If You See Something, Say Something #6

A Weekly Media Criticism from The Shoestring

In a new weekly media column, The Shoestring will reflect on recent local news.


Going Green?

Last week, the Hampshire Gazette announced the cancellation of The Summit, a free local 8-page newspaper that covered community news in Easthampton, Westhampton, and Southampton. While the publication included little to no actual news stories, included in its pages were announcements for art events, support groups, and classes with an exclusive section for senior events. The rest was comprised of ads for local businesses. A small statement on the front of last week’s Easthampton issue cited print costs as the reason for the cancellation and encouraged readers to look online for Easthampton news, effectively asking people to cough up $8.25/mo for unlimited digital access for vital community information. (This is on top of the cost of owning a computer and having internet.) And if you want a print copy of the Daily Hampshire Gazette, you are looking at an investment of $254/year. Yowsa.

Local Easthampton grocery store, Big E’s, which regularly places a large spread of coupons in The Summit, decided to use the cancellation as a hip branding moment to announce, “We’re going green for 2019.” When The Shoestring checked in with Big E’s, the store confirmed that the cancellation of The Summit is the reason why Big E’s will no longer be distributing its coupons in the paper. Big E’s also clarified that it will still carry its print coupons in store. Is this what “going green” means?  This demonstrates the often vapid claim of businesses “going green” when by happenstance they have to end some part of their business plan that involves paper delivery. In this case, Big E’s is using The Summit’s cancellation to spin a false story about its supposed interest in conserving paper. —Jules Marsh

What the F@$%k is going on at Hampshire College?

On Wednesday, February 20th, the Gazette reported on the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)’s statement on Hampshire College in an article entitled “Accreditation body approves of Hampshire College’s ‘openness’.” Coincidentally, the NECHE statement itself was released the same day that the first wave of staff layoffs was announced by Hampshire College following their decision to not admit an entering class earlier this month and instead pursue a “strategic partnership.” From the statement: “The Commission appreciates the openness with which the College has undertaken the process of seeking a partner and the care it is taking to keep the interests of current and prospective students foremost in mind.”

Openness is an interesting word choice here. Are they referring to the openness with which current students, faculty, and staff all found out at the same time, a week after the Five College presidents, of the decision to seek a strategic partner and possibly not admit an entering class? Or, maybe they are referring to the early decision entrants, whose admission, although binding, came with a lengthy, confusing addendum—including only being able to guarantee admission for the Fall 2019 semester—after the February 1st board decision. Maybe they’re referring to the board and President Mim Nelson’s decision to lift Non-Disclosure Agreements on faculty involved in strategic partnership talks, only after the American Association of University Professors, an organization which sets guidelines and standards for equity and shared governance in higher education, called on them to do so.

Time will tell if this supposed openness will extend to the administration meeting any of the demands of Hamp Rise Up Coalition and the Hampshire College American Association of University Professors, including releasing a detailed Academic Year ‘19/’20 budget, including revenues and projected layoffs, and the addition of two students onto the board of trustees. If this is what we have to look forward to as an open process of institutional deconstruction, then the NECHE is setting the bar dangerously low for what constitutes transparency in higher ed. — Katlyn Anderson

Aid for Venezuela?

At a rally on the steps of Northampton City Hall Saturday condemning U.S. meddling in Venezuela (see our coverage), local esteemed intellectual Vijay Prashad spoke about the history of U.S. imperialism throughout the world, railed against career criminal Elliott Abrams (dude was charged for lying to congress), and closed his speech by holding up a copy of this weekend’s Gazette.

In it, there was a piece, wired from the Associated Press, titled “US military aircraft to deliver more aid to Venezuela border.“ Prashad was indignant. He said, “this is the kind of Orwellian headline we’re supposed to take seriously.” Prashad told the crowd assembled, “Humanitarianism is a pretext for war, it has nothing to do with helping people. 20 million dollars worth of aid coming via the military aircrafts is not the way to help people. If you want to help people, end the sanctions.”

The article didn’t mention the history of U.S. intervention in Latin America or the possibility that a coup had been committed. Still, Fox News might have been most transparent about the administration’s ambitions. National Security advisor John Bolton told the network: “We’re looking at the oil assets”. Adding, “We’re in conversation with major American companies now. I think we’re trying to get to the same end result here.” The Gazette didn’t cover the rally. —WM

No Agenda?

Bera Dunau’s Feb 15th piece on Northampton’s charter review process noted that At-large councilor Bill Dwight had appointed Sam Hopper to the Charter Review Process along with former Gazette opinion editor, Stan Molton. In the piece Hopper, who is an avid attendee of all things city government, told Dunau that she had no agenda for her new post. She also added that she was interested in reviewing why the city clerk, in charge of the city’s records, is elected and not appointed.

Changing an elected position to an appointment would likely consolidate more power in the hands of the Mayor. As we have learned, Mayor Narkewicz sometimes appoints people to various positions despite public objections. For example, in 2018 Narkewicz appointed Marie Westburg to run the senior center against the wishes of many seniors. Later the same year he staged a coup-like intervention in the governing body responsible for overseeing public housing. Changing the clerk might be a good move for the city, and the charter committee should figure this out, but it’s hard to say there’s no agenda. —WM

Resolving Conflict

The New York Times weighed into local affairs this week, profiling the “conflict resolution” work of Paula Green. Green, based in Leverett, is gaining an international profile for her role in facilitating a dialogue between Kentucky conservatives and Leverett liberals. The Boston Globe, The Gazette, and even a Dutch Newspaper have covered the story.

Like the local coverage, The Times didn’t delve into Green’s background—who has done similar work in conflicts throughout the world, including in Israel and Palestine. A power analysis was missing from understanding the terms of “conflict resolution” work. As The Shoestring has noted before, take a peek at the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding’s website, where Green is the director, and you’ll find that many staff and board members have connections to government groups like the FBI, the State Department, USAID (see above about humanitarian aid), the Department of Defense, and “other government groups.” Same goes for the Washington D.C. Alliance for Peacebuilding, a group that recently recognized Green with an award.

All this said, the idea that we can heal our wounds with dialogue doesn’t really account for the real harms perpetuated by institutions like the FBI, the Department of Defense, and corporate capitalism run amok. Of course, the question then becomes: for the benefit of whom are we building bridges and having dialogue? —WM


Will Meyer and Jules Marsh are co-editors of The Shoestring. Katlyn Anderson is a student at Hampshire College.

The Shoestring is committed to bringing you ad-free content. We rely on readers to support our work! Please donate to The Shoestring on Patreon.