Friday, October 8, 2010

Will "Patch" Kill Off Sierra Madre's Weekly Newspapers?

I received an e-mail this evening from John Stephens, the editor and sole salaried employee of a new blog in town called Sierra Madre Patch. Which is actually a new blog in a whole lot of other towns as well. But more on that topic in a minute. John, as you might recall, is the former Editor of the Sierra Madre Weekly, a paper that has lately become the print equivalent of bedlam.

Of course, the last time most of us saw John Stephens was at City Hall the night of the City Council reorganization, trying to defend the entirely nutso attacks made by Fire Chief Michael Bamberger against then Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray. Something the paper's young editor had published verbatim in the SM Weekly without the benefit of any critical review whatsoever. His reckless indiscretion doing little to help the already dismal reputation of the paper he was heading at that time.

Anyway, here is what Mr. Stephens had to say in this evening's e-mail to The Tattler:

Maybe it doesn't matter, but how did you know about the (water) meeting being on Oct 19? I wouldn't think it was such an issue, even after reading today's Weekly. But my recent receipt of an email from Elaine (Aguilar) confirming what you had reported and she refuted to The Weekly just makes me wonder! How did you know when the meeting would be held?

What Mr. Stephens is in part referring to here is the vastly incorrect front page story published yesterday by the Sierra Madre Weekly, as written by the unfortunate Terry Miller. Here is Terry's absurdly incorrect take on a breaking news story that was first reported on The Tattler earlier this week:

We were confused by the latest submission on what we lovingly refer to as Sierra Madre's local gossip blog. We quote: "Five months after they should have done it, the Sierra Madre City Council has called a 'special meeting' for the evening of October 19th to discuss the considerable water bond debt."

Terry then continued with this strange claim:

A 'Special Meeting' has not yet been announced according to Elaine Aguilar, Sierra Madre City Manager, with whom the Sierra Madre Weekly spoke on Wednesday morning. The city manager assured us that we would be notified when such special meetings are announced.

It looks like the folks working at the City of Sierra Madre's spacious administrative seat had once again forgotten about the forlorn and poorly informed Mr. Miller. Because not only will there be a special meeting on 10/19 about the water rate hike and Sierra Madre's $23.2 million in water bond debt (the elephant in the room that even Fogbank Buchanan can't hide), but the City also intends to send out a postcard soon to every house in town inviting them to that meeting as well. Facsimiles of which were passed out to the local press Thursday afternoon for their journalistic appraisal.

It seems that the sadly out of touch Mr. Miller didn't believe The Tattler might be in a position to break so important a story as this special City Council meeting on the topic of dunning Sierra Madre residents out of more money for water. An unfortunate assumption that has now left this gent both baying at the moon and rushing to "edit" the story on his paper's website.

But maybe we shouldn't be abusing this poor fellow so much. Let's talk about Patch instead.

So what exactly is the Sierra Madre Patch you ask? And how has it come to bless us with the presence of Mr. Stephens here in town? Certainly it is the new blog in town, but it is also decidedly different from the one you are reading now.

First of all it is owned by AOL, or what was once known as America On Line. You might recall that back in the early days of the popularization of everything internet they were just about everyone's first choice for an internet service provider. That merry "You've Got Mail!" greeting heard every time you received spam in your e-mail box became quite famous at the time. Spam being something that came quite often with an AOL account. They also quickly earned a reputation for providing some of the worst internet service imaginable, which led to millions deserting them for ISPs that could actually do things that AOL could not. Like getting you on line.

And it has been pretty much straight downhill for them ever since. Here is a report on AOL's dire economic straits published by ZD Net in August:

AOL's second quarter results were largely a disaster after the company posted a $1.05 billion net loss ... The company, which executives freely admit is a work in progress, reported a net loss of $1.05 billion, or $9.89 a share, on revenue of $584 million.

Oh how far the mighty had fallen.

But AOL, as part of that 'work in progress' thing, has come up with a new business model. They have now embarked on a mission to set up and maintain literally hundreds of individual city infotainment blogs all across this great land of ours. Each and every one of them carrying the same name of Patch. The big idea is to make them the equivalent of what were once the mainstay of local news, publications such as the Sierra Madre Weekly, or our locally beloved Mountain Views News. Both of which are grim distortions of what once was a great American institution, the local free press.

Here is how The Atlantic Wire.com describes the Patch concept:

Will AOL's 'Patch' Kill Your Local Newspaper? Local newspapers and alt-weeklies, once considered lucrative for their relative monopolies on arts coverage and classified listings, have found themselves assaulted by a variety of hyper-local online start ups, citizen bloggers, and media giants hiring cheap freelancers. AOL, which is in the midst of transitioning to an ad-supported business model, is vying to dominate the hyper-local market with an experimental network of Patch websites. Given the company's plan to hire 500 journalists for the rapidly expanding division, it's a fair question to ask whether or not local, mostly print-only, newspapers will go virtually extinct.

Interesting. Certainly on-line news has put a serious dent in the cash flow of such big city dailies as the Los Angeles Times and the Pasadena Star News. So why wouldn't a local blog such as AOL's Sierra Madre Patch be able to absorb a lot of the available advertising dough here in Sierra Madre? And with the costs of maintaining a blog being far less than the expenses a paper must contend with, added to the already precarious finances of dinosaur enterprises like local print news weeklies in today's economy, I don't think it would take all that much push them over the edge. Certainly they don't need the competition.

Another way that papers such as the Mountain Views News might be threatened by Patch is it actually pays its contributers. Yours truly has been offered $50 a column should I wish to contribute. And while I have declined that honor, perhaps Rich Johnson or Hail "Bopp" Hamilton might consider those greener (so to speak) pastures. I should think $50 would be quite a bounty for the kinds of writing they produce.

Forbes.com also weighed in on the Patch concept.

Patch offers local news and information in communities of 15,000 to 70,000 people, which AOL figures could have a local online advertising business worth a total of $20 billion. Each site covers a specific community, and is staffed by one paid journalist, who runs an average of 11 paid freelancers reporting on local stalwarts like city government, police and fire department actions, schools and local sports. There is also user-generated content, much like letters to the editor in traditional papers.

But what is it like actually editing something like a Sierra Madre Patch? Will John Stephens have quality work experiences while bringing news of cookie sales and dog washes to the information hungry populace of our little town? Here media beat writer Michelle V. Rafter gives her take on what's up with all this.

AOL's Patch hyperlocal hiring spree - boon or bane for writers? This week AOL announced that it's got Patch bureaus up and running in 100 neighborhoods, each one staffed by a full-time reporter/editor, helped in part by contributions from local freelancers. AOL also says it anticipates hiring another 400 Patch journos in coming weeks to expand to a total of 500 locations in 20 states by the end of 2010.

Depending on which news account you read, Patch editors make $37,000 to $40,000 a year, not bad for what is the equivalent of a editorial job at a community newspaper. Or is it?

According to accounts that are starting to trickle into the blogosphere from journos who've worked at Patch, the hours are long and the pressure to produce grueling, making the pay not so great after all. And that's the bad news.

One writer, Ed Pilolla, is this week writing a series of posts about his Patch experience, starting with why he took the job, his take on the pay and how many stories he was expected to produce a day. Pilolla, who apparently doesn't work for Patch any more, says he routinely put in 75 hours a week, which meant his annual salary worked out to be something like $10 an hour.

Whatever the case, I think we should wish John Stephens all the luck in the world. And let's hope he gets lots of our town's advertising revenue for his Sierra Madre Patch. Anything that he might take away from the Sierra Madre Weekly or Mountain Views News is truly God's work.

And please, go check out his site before he runs out of Sierra Madre restaurants to write about.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

72 comments:

  1. If the quality of writing on John Stephens Patch is anything like the Weakly It isn't going to go anywhere. Great idea though to try and put the Mountain Views News out of business. Hee-Hee that you scooped them all about that meeting on the 19th, just got our notice today in the city's eblast.

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  2. Terry Miller, what an arse. Can it be that paper actually pays him to embarrass them? Talk about an unhealthy relationship.

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  3. Welcome to the Patch!October 8, 2010 at 6:54 AM

    I just reviewed the Stephens site and give it two thumbs up! It's informative, without the editorials posing as news approach of the MVN and sadly deflated Sierra Madre News.

    Mr. Stephens notes that the that the city's view is that we are using the water rate hike to fix the pipes and not to pay water debt. Of course with money being fungible, one could say the city is using the existing money to fix the pipes and the rate increase money to pay the debt.

    The thought processes of government types continues to amaze.

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  4. Thank you Tattler. You made me laugh a lot today.

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  5. John Stephens is an okay writer. He's just been misled about the difference between truths - ours and theirs. Since he does not enjoy the trust and confidence of our own Sir Eric's loyal readers, he'll definitely be casting a wide net for Sierra Madre news. Guess who'll be filling that net? You guessed it: DIRTS. Just as John Stephens was caught up in the Bamberger/SMVFD debacle he'll be informed by the Downtown Investors Club and wild speculation about citizens' efforts to protect their pocketbooks. Does Stephens even live in Sierra Madre? Stephens is being paid by AOL, and I'd guess at substantially more than the Weakly could muster. Sierra Madre business paying for advertising on line? Why? He'll be competing with Coburn and Henderson. If it's taken Coburn more than a decade to garner his coterie of paid advertisers, and Henderson's realtors who want splashy print ads, Stephens' blog will wither on the vine, no pun intended.

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  6. I've read about AOL's "McBlog" idea before. That it should have shown up in Sierra Madre is interesting. Looks like our hard pressed local businesses will now have yet another person pounding on their doors selling ads.

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  7. Notice in the list of contributors that Chris Bertrand has joined the Patch. Can Hamilton and Johnston be far behind?

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  8. Uh dude, you want fries with that news?

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  9. 'Patch' was certainly better than the papers and that confusing net page with the fish, but not interesting enough to head on back there again.

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  10. Actually I just took a quick tour of Stephens blog and found it not unpleasant. Comparing it to the Tattler is like comparing apples and lemon meringue pie, however. Biggest difference is that Stephens is paid and expected to produce must "community" news. I'd say his direct competition is Terry Miller, who will come out much the worse in the comparison.

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  11. If Stephens is a paid party line follower, what's the point?
    Can just get that off the city website.

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  12. I wonder if Henderson will go after Patch. Nothing gets her
    more angry than someone writing in the town she believes
    she owns.

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  13. still read the papers, but not that oneOctober 8, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    It must be hard to be Harriet Poole Susan Henderson......never knowing when the con will be exposed....

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  14. The review of the Buc is pretty wacky. But yeah, how much
    of that kind of thing can you do? He'll be down to rating the
    city's dumpsters in about a month.

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  15. Sir Eric, do you figure that a McBlog does for the mind what a McD does for the body?

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  16. what is he talking about?October 8, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    That email from Mr. Stephens to Mr. Crawford - is that Mr. Stephens' big "gotcha" try at an expose of the rebellious Tattler? Is the suggestion that Mr. Crawford is bugging city hall, and not just because he is an independent thinker who cares about his town and demands transparency and honesty in government?

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  17. A Steady Diet Of NothingOctober 8, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    There is so little truth in the world today that when somebody actually tells it namby pamby "journalists" like Stephens are appalled. Preferring instead to discuss personalities than any of the actual issues.

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  18. swimming with the sharksOctober 8, 2010 at 10:04 AM

    If Pach follows suit, and gets threatened with advertising boycotts by the local R.E. agents, it will fall in line with the "party line" of the rest of the local junk papers, and people will go elsewhere, like the S.M.T. for what is really happening in town.
    I don't expect much else, AOL should find a better way to go bellie up.

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  19. Wish the city could notice their legals on at news web site.

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  20. Most weekly newsrags are dependent upon legal advertising for their survival. Cities have gone to Sacramento asking about being allowed to put their legal advertising on city websites, those saving thousands of dollars in precious funds. But an antiauted law, backed up by newspaper lobbyists, dicates that cities must place them in newspapers that few people read anymore. Typical California BS.

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  21. With all the distortions of the facts the local papers print, now trying to go blogging, why would anyone want to read patched work. If I want the truth I go to the Tattler, period. I do see this as an opportunity for those against our towns way of life to come out of their dirty little cracks, after all, they have a lot of $ to throw at this and the never ending ear of the government for support. It's going to be interesting to see who comes out in support of this new blog and what they write.

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  22. I thought this was intersting. It is in the Atlantic Wire.com article:

    "Patch is selecting towns to expand to based on a 59 variable algorithm that takes into account factors like the average household income of a town, and how the local public high school ranks. Once in town, Patch will virgorously target local businesses by courting them to buy banner ads and also, letting them set up their own business listings, which they can convert into ads."

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  23. hello. When I google Sierra Madre Patch, I get yahoo. Search. I enter there and get twitter, but I cannot access the stories. Please advice link to use. Thank you.

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  24. If AOL ever did have any fresh creativity, it is long gone.

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  25. I think if you go down 3 or 4 links in Google you will find the one that goes to patch, 12:26.

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  26. if the Tattler reported that aliens had landed on Mt. Wilson, Terry Miller would copy paste and report in the Weakly.

    the dude inhaled too much film developing solution in the old days

    you know that paper has sunk to an all time low when a former $ 20 a photo photographer is promoted to the Editor position which has been a revolving door of rejects, wanna bees and crybabies ever since Katina Dunn left, the last and only true journalist the paper ever employed

    the Weakly is a drunk stumble step up from the Pennysaver and is on par with the lack of ethics oozed by Susan Henderson

    on second thought, the Pennysaver has more creditablity than the Weakly and MV News because it doesn't pretend to be something it is not

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  27. This is all funny and I agree that the "Patch" clones are doomed in the blogosphere, but something that is NOT funny?
    That really, really bad paper, Looney Views News, gets some of my tax dollars.

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  28. The Meeting on the 19th is regarding Water rates etc and more information gathering , NOT the Bond Debt. The Weekly was accurate as is Stephens!

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  29. The Tattler audience is going to give the AOL site a false impression of page view numbers.

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  30. mt wilson observer was a great paperOctober 8, 2010 at 1:46 PM

    I'd feel better about the city supporting Henderson's paper if I knew her wages were garnished in order to pay off the debt she owes the Dunns. Without that, it seems like we're supporting criminality.

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  31. The pity about Mr. Miller is that he was well respected as a photographer. He got a promotion that ends up being a demotion.

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  32. You can no more separate $23 million in water bond debt from the rate hike than you can float through the air on a carpet, 1:38. Anyone capable of reasoning at the adult level would understand that. Which leaves out the two sources you've mentioned.

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  33. Seems like we're supporting criminality?
    We ARE supporting it.
    Henderson never produced a list of subscribers. Guess why.
    Henderson never opposes the city staff. Guess why.
    The movie would be called Greed Meets Corruption

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  34. Joe and John would love to limit the discussion of the water rate hike to rusty pipes. But trust me, it is way too late for that.

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  35. Everybody get out your postcards and read. BTW what address list was used for those postcards? Were there sent to water bill paying customers, property owners, meter users, what? How did the city come up with the mailing list, and is that mailing list available say to protest signature gatherers? Or will it get "lost and jumbled"?

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  36. I remember Journalist Stephens speech the night Joe Mosca was crowned. He seemed like a nice enough guy. Wrong, misinformed, but nice. Actually a perfect spokesman for the new civility.

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  37. True, 2:01. That is if the new civility included publishing grotesque lies about the Mayor of Sierra Madre.

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  38. Let's count this up.
    We have the Weakly, pure party line,
    The Mountain Snooze, pure party line,
    and now, the AOL Patch, can it be anything bu pure party line.
    And
    One Free Press in Sierra Madre. The Tattler.

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  39. 2:04, the new civility is based on smears with smiles.

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  40. AOL had quite a ride at first, but I think rather than any crazy geniuses pushing it, there may have been business entrepreneurs, keeping their eyes open, taking profits and jumping ship. Not unusual or interesting enough to have a blockbuster movie made about them.

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  41. The new civility basically means holding your wine glass with your pinkie out while agreeing with everything Mayor Mosca tells you.

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  42. AOL's Patch is corporately manufactured localism that isn't local.
    More fraud is not good for journalism. Though maybe some good practice for the editors, if they survive the work load.

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  43. Sorry 2:11, couldn't do that with anything less than a keg o'whiskey

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  44. 1:38 The water rate meeting had better be about the bonds and the misappriation of proceeds that did not make it to the water infrastructure, thus the "rusty pipes, wells needed, dam repairs, and purchases from sources other than Sierra Madre now surfacing. Who are you kidding, the tax payers? The meeting had better be about the bonds, where the proceeds went and who authorized. Then we can talk about the rates, meter size and rusty pipes. Lets get to the horse before the cart.

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  45. The city council would never lie to get more money out of us. Honest!

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  46. wow.

    another so-called self appointed not really a journalist who gets his facts wrong and doesn't verify facts

    must have failed journalism 101 like Henderson...doesn't she have two law degrees?

    is this kid going to stoop to Susan Henderson's gutter standards and make up quotes and fictious sources?

    or, is he going to go the Bill Coburn route and write 20,000 word essays with rambling nonsensical points

    or stick with the Terry Miller standard of just copying other stories and sticking his byline on it

    maybe the Patch will let Josh Moran write a weekly bar and nightclub review? or review beer and tequilas....

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  47. I had a patch once. But then i went back to smoking.

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  48. Maybe Stephens will come to council, committee and commission meetings to educate himself about the "Local" here

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  49. I like the pirate picture. It reminded me that the
    eye with the 'patch' is blind.

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  50. Will Patch kill off the local newzpapers? Let's hope so. For once a positive "green" solution. Patch for La Salle vs the British Home in pingpong, The Tattler for news.

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  51. "In Computer Software industry: the process of taking old bugs out and putting new ones in."

    A questionable title for an internet company.

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  52. Saturdays are bestOctober 9, 2010 at 9:26 AM

    In one of the articles the Mod linked to it says that AOL bought the name "Patch" from an already existing company. No wonder they just lost a billion dollars!

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  53. "It's not about the water bonds!" - Pinocchio

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  54. John Stephens, Terry Miller, Miss Suzy,Joe, John Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Engel and other so poorly educated one sideed,unrealistic neanderthals never look at both sides and ask questions of logic and reason.

    What is worse they do not care about anyone else and they think the voter does. Big money is all that counts, they got the voter in their pockets.

    It is all about the dumbing of American in their wallets. There is a high price paid for stupid voters.

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  55. Patch: Soft news for soft heads.

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  56. Some schmuck at AOL thought, "Hey, like a garden patch! Like our patch of the world! Sounds homey and local, huh?"
    Leave it to Crawford to point out an alternate meaning.

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  57. Stephens' "patch" is a for profit blog. No need to trash him or his site. Just don't go there or contribute. Especially don't contribute! Unless you want to, of course. The Tattler isn't about competing with local throw aways be they in print or on-line. The Tattler is about Sierra Madre issues and how local and state government impacts the community and its taxpayers. There's a place for the "patch" and it's surplanting news.net and the obscured views news. Do your best to ignore Stephens and for God's sake, save your best recipes for Cooking with Sir Eric due to be published next year!

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  58. "Patch" also means repair - as in repair AOL's bottom line.

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  59. Please don't compare me with that skinny, twirp, sub-species, paid liar Joey the Fly. We amateurs have some standards.

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  60. The Fly really does look like Pinocchio. Hunh. Does that make Bart Doyle his Geppetto?

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  61. kim j goddard says:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    October 9, 2010 at 4:26 pm Mr. Miller, Do you have a mouse in your pocket when you say “we” as in your statement above and pasted here.

    “We were somewhat confused by the latest submission on what we lovingly refer to as local gossip blog .”

    I read The Sierra Madre Tattler for its journalistic content, I am not local, 25 thousand views a month is not local.

    You must mean the green eyed monster of envy that takes you over whenever you speak about the Tattler.

    This comment was posted on the Sierra Madre Weekly by me, it may be moderated away.

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  62. Terry Miller's greatest claim to fame now is as a Tattler punching bag.

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  63. Good job, Kim.
    Terry Miller is just one more creepy Joe Mosca "groupie".
    There are several of them, mostly middle age men and old blue hair ladies.
    Pretty disgusting.

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  64. On the AOL Patch site there's a map of the states they've enlisted so far - some towns have a sad little "new!" by them, like ours, and there's an announcement that AOL Patch is hiring.
    Kinda depressing.

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  65. Both Patch and Rooster News.net have new videos up. Patchy is yapping with some people on the wine walk, and Rooster is wowing them with a couple of corn fed fire chiefs talking to their new shiny red fire engine.

    You just can't beat that kind of excitement.

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  66. Quote from the Patch "The weather could not have been more perfect on Saturday as the annual Sierra Madre Wine & Jazz Walk kicked off its second year."

    Problem with the report is this was the 5th not the 2nd annual Wine and Jazz Walk. I have been to all 5 of them.

    If he can't even get his years straight how accurate will the real news be. I won't be wasting any more time on that site.

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  67. You are not entitled to your own factsOctober 10, 2010 at 8:32 AM

    Interesting how people do not get their news accurately. It does not matter. People believe what they want to believe and refuse to look at logic and rational and real history. They go with emotion and 1950's standards of what they were carefully taught, and fear. Why learn anything new. It might make you realize you have evolved. Anyway, you won't have to say "I was wrong."

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  68. Maybe I'm too fussyOctober 10, 2010 at 8:35 AM

    I just don't have the stomach for hack writers who use inane cliches like "kicked off," as in "the annual Sierra Madre Wine & Jazz Walk kicked off its second year."
    That's not journalism, it's advertising, and I would never trust an adman with serious news. By the way, I wonder if anyone "scored"? I saw buchanan walking around lonely as a cloud. Maybe after the kick-off, he hooked-up, and got jump-started by one of the local team players.

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  69. A lot of people just republish press releases. But that isn't journalism.

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  70. 8:35 am?

    Who would want to hang out with that old bore (actually that old F.B.) Buchanan?

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  71. I think people are afraid that once Buchanan starts talking they'll never be able to get away.

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  72. I spoke with Buchanan once at a party and within seconds I was thinking to myself what a pompous bore and was finding a way to break the conversation

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