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See Something, Say Something #7

A Weekly Media Criticism from The Shoestring

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

Keep Your Yuppies

Last week WGBH Boston, an NPR affiliate, ran a story about State Senator Eric Lesser’s proposal to create an incentive for families to move from the Boston area to Western Mass. The incentive would offer $10,000 to cover relocation costs, and would apply only to telecommuters–those who would keep their current jobs and work from home– and would, if we’re to believe Lesser, begin to alleviate some of the stresses on Boston’s transportation and housing and stimulate the Western Mass. economy.

If taken at face value, this may seem like the most roundabout and least effective possible way of dealing with problems that are caused by inadequate funding of public transportation, a lack of commitment to affordable housing, and the stagnation of wages. Rather than delve into this context, we’re given a tour of Boon and Caro Sheridan’s renovated church they purchased for $238,000 in Holyoke–complete with “Resist” banners–after their Boston area apartment went on the market and they couldn’t afford to buy. Presumably, the landlords of Western Mass would be even more pleasantly surprised than the Sheridans, who now have a favorite bar in Northampton, when handed the opportunity to raise prices as buyers and renters accustomed to inflated housing costs migrate across the Quabbin.

As politicians, developers, and property owners court the wealthy everywhere across the state, initiatives that would prevent the “emptying out” of rural communities in the first place are nowhere to be found. —Brian Zayatz

Drinks with DNark and MNark

The alternative press really spoke truth to power the other day. Oh, did I say that? I meant the alternative press drank a $60 bottle of wine and a $120 bottle with power recently. Peak-Northampton radio host Monte Belmonte wrote his Valley Advocate wine column about how he “was lucky enough to taste Chateau Montelena’s 2012 Chardonnay and 2013 Estate Cabernet with The Brothers Narkewicz.”

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz’s brother Michael Narkewicz, who works in the wine industry in California, was in town. Sadly, the occasion was that their mother had passed. The column established early on that the brothers use the aliases Dnark and Mnark—Michael, the older brother, had just gone by “The Nark” in college.

The problem with the column isn’t that it is about mayor or wine per se, but what it says about the relationship between the press and politicians. “Why on Earth would the mayor of Northampton, in the midst of family tragedy, reach out to an idiot morning radio host and C-level wine writer to connect him with his wine aficionado brother from the West Coast?,” Belmonte mused rhetorically, before answering: “Because he said he would. That’s just the kind of person the mayor of Northampton is.” Or perhaps because the C-level wine writer would write sentences like that.

Asked if The Advocate had an ethics policy, managing editor Dave Eisenstadter told The Shoestring, “Monte does no reporting for us on City Hall, so I don’t consider the issue.” He later added that it is “not an ethical problem for a lifestyle column.” —Will Meyer

What’s wrong with lovable grocery-robot surveillance?

WWLP’s less than 100-word news story recently announced “It’s true! Robots are working at your local Stop & Shop.” “Marty” the robot, who recently appeared (likely invading your personal space) at Stop & Shops in Northampton and Holyoke amongst many other locations, is hyped as the “7-foot tall googly-eyed machine” who is “more than just a friendly face… he’s a robotic assistant that can identify and alert his human co-workers to spills and other hazards.” Wow! But even this sells Marty short—sure he’s probably the tallest, handsomest Massachusetts public figure around (sorry Charlie Baker)—but, mostly unlike his contemporary, he’s also a deeply creepy surveillance bot.

Local news consumers can be forgiven for missing this bit—most coverage of the charismatic newcomer eschewed the word “camera” entirely, instead opting for narratives of “innovation,” and “efficiency.” In many of the news stories the language seems to borrow almost directly from the official press release of Retail Business Services, a company belonging to Ahold Delhaize, the Dutch corporation who operates Stop & Shop and other U.S. supermarkets.

But, to be clear, no matter how many times focus-grouped buzzwords are repeated, Marty does indeed have a camera. And he’s watching… or, someone is. On the other end of that camera there is apparently a human in the Philippines who is (presumably) paid well by their employer to review footage and potentially “trigger a cleanup message over the loudspeaker” back in West Mass. Cool.

Fittingly, Marty’s rollout at the region’s Stop & Shops has occurred just as all five of the chain’s New England unions have authorized a strike. In addition to feeling understaffed and underpaid “the union also doesn’t like Marty.” With one robot barista already running an entire cafe in California and one robot bartender proving so competent at inebriating MGM Springfield gamblers that he’s slated to get a Las Vegas gig that could affect nearly 2,000 human bartenders, UFCW 1459’s distaste for the googly-eyed surveillance machine is understandable. Less understandable? WWLP and other news outlets’ enthusiastically uncritical coverage.—Harrison Greene

Will Meyer and Harrison Greene are co-editors of The Shoestring. Brian Zayatz is a frequent contributor to The Shoestring, his most recent piece was on Hampshire College.

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