Article

WMECO GOUGES CONSUMERS ONCE AGAIN, BUT THE BORING BROADSHEET LOVES IT. THE PLANET DOESN’T, & WE’VE GOT THE STEAM TO PROVE IT

BY DAN VALENTI

In my weekly op-ed column this week for the Pittsfield Gazette, I shall be writing about the Berkshire Eagle. I shall comment on its sad descending from winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 to its present-day toothlessness, a situation prompted by an out-of-state chain ownership that cares nothing about Pittsfield, Mass., except the money it can generate.

Lately, though, the Eagle hasn’t been generating money but losing it. All sorts of rumors are swirling about a sale of the paper, and they were fanned by reorganization of Dean Singleton’s Media News Group following bankruptcy. Singleton is out at Media News Group president and the media chain is in receivership. Or didn’t the Eagle tell you that?

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!!COMING TOMORROW, THE PLANET’s EXCLUSIVE LOCAL FEATURE: “SO WHO OWNS THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE? IS IT BANK OF AMERICA?” or “GOODBYE, PITTSFIELD”

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Ask most anyone in the area who know of the once-famed Berkshire Eagle, and they will tell you why the now-shamed rag is such a lousy paper. Indeed, they will give you verse and chapter on why the Boring Broadsheet isn’t even a shell of its former shell.

Pity the Poor Electric Company

Today’s case in point is its coverage of the latest price hikes announced by Western Mass Electric Company. The page 1 bylined story by Trevor Jones presents the latest hammering of The Little Guy as not so bad, and. actually, good news. That’s how much the Eagle cares about the average citizens. It reports on a rate hike that will choke many people, and it takes the spoon-fed corporate position.

Jones tells readers that poor WMECO wanted $28,4 million more from consumers but had to settled for a paltry $16.9 million. He then writes: “It lowers the rate hike that WMECO had sought from 6.1 percent to 4.2 percent.” See, the long-suffering electrical urchin must now deal with a “lower rate hike.” Yes, and to think these words passed through the hands of an editor. Back in the day, the desk editor would have thrown the story back at Jones for a total rewrite.

WMECO President Peter Clarke, left, and company lawyer Donald Wells sit through their successful rate hike hearing. They're crying all the way to the bank. (PHOTO CREDIT: DAVE ROBACK, THE SPRINGFIELD REPUBLICAN)

Not content at downplaying the significance of a 4.2 rise in your electrical bill, Jones then takes the press release from the state and spits it up as presented. Jones goes with the state’s mythic “typical residential customer,” divides his usage by 12, and comes up with the fuzzy math that this poor bastard will only have to pay 0.4 percent more each month. He does nothing to try to present what this will mean regionally for the specific customers covered by this specific increase. That would have meant phones calls and legwork.

WMECO: We Gave the Slobs a ‘Very Thoughtful’ Rate Hike

Jones then goes on to quote the WMECO mouthpiece and PR flack (whom he identifies with full name and title twice, violating the most basic of style rules) and regurgitates the written statement from the chair of the state Department of Public utilities, which granted the latest assault on Mr. and Mrs. Joe Sixpack’s pocketbook.

Jones tells us that when he quotes state DPU Chairwoman Ann Berwick, he’s using her written statement.  Translation: “I didn’t pick up the phone or use the computer to ask my own questions. I took what she spoon-fed me.”

This type of lazy, paint-by-the-numbers journalism is what make The Eagle a joke, and, sorry Tim, but it lands on the desk of executive editor Tim Farkas for permitting an effort one would expect from a student newspaper.

Oh, what a tangled web they weave ...

The WMECO PR flack told Jones that the rate hike was “a very thoughtful” request, although the electric company is “slightly disappointed that certain aspects of [the hike] were cut back.” Folks, just so you realize what has happened, let us explain: WMECO has just received another 4.2 percent of your money, and they have the steel ones to publicly express their “disappointment” in the local rag.

We feel their pain, don’t we? Perhaps the readers of The Planet can send in their nickels and dimes to help WMECO get over the “loss.”

Missing from the Story: What Does The Little Guy Think about Jump in Rates?

Apparently, Jones didn’t think it was important to talk to WMECO customers,who are now going to have to pay more without getting more in return. He didn’t think of asking the guy who’s just been laid off and can’t find work what he thinks. He didn’t think of asking the single mom who’s holding down two jobs, going to school to better herself, and is trying to raise two kids if she’s “mildly disappointed” that the electrical conglomerate didn’t get every last stinking penny it wanted. He didn’t think of asking the senior citizens, who are trying to figure out whether they should go without food this month or pay their electric bill.

Jones did tell us, however, Sanda Ahearn, WMECO’s PR dog, says the company “felt very strongly that this is something that is very important for the BENEFIT OF OUR CUSTOMERS!” (The Planet added the capitals, underline, italics, and exclamation point). See, WMECO was thinking of you all along!

If you wish to comment on Jones’ story, send him an email at

tjones@berkshireeagle.com

The Eagle Has Betrayed the Citizens of Pittsfield

This is precisely the type of story you get from a newspaper that has betrayed its community, its citizens, and its responsibility not to “objectivity” but to truth. Please share both Jones’ story and The Planet’s with everyone you know. Compare the two and ask: Who loves you, baby?

Maybe we can accelerate the number of people who are dumping the Eagle, now estimated at 3,000 a year and climbing.

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COMING SOON TO THE PLANET: "THE GREAT ELECTRIC RIP-OFF"

We do thank the Eagle and WMECO for the rate hike and its coverage, because it provides The Planet with a handy device to introduce a series we have been planning for a while. We call it “The Electrical Rip Off: Raising Your Costs & Fattening Their Profits.” Unlike the Berkshire Eagle, we looked behind the scenes of this rate hike and used it to educate ourselves on how the electricity game is rigged against the consumer. We will present Part I in our series on Friday.

Our goal will be to educate readers of how the electrical system works. What is a kilowatt hour? How do you figure out how much it costs to run any given electrical device? Why these relentless rate hikes? What’s wrong with so-called Green Energy? Why do electrical rates vary so much both within the same region and outside of localities? Why a switch to “free market” electricity clobbered the consumer (remember, The Planet is the biggest fan of free association in transactions). We look at the answers to these questions and more.

We also invite your comments on the rate hike because unlike the Boring Broadsheet, The Planet is on the side of We The People. We invite you to give WMECO and the Eagle “what for.” If only to vent, the exercise will do you good on this wintry day.

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TOMORROW, THE PLANET DARES TO LOOK BEHIND THE CURTAIN HIDING THE SHOCKING RE-EMERGENCE OF THE EAGLE’S “OWNERS,” MEDIA NEWS GROUP, FOLLOWING BANKRUPTCY.

UNTIL THEN, LOVE TO ALL.

21 Responses to “WMECO GOUGES CONSUMERS ONCE AGAIN, BUT THE BORING BROADSHEET LOVES IT. THE PLANET DOESN’T, & WE’VE GOT THE STEAM TO PROVE IT”

  1. Joe Pinhead
    February 2, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    Well I suppose you can live on 3 million a year? Look it isn’t easy ya know, with yacht payments and the price of jet fuel now. Hell Mcmansions aren’t cheap either. Besides the state makes out when we increase rates as well. And high energy rates makes the commonwealth that much more competitive and business friendly. Thank god were putting in investments like solar panel at the PEDA sight or we would have asked for 7%

    http://people.forbes.com/profile/david-r-mchale/58361

    im just sayin

  2. rick
    February 2, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    add 2 more to the 3000 less subscribers.

    • Nichols for mayor
      February 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

      I have my doubts about 3,000 lost subscribers for the Eagle, but let’s go with that premise. That’s a drop of about 12% in of circulation (assuming a 25,000 subscriber base).

      That’s huge, and based on the Eagle.posted annual subscripiton rate that’s an annual drop of about $540,000 in revenue.

      Painful, but potentially a drop in the bucket compared to advertising revenue. You can talk to any ad rep at the Eagle, and the Eagle is seeing double-digit percentage point rises in revenue year-over-year, and much more over two years ago.

      Every other company seems to get a pass for losing subscribers and revenue since the start of the recession, why does the Eagle not get that same exemption?

  3. arpaint
    February 2, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    W M ECO IS only one who wants to take every cent they can from the people of PittsfIeld the present administration keeps on raising our taxes.No one cares aboul the elderly or the poor in this town.

  4. Jim Gleason
    February 2, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    The state govt. is to blame for the increase just as much as WMECO is, they approved it. We need a new administration in this Commonwealth, the yes men and women now in office are failing the regular guy miserably and badly need to go.

    • Nichols for mayor
      February 3, 2011 at 10:28 am #

      Are you going to whine about it, or are you going to do something about it?

      So many of you come across as petty ole’ birds gathered in a gossip circle. If you all hate everything so much then grow a pair and change things.

      Otherwise you are just embarassing yourself.

  5. just saying
    February 2, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Here’s my personal dealings with that company-

    Electric bills started to increase, showing more usage than normal (we hadn’t added anything electrical, left things on etc.) I contacted wmeco via email and phone, was told there is no problem.
    I checked my incoming voltage, found to have about a 11/2 % difference (acceptable) between lines.
    I asked wmeco what an averge use is- they said they have no data on an average for single family house (bullshit), my bill is still an average of $50-$70 a month more than people that have similar sized homes near mine.
    I heat with wood, rarely use AC, always careful about making sure lights etc are OFF when not needed.
    Now the reason I call BS on these A+#holes is that shortly after this back and forth with them, there was an article in that dreadful hack publication we are burdened with here in the Berkshires (no I didn’t pay for it) with wmeco quoting averages usages of electricity for different homes & business.
    Last billing cycle my bill from wmeco was $264.
    F U wmeco.
    I have heard that the other provider is really no better.
    Anyone out there have any input on the other provider?
    Thanks again Dan for this site.

    • Dee
      February 3, 2011 at 4:00 am #

      Luckily I have National Grid. While I hate paying so much for electricity, obviously I have it much better than you. Last bill was 219. That included all the outside Christmas lights (about half LED, half regular), inside Christmas lights, outside hot tub, plus all the regular stuff in an average house. I’m admittedly bad about leaving lights on, television, radio, etc. and have more vampires than the Twilight movies. The one consideration is that I have changed out all the lights with CFs.

      I thought WMECO offered energy audits, or has that gone by the wayside.

  6. SS
    February 2, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    Great post on a major screwing of the people of Pittsfield and all customers of WMECO. A neighbor works there. He pretty much laughs when he sees the next price increase approved. The company would love 1%. They ask for 7%. They have a secret deal with the state to “settle for” 4.2 percent. That way, the compliant media, eg the boot licking Eagle, reports this as a “loss” for the electric company. This post today should win an award for expose journalism. Thanks, Dan.

  7. danvalenti
    February 2, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    SS
    Thanks. You see to the heart of it. I’m not “bashing” the Eagle or criticizing it gratuitously. I know from whence it came. Greatness. I know the power of the press, should it wish to assume its responsibility as the Fourth Estate. Mighty. The Eagle has failed miserably. It occupies a special place: the area’s only local daily. The days of letting them escape with a free pass are over. They know it, because I’m here to tell them.

    • bill
      February 3, 2011 at 7:30 am #

      Sounds like a disgruntled ex employee to me

      • San Simeon
        February 3, 2011 at 8:32 am #

        No. Sounds like a trained journalist who cares about his home town newspaper which used to be great and now is not.

        • bill
          February 3, 2011 at 8:51 am #

          no sour grapes!!

        • danvalenti
          February 3, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

          bill
          Gets your facts straight. I was never an Eagle employee. My two stints with them were as a contracted free-lance writer (columnist). The money they pay isn’t significant enough to be a factor. As “San Sim” says above, the current sad state of the newspaper is abhorrent to me because (a) I’ve been in the business all my life and (b) I know what the right paper run by the right people COULD be. It can’t be sour grapes, bill, because I chose not to write for them. Sorry to burst your bubble of fantasy. Next time, know what you’re talking about, my good friend.

          • bill
            February 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

            Sure does seem you have a bone to pick with them..

          • danvalenti
            February 3, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

            bill
            Now that is true. The point of contention is that they have betrayed the community. It’s owned by an out-of-state newspaper chain that’s in receivership, one that previously had one of the worst reputations in the industry. They took a great product and ran it into the ground. THAT’s my beef, nothing more and nothing less. A free press has a vital role to play in a free society. When the local media abandons that responsibility, as the Eagle and others have done, the price paid socially, culturally, and communally is fierce. Appreciate your input.

  8. Still wondering
    February 3, 2011 at 7:10 am #

    What a mess.

  9. Nichols for mayor
    February 3, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    So if you don’t like WMECO’s charges, just use an alternative.

    Or do something about it.

    And good luck finding drive and determination beyond whining to do that. Let’s face it, you’re all good at whining, but none of you are starting the revolution.

    All talk….

    • just saying
      February 3, 2011 at 4:30 pm #

      @ NFM;
      I was telling of my personal experience.
      Perhaps you should try civil dialog as Dee did.
      Your little rants make you appear small minded.
      Could you NFM please inform us as to what exactly you have done to start the “revolution”?
      Personally I invest in gold, silver, guns, mre’s etc.
      I don’t plan on starting anything, just planning for the worst. I don’t think you will start anything either.
      Please tell us what you have done to bring change about.

      • Nichols for mayor
        February 4, 2011 at 11:42 am #

        You invest in guns and MREs, etc. and think that others appear “small minded?”

        Really? We’re supposed to take stock in the rantings of a conspiracy theorist / wanna be survivalist?

        Really? You do know that noone of good educated stock would do what you do, right?

        Civil dialogue is reserved for those who are not borderline insane. Clearly you have crossed that border…

        Good luck with that whole end-of-the-world thing.

        • just saying
          February 4, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

          Seems that you were the one who mentioned revolution. Exactly what do you think will happen if there is a revoltion?? No conspiracy theory here. Just facts. The middle East is in turmoil, food prices are rising, oil prices are rising, dollar losing its place as the currency of the world. Please O great intelligent NFM tell me I’m wrong about any of it.
          And I restate that it was you the great thinker, the educated wonder who first brought up revolution…. So please tell us what you are doing to start it.