage records for 2011 and about a detailed arrest report we had requested. We had to back down on a request for copies of emails for a city employee for a particular day that we requested last spring, because we the city claims to have no record of our request and we don’t have a copy of what we were actually requesting.

To resolve this issue in the future and get better at following up on our requests and holding departments accountable for fulfilling them, our entire Connecticut cluster of newspapers is creating a spreadsheet listing all the requests we make and whether they have been fulfilled. This document will be available to the public on a new Open Records blog we have created, available here.

We have also created an informal Freedom of Information Committee for Connecticut that will work with all reporters and hold classes for the public to let everyone know of their rights to see and obtain public documents. Read more about that here.

What do you think we should ask to see copies of? We welcome ideas. Email editor@middletownpress.com.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Most popular videos in February

Below are the three most viewed videos at middletownpress.com during the month of February.

Attorney John Maxwell discusses Christine Powell case (teacher who is accused of having sex with student):

American Legion members take the Penguin Plunge:

Cromwell girls win Shoreline title:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

For the pet lover...

Check out these animal videos from local shelters done by our court reporter, Lauren Sievert. The first one features Sal, a three-legged cat.

The second video features Mocha, a pit bull mix looking for a loving home.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A media partnership

I received this press release in my inbox yesterday about a media partnership between Fox CT (already associated by the Hartford Courant) and the Record-Journal of Meriden:

FOX CT and the Record-Journal are pleased to announce the formation of a unique news content-sharing agreement.

The two newsgathering organizations will exchange stories and images that focus on local communities and share them with their respective audiences during TV newscasts, in their newspapers and online.

FOX CT has built a remote studio at the Meriden offices of the Record-Journal that will allow live reports by newspaper reporters during FOX CT’s 4pm newscast.

“Any opportunity where we can share local content is a win-win for the viewers and readers of these two outstanding news organizations,” said Rich Graziano, vice president and general manager of FOX CT. “Partnering with the Record-Journal reinforces FOX CT as a statewide news organization, giving our newscasts a greater and wider impact, which is ultimately our mission."

“We are looking forward to a strong partnership with FOX CT that benefits both news organizations,” said Record-Journal Publisher Eliot C. White. “This is an opportunity for the Record-Journal to deliver our unique local content to an expanded audience and to market our products throughout the state.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Five tools for our newsroom

As an idealab project, the members were asked to share five tools that we have found most helpful to our newsrooms. Below I'm sharing the tools we use often at The Middletown Press that have helped us in reporting local news:

Hootsuite (www.hootsuite.com) – A free tool that enables you to pre-set both Facebook and Twitter posts. We use this a lot at The Middletown Press, especially on the weekends, when we have minimal or no staff on duty. You can have up to five different things synched in one account and give staff members access to this account to schedule things in advance like feature stories or opinion columns etc. For Twitter links, the tool also allows you to shrink the URL right there instead of also visiting bit.ly.

Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) – Download the program and you can share big files quickly between computers while you are at different locations, without the need to log into a common server or trying to email files that might be too big. Our photo editor is now using this to file her photos from games or late meetings. Photos appear instantaneously on the computers in the newsroom that are synched up on the same account. It’s become an invaluable tool for us as it allows the photographer to file her photos on (or before) deadline and still stay at the event so she doesn't miss something that might happen after print deadline.

Google Calendar (www.google.com/calendar) – Simple to use, easy to coordinate. We set it up using our Middletown Press Gmail account and shared it with everyone on staff. At the MP, we use this for our photo schedule. Each reporter uses a different color and can schedule assignments as needed. You can also copy/paste entire press releases into the details field to give photographer a better idea of what is going on at the event or how people’s names are spelled etc. For those with smart phones, you can get notifications of assignments and such directly on your phone.

Scribd (www.scribd.com) – Sign up for an account using your FB login. Use it to upload PDF files or Word documents that can then easily be embedded on websites. (Document appears right in the story). We use our copier to scan documents into one big PDF file and then you just email it and upload. Anyone on staff can be trained to do this. The trick is to train people to think “are there any documents that could go with this story?” - used for court documents, budgets, press releases, statements.

Cover It Live (www.coveritlive.com) – Great for live chats. The Middletown Press, The Register Citizen and the New Haven Register use this daily for our morning newsroom meetings (http://bit.ly/wJjpKy). You can set up several panelists/moderators to check and approve participant comments and the entire chat can be embedded on a website so anyone can join in. It allows you to set up a small profile – we have a brand Middletown Press account that we use if we host our own chat on our website and several staff members have individual accounts that we use during the morning meetings so people know who we are.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Top videos from January

Below are the most popular local videos on our website during January: