Monday, March 22, 2010

CNG watch: Courier-Life editor leaves, Brooklyn Paper's Kuntzman takes over; two chains start sharing more content

Not surprisingly, the New York Post's Community Newspaper Group (CNG) has moved toward consolidating its two chains in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Paper and the Courier-Life.

The evidence? The departure of the latter's editor and increased sharing of copy among the two chains.

As can be seen by a close look at the Courier-Life mastheads from last week (below) and this week, longtime Courier-Life Editor Kenneth Brown has been replaced by Brooklyn Paper Gersh Kuntzman.

Moreover, the lead article in at least one edition of the Courier-Life, my local Park Slope Courier, contains the same article on Prospect Park's "meadows of shame" that appeared on the front page of the Brooklyn Paper, written by a Brooklyn Paper reporter.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Paper prominently features Courier-Life reporter Stephen Witt's questionable coverage of the seemingly dubious lawsuit filed by City Council Member Letitia James. (More on that below.)

What does it mean?

What does it all mean? I can't be sure, since I got rather terse responses from CNG spokeswoman Suzanne Halpin:
We’ve been sharing content all along. In this week’s issue we’re sharing more, and we’ll continue to do that. Yes, there have been some staff changes.
Given the absence of an announcement or an opportunity for Brown to offer a valedictory, it looks like he was axed and the two papers, not unlike many other news organizations facing the squeeze, will rely on fewer staffers to put out the same publications.

Meanwhile, a comparison of mastheads of the Brooklyn Paper (above, this week's issue, while last week's issue is below) suggests that Senior Editor Vince DiMiceli has left the Brooklyn Paper. I've heard secondhand that the capable DiMiceli has simply moved over to work on the Courier-Life chain.

Update 8:15 am. I got an additional quote from a New York Post spokesperson:
"There are 11 papers under the Courier Life umbrella, of which Gersh Kuntzman edits four (the downtown versions plus the Brooklyn Paper) and Vince DiMiceli edits seven (the non-downtown editions).

Mr. Brown is no longer with the company.

The papers have been sharing resources and content since their acquisition by the Post last year."
Predictions from last year

After the sale of the longtime independent weekly a year ago, in March 2009, I asked Kuntzman if the newspapers would be consolidated and he said he didn't know.

I wrote that I expected that the two chains would be consolidated, at least in part, as they start agreeing not to tread on each other's territory. However, their layouts, printing plants, and web sites are all disparate, so true consolidation might take a while.

The consolidation so far seems less a divvying up of territory than simply sharing content.

The Brooklyn Paper, it seems, has mostly been left alone by CNG, but I'll stand by my prediction--as quoted in Times coverage--that "The Brooklyn Paper’s news coverage of Atlantic Yards will diminish somewhat (as it already has), and its editorial criticism will diminish even more."

After all, where was that Brooklyn Paper article on the Development Agreement that gives Forest City Ratner 25 years to build Atlantic Yards?

Changes and questions

At the very least, it might be tougher to put out a quality product with even fewer people. Each paper has only a handful of reporters to cover (parts of) what would be, if independent, the country's fourth-largest city.

The Courier-Life web site and layout might improve.

And the tone of the two weeklies might change.

Will the Courier-Life replace its three columnists, who infrequently write anything about Brooklyn, with columnists who focus on the borough?

Will we see more of the Gershi-ification of the Courier-Life?

(That's more glibness, puns, and--to quote former Brooklyn Paper publisher Ed Weintrob--a "familiar hysterical slant," all hallmarks of editor Kuntzman's tabloid style. To be fair, Kuntzman has published some serious news coverage--today's Brooklyn Paper has a follow-up on security at the Atlantic Terminal by Stephen Brown--and he's prodigiously productive. But there's a tension between producing entertainment and pursuing a role as a civic watchdog.)

Will the Courier-Life be as heavily edited as the Brooklyn Paper, or will the Courier-Life--which has much more of a newshole--continue to publish press releases verbatim and copy virtually unedited?

Will the career arc at the two papers change? Brooklyn Paper reporters tend to stay for a year or two and move on; Courier-Life reporters tend to stick around.

The notorious Mr. Witt

And will the notorious Stephen Witt be allowed to continue to cheerlead unquestioningly for Atlantic Yards?

This week's coverage of the lawsuit James filed, claiming injury after walking into a hitch that a man had (allegedly) improperly left on his car, wasn't encouraging.

Witt's slam on James ran, initially, without any comment from James or link to any backing documents. James may have filed a frivolous lawsuit, but it wasn't easy to evaluate.

Then Witt wrote a quick follow-up story, pointing out that James "has been the subject of considerable mockery on the Internet."

(If that's the criterion, well, where's the story about Witt, whom the Brooklyn Paper, when independent, once needled?)

The New York Daily News picked up, and ran an editorial calling James a knucklehead, whereupon she said she'd withdraw her suit.

Now James may well have made an unwise move, perhaps inspired by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's notable payday.

But Witt's willingness to carry water for James's unsuccessful challenger, Delia Hunley-Adossa, does not exactly inspire confidence in his reporting.

Remember how, after the New York Times's blog The Local reported last August that they had trouble reaching Hunley-Adossa, the candidate claimed, via Witt, a smear campaign by The Local?

Witt dutifully reported that Hunley-Adossa had always been reachable by him. However, Kuntzman told The Local, "“We at The Brooklyn Paper have been astounded by the lack of response to our questions from Delia and her campaign."

Now Witt works for Kuntzman.

Life at CNG has just gotten cozier, and we'll have to wait to see how and if things change.

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