Earlier this year, Crotonblog suddenly received attention from an unusual source. Although we had never mentioned its name, a once well-respected weekly newspaper headquartered in Yorktown Heights began attacking us. The paper was obviously determined to expand subscriptions in communities on the perimeter of its overambitious coverage area. A seemingly defenseless blog that had done nothing to annoy that newspaper seemed like a ready-made victim.
Under the direction of one Bruce Apar, newly robed with the high-sounding but awkward title of “Editor-in-Chief Plus Publisher,” The North County News embarked on a campaign to secure subscribers by courting a few local malcontents unhappy with Crotonblog for following the almost universal practice of allowing anonymous comments signed only with a screen name.
We had heard the many rumors circulating about the wholesale firings and forced resignations at The North County News after Mr. Apar’s arrival. These were accompanied by almost unbelievable reports of meetings, pep talks, and morale-building e-mails where before had been only the good-natured camaraderie of a small business. In the past, rank and title meant nothing, and everybody pitched in to extract something to be proud of from the inevitable disorder of a newspaper’s editorial office.
So many people have been let go or forced out at The North County News, the new regime more closely resembles a Hitlerian Nazi putsch or a corporate takeover by Wall Street raiders than an orderly change of editors at a small newspaper. If the takeover had a motto, it would have to be, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”
We understand that employees are now encouraged to wear buttons that read, “Ask me about The North County News.” We can imagine ourselves wearing one of those buttons. And since you just asked, Crotonblog is pleased to recount its unhappy experience at the hands of Editor-in-Chief Plus Publisher Apar. Most of the purge victims could not or would not fight back. Crotonblog never spoils for a fight, but if put upon unfairly we will respond. We wear nobody’s collar, and we are nobody’s patsy.
Under the Microscope
When a newspaper bills itself as “The Newsweekly of New York’s Northern Suburbs,” readers have a right to expect authoritative coverage. Uncomfortable with being Mr. Apar’s whipping boy, Crotonblog decided to put The North County News under the microscope and ascertain the quality of the journalistic changes his arrival had wrought.
The attack on Crotonblog started in a blog by him (BrucetheBlog) on the NCN website. To this day, it consists in its entirety of two entries time-stamped February 22, 2007. Both still remain. One is titled “Croton Election Series Starts with a Thud.” It elicited no comments from readers. The other, headed “Blogarrhea: Bums on a Blog Pollute Croton and Peekskill,” made reference to a similar attack by him dubbed “Salvo” then appearing in the printed edition.
This second entry yielded two comments. One from Maria Cudequest, of Croton, thanked him for the attack. The other from Abigail Billingsworth took him to task for attacking a Peekskill blog. Editor-in-Chief Plus Publisher Apar wrote that he had been receiving “a constant stream of e-mails from the good people of Croton and Peekskill.”
All About Apar
Mr. Apar’s background seems to be entirely in trade magazines in the entertainment field—publications little read by the general public. His in-print contributions to The North County News consist of weekly editorials and separate commentaries whose texts are chock full of clichéed 1960’s cracker-barrel philosophy, written with frequent recourse to Roget’s Thesaurus to achieve a flowery tone. The net effect is that of a couple of tiresomely repetitive weekly sermons from a windbag. It has become a paper short on news and long on opinion, mostly those of the Editor-in-Chief Plus Publisher.
…And Some of His Victims
Last week’s commentary space was surrendered to longtime reporter Martin Wilbur so that he could say a sentimental goodbye to readers. This week’s commentary had a one-paragraph paen to Jim MacLean, the 14-year veteran who succeeded much-loved Ray Gallagher as sports editor. Writing in his last regular column, MacLean sounded wistful for the good old days. As with Wilbur’s farewell, the implication was clear that it was the paper that had changed, not MacLean. Last year’s forced Gallagher exodus within two weeks of the new editor’s arrival sparked a fierce outcry from loyal readers who canceled subscriptions in droves.
The steady parade away from NCN’s editorial offices has caused a journalist friend of Crotonblog to observe, “So many people have been fired or forced out of NCN in the past year by this guy Apar’s stupid new “by-the-rule-book” policies better suited to an insurance company, they could throw an annual convention. But they’d have to rent Yankee Stadium to hold it in.”
Team NCN’s Newest Members
The doleful account of the destruction of a once-proud newspaper is a story continuing right up to the moment. This week’s commentary by Mr. Apar (in the print edition of The North County News, his column is called “Talking Points” titled “It’s a whole new ballgame at NCN,” welcomes new staff members, including News Editor Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who worked for two community newspapers, a county legislator and the United Auto Workers. In writing her front page story headed “Gettin’ Schooled,” Ms. Fitzpatrick would have been better served had she been employed by the Teamsters Union, whose members know the importance of getting an address right.
Her bylined story tells readers that two meetings were scheduled to explain to taxpayers the circumstances and the impact of the district’s usage of the wrong equalization rate to calculate school taxes. According to Ms. Fitzpatrick, one of two meetings would be held at the “Administration’s Conference Room at 61 Charlie Road in Cortlandt.” The correct designation should have been the Administrative Conference Room at Hen Hud High School.
“Where the Hell Is Charlie Road?”
And Ms. Fitzpatrick got the address laughably wrong. The correct address is 61 Trolley Road in Montrose. There is no Charlie Road in Cortlandt or anywhere in Westchester. Such are the journalistic perils of being unfamiliar with the place you’re reporting on. Trolley may sound like Charlie over the phone, but one of the first rules cub reporters learn is to ask sources to spell names. If NCN keeps this up, will we soon be directed to Artie Avenue, Bobby Boulevard, Daisy Drive, Peggy Place or Sammy Street?
Editor-in-Chief Plus Publisher Apar just can’t seem to get any facts straight when it comes to this part of Westchester. (He recently placed Indian Point in Montrose instead of Buchanan.) To add insult to injury, his own editorial in this week’s issue also misstated the location of the first informational meeting as “61 Charlie Road in Cortlandt.”
Crotonblog hopes no NCN readers spent time searching for 61 Charlie Road. Friday’s meeting drew exactly two residents and two reporters. The NCN reporter, one of two other new hires, may have had trouble finding Charlie Road; he arrived a little late and seemed confused. Apparently he did not recognize The Gazette’s editor, the imposing seven-foot-tall Gary Cahill, who was there to cover the meeting. Looking for a quote for his story, the NCN reporter asked the Gazette editor for his name, thinking he was a third taxpayer. Such are the perils of inexperience.
One of the benefits of covering this meeting was that the Fitzpatrick story on the NCN blog was hastily corrected after the fact to show the correct address as Trolley Road, not Charlie Road. But nothing could be done about changing the erroneous address in the print edition on newsstands or in the hands of subscribers. It’s there in all its embarrassing permanence.
Don’t Tread On Us
As we have done with two previous stories about glaring inaccuracies in The North County News (see appended footnote links), Crotonblog has applied to the latest story the Revolutionary War Gadsden Rattlesnake flag with its motto “Don’t tread on me.” We do it to remind readers—and the folks at NCN—that we haven’t forgotten who started this fracas. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: If you purposely tread on a rattlesnake, don’t be surprised if it rises up and bites you on the ass.
Editor-in-Chief Plus Publisher Apar may think he has put together a major league ball club. Judging from the evidence of this latest episode, we’d say it’s more like a pickup sandlot baseball team.
Eventually, Crotonblog may get tired of squinting through a microscope at this sad excuse for a newspaper and call off our dogs, especially since NCN has gotten itself so mired in troubles of its own devising that it cannot even get the paper on newsstands or in the hands of subscribers on its pub date—Wednesday of each week. In the meantime, stay tuned.