‘THE CONOR BERRY CHRONICLES’: PROOF THAT ANDY MICK SPIKED THE STRACUZZI STORY, THE FIRST OF MANY SUCH ‘INTRUSIONS’
BY DAN VALENTI
How the ‘Newspaper’ is Run … into the Ground
For months, we have offered evidences and assertions supporting our argument that the Newspaper Formerly Known as The Berkshire Eagle no longer exists. In its place is a fraud and fake called The Boring Broadsheet. The BB began operation in 1995, replacing the Eagle’s 100+ history of superb journalism, Pulitzers, and local ownership.
The paper was purchased by a bird of prey named Dean Singleton and his chain, a man known in newspaper circles as a vulture — a businessman who didn’t care about journalism or a newspaper’s responsibilities to its local community but only about the coveted Bottom Line. Singleton’s Media New Group (MNG) has a well deserved reputation of scorn for the way it would by distressed papers at fire sale prices, run them into the ground, the move on.
The Denver, Colo., based MNG existed for one purpose only: The makes its owners and board and shareholders as much money as possible. Singleton’s game was based on highly leveraged properties, using credit and mortgages to add to the empire. When the economy tanked in the 4th quarter of 2008, the dance ended and the piper had to be paid. Today, MNG exists only in bankruptcy court, a shell of its former shell.
In Pittsfield, Singleton installed a publisher, Andy Mick, who would follow orders in return for commensurate financial compensation. They made the mistake, though, of hiring as editor a real newspaper guy, David Scriber, for whom The Planet had the pleasure of working for a bunch of years as a columnist. Scribner tried to pitch a fair game, but even he was stifled in the end. Scribner left in the early 2000s, to be replaced by a sports guy, a decent enough chap, who knew nothing about how to run a newspaper and wouldn’t think to ask questions. That man’s name was Tim Farkas.
The Planet has tried to reach out to Farkas any number of times, but he would have none of it. We empathize with his position, actually, knowing that he has a family to support, mouths to feed, and a publisher who, seemingly, will throw him under the bus if he rocks the boat too much.
Shortly after Farkas was hired, The Planet took him to lunch at Patrick’s Pub in downtown Pittsfield, to introduce him to the community and invite him on our radio show, “The Dan Valenti Show,” then the hottest a.m. ticket in town. He declined. He said he needed to get acclimated to the community, and then he would come on as a guest. He never did. He’d duck our calls and do his best to avoid being asked to guest the show again.
Farkas learned quickly that The Planet wasn’t afraid to ask of him the tough question and that we knew the newspaper-communication-media game inside and out. For him, that apparently was a dreadful combination. He never came on. In fact, he never met with us again. We understand, and we want him to know that.
With Mick, the Boring Broadsheet’s makeover from feisty, even great local daily into a toothless rag meant as the GOB house organ Pittsfield was complete. The paper began ignoring big stories and trying to make solidity of pure fluff. In the process, the Boring Broadsheet bailed out of its responsibilities as the Local Daily.
The Berry Chronicles
Several years ago, they made the mistake of hiring an enterprising reporter. This man could also write. He had a nose for news, a reputation for honesty, and that fearless quality that makes for a potential star. His name was Conor Berry.
Berry had to fight tooth and nail to go after some of the scandalous stories he soon learned were hidden, buried, and begging to be unearthed. Mick, however, ordered Farkas to muzzle the guy. It worked, but only partially. Berry managed to get some important stories into the light of day. Three come to mind: The Carmen Massimiano accusation story; the arrest and shameful exit of Angelo Stracuzzi, former CEO of Greylock Federal Credit Union; and SteroidsGate.
Finally, this man of integrity could no longer stomach his employers. Berry was probably kept sane by Kevin Moran, the managing editor of the BB, who has The Planet’s full respect and sympathy. Moran is a local guy, unlike Mick and Farkas. He “gets” Berkshire County and Pittsfield. He cares about he community. He knows the pulse of the community, something about which the tone-deaf Mick-Farkas combo remain clueless. Moran is in an awkward position. He’s the link between Farkas and the newsroom. He sticks up for his reporters and editors, but he also has to tiptoe the tightrope. Mick holds it over his head: He knows Moran wants to remain local, and there’s no other gig in town.
Mick has essentially told Moran, “Keep your mouth shut, dummy up when we tell you, and you’ll be fine.”
The Truth is Out: Mick Spiked the Stracuzzi Story
Conor Berry left for a job at the Springfield Republican. We have wished him well, and we would advise the editorial managers there to give this guy free reign. He’ll boost circulation for you, garner the community’s respect, and win you awards.
In a comment made to this website, Berry finally told the inside story of how he was ordered off the Stracuzzi investigation. Stracuzzi was initially charged with four counts involving 13-year-old and 15-year-old teenage boys in incidents that occurred on consecutive days in July 2005. He was charged with two counts of assault and two counts of soliciting the prostitution of a minor.
The child molestation charges were dropped, as was one of the assault charges. The Planet obtained court documents that confirmed the initial charges by police. We visited the police department at Biddeford, Maine. The Biddeford chief wouldn’t let us examine the initial police reports, because he said they involved charges of sexual assault of minors — again, confirmation of the charges.
Berry wanted to pursue the story. Mick ordered him off, as Berry now reveals here for the first time. Read Conor Berry’s account, and ask yourself: How can anyone ever trust the Boring Broadsheet again?
The Planet urges you to make this column viral. Send to all your friends. Have them send it to THEIR friends. Let all finally be convinced that the Boring Broadsheet has not earned the support and trust of the community. It will ignore the stories it is ORDERED to ignore about whatever dark secrets and unsavory affairs that may be polluting community life as much as GE’s toxins have polluted our air, land, and water.
CONOR BERRY’s FULL STATEMENT
The Planet presents: “The Conor Berry Chronicles” (the underlines and italics have been added by The Planet):
So, I’m feeling some pressure, as a reporter, to peel the onion further, especially since the “citizen journalists” of the online world are mentioning the awful, tawdry details of the Greylock CEO case and I haven’t written word one — though I did, in a rather Delphic way, allude to some bizarre sets of circumstances.
Didn’t the CEO’s mother warn him against picking up hitchhikers?!
I was originally told, point blank, by two well-placed law enforcement sources that the underlying charges, the ones The Eagle avoided covering initially, stemmed from allegations that the CEO in question solicited sex from a group of boys or pre-teens up in Biddeford, ME.
At that point, I had no idea the allegations stemmed from two separate incidents spread over two evenings. I actually learned that from [Glenn] Heller. My source said, and I quote: “He offered money to some boys for a [blank].”
Once I learned of the disposition of the case from Maine law enforcement officials, I was disturbed by the underlying charges — the ones that were dismissed by the state of Maine.
I was fully prepared to report on these original, more disturbing charges, but my editor told me to hang tight until he ran it by the publisher (understandably, my editor didn’t want another Massimiano story on his hands, and frankly I didn’t want to be maligned in another full-page color ad in my own paper! Incidentally, what kind of thought goes through a publisher’s head when he accepts $20,000+ for an ad mocking his paper, his editor and, arguably, the only reporter at his paper who was asking any intelligent questions?).
Hold on, here it comes: The publisher barred us from reporting the awful details in the CEO story.
My editor told me that, according to the publisher, if the bank CEO had incurred more recent charges, whether they be in Maine, Connecticut or Massachusetts, for that matter, we could proceed. But we were NOT to focus on charges that were, by then, already a half-dozen years old. Particularly charges that weren’t ultimately pursued by the state of Maine, but rather dismissed by the state of Maine. …
Not for nothing, but this sort of back-and-forth discussion is nothing new in the world of newspapers, but rather something that boils down to “news judgment.” Every paper in America, depending on its trajectory and mission, has its own sense of news judgment. Some papers are more to the left, others more to the right.
For a small, regional daily such as The Eagle, there is a pronounced sensitivity to the “names in the news,” the “power structure,” or, as you fellows frequently refer to them, the “GOBs.”
During my 3 1/2-year tenure at The Eagle, I was called into my editor’s office several times so he could give me “heads-up” about the publisher hearing such and such about me … that the publisher had heard that I was asking this guy about this matter, and that gal about that matter, etc., etc.
It wore on me, frankly, and I did feel that it inhibited me from doing my job as a reporter, which is to dig and ask questions, regardless of how unsavory the issue at hand is, or regardless of how powerful (or delusional?) the subject of the questions may be.
Very disheartening, indeed.
And I can honestly report that this was the first time, in my relatively long journalism career, that I ever felt the long arm of the publisher’s office sticking itself into places it had no right to be stuck. Pardon whatever unsavory imagery that phrase may conjure …
I won’t detail other cases of publisher intrusion, but I often found myself in a defensive posture, defending myself against crimes, rumors and innuendo that simply weren’t true. In a word, I was disgusted, and my frustration was well known in the newsroom.
That aside, I can’t say enough good things about my managing editor, a native son of the county, who never shied away from hard news or news that may have rocked the boat. He was my rabbi, and I’ll always respect him for that.
On a final note, when an editor picked up a proof of the full-page ad (the one in which Massimiano, that powerful little man, maligns me as a reporter and threatens to sue me) and brought it into the executive editor’s office so we could digest its contents, the publisher very angrily stormed into the executive editor’s office and chastised we goofy news guys for examining the ad, which was promptly taken away from us. Again, welcome to bizzaro world.
The Planet notes that Berry refers to “other cases of publisher intrusion.” It happens, from my sources in the newsroom, virtually every day. Mick is running water for those that are dictating his orders, be they from Denver or right here in GOB Land.
Andy Mick: Come to your own defense. The Planet would love to hear your side of the story.
Tim Farkas: We withdraw our offer to fight. We regret having offered. We have lately come to a fuller understanding of your position, and The Planet acknowledges as much. We apologize if we went over the top in our treatment, and we ask forgiveness. You have a tough enough road. We offer this in all sincerity and, accept it or not, friendship.
Kevin Moran: Keep up the fight. If you need a shoulder upon which to lean, The Planet is here for you. You have many friends in the community who love you, respect you, and know what you’re up against.
Reporter and Editors of the Eagle: Throw off your chains. Organize. Fight back. You are a talented bunch. Reclaim daily journalism for the city and county.
TOMORROW, THE PLANET GIVES YOU PART THREE OF “THE GRANGER MEMO,” EXCLUSIVELY! Now, “Open the window, Aunt Millie.” Love to all.