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New position to focus on Freedom of Information reporting

30 Aug

Journal Register Company newspapers in Connecticut took another big step this morning toward building their newsrooms around the key areas of breaking news, community engagement and investigative and in-depth reporting.

Viktoria Sundqvist

Viktoria Sundqvist has been named to the newly created position of Investigations Editor at The Register Citizen and The Middletown Press.

She’ll have a particular focus on use of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act – using it in her own reporting, advocating for consistent enforcement of the law across our coverage area, and teaching reporters and readers how to use it effectively.

The role was inspired by the work that Mike Donoghue has done with the Burlington Free Press in Vermont in integrating Freedom of Information Act requests into his newspaper’s reporting. In the process, Mike and his colleagues have improved government and law enforcement transparency and strengthened the law itself by using it often and training public officials in openness.

In addition to reporting, Viktoria will be writing about open records and open meetings topics on her “Open Records Connecticut” blog and @ctfoi Twitter feed.

Her role will also include taking the lead on local reporting that plugs into investigative and enterprise projects led by Journal Register Company partners, including Pro Publica and the Associated Press.

Viktoria has served as editor of The Middletown Press the past three years, and before that was managing editor of The Register Citizen, giving her exposure to the issues associated with both coverage areas.

John Berry, online editor at the Times Herald in Norristown, Pennsylvania, is taking over as editor of The Register Citizen and The Middletown Press. Ann DeMatteo, a veteran reporter and bureau chief at the New Haven Register, has been named managing editor of The Middletown Press, and will be responsible for day-to-day news operations there.

Viktoria’s appointment is the second phase of an investment in investigative and in-depth reporting that started last December with the creation of a new investigations editor position at the New Haven Register, filled by Michelle Tuccitto Sullo, and a new beat dedicated to “explainer”-style and “fact check” reporting.

Missing in Connecticut: Investigations editor focuses on police dysfunction and indifference

16 Jan

What would you do if your son or daughter went missing, and police didn’t care? What if they refused to investigate, refused to collect evidence, refused to help you?

Michelle Tuccitto Sullo

If your missing child is no longer a child, there’s a good chance of that happening.

Adult missing persons cases are regularly ignored or mishandled by local police departments, who rarely coordinate among themselves and with state and federal agencies and databases even when they do take them seriously.

The subject has been the main focus of Michelle Tuccitto Sullo‘s reporting since she was named investigations editor at the New Haven Register in late November. It’s the first time in more than 20 years that position has existed at the paper as the newsroom reorganizes to focus on investigative and in-depth reporting, breaking news and community engagement.

In addition to traditional reporting on the topic, Michelle has set up a “Missing in CT” Facebook page that almost instantly was taken over by loved ones of the missing. They share updates and reminders of their cases, lobby for changes to law enforcement policy and government resources, encourage each other and inspirational stories from around the country of families who’ve refused to give up the search.

To a great extent, the movement runs on “Mom Power” – 78 percent of those “liking” the Missing in CT Facebook page are women.

Jan Smolinski is their de facto leader. Jan’s dogged pursuit of answers in the disappearance of her then 31-year-old son, Billy, was the catalyst for Michelle’s reporting. Her work has already prompted a change in state law that requires local police departments to take all missing persons cases immediately instead of telling family of adult victims to “wait three days” like the Waterbury police did in Billy’s case.

But there is a huge remaining gap in police policy, coordination and training when it comes to missing persons cases in Connecticut, times 100 in the case of adult missing persons.

In a piece kicking off her work on the subject, Michelle outlines calls for steps as basic as a statewide database of missing persons and making local police aware that federal missing persons and basic crime databases even exist.

CLICK HERE to read “Victim advocate, others call on state to do more to find adults who disappear.”

Read about some of the personal stories behind adult missing persons cases here, here and here.

And as part of her work on the topic, Michelle continues to pursue details of the still-unsolved Smolinski case. She reported January 7 that a key witness in the case, who at one point led police to sites where he claimed to have helped bury Billy Smolinski’s body, had escaped from a halfway house as he was serving out a sentence for lying to police over the matter.

Of course, Jan Smolinski and her network of moms took to Facebook to promote Sullo’s story and urge people with information to call police. The man was captured and sent back to prison less than a week later.

If you have information on the topic of missing persons, or are the loved one of a missing person in Connecticut, contact Michelle at mtuccitto@nhregister.com or 203-789-5707.  Follow her on Twitter at @nhrinvestigate.

UPDATE, 2/15/12: Connecticut State Police have announced the formation of a special unit devoted to missing persons cases.

Chris March is disrupting our newsroom

9 Dec

I just wanted to write a job description that included the words “blowing stuff up.”

That’s what Chris March’s new role will be at the New Haven Register and Journal Register Company’s other newsrooms in Connecticut.

Chris March

He’s been promoted to Assistant Managing Editor for Disruption and is an integral part of a bigger newsroom reorganization announced last week.

Go ahead, poke fun at the future-of-journalism pretentiousness of that title. But we wanted to send a strong message to our staff and our audience. We must, and we intend to, disrupt how we’ve operated for decades.

“We can’t afford to think and act like a newspaper anymore,” Chris said. “We can’t keep doing things a certain way because ‘that’s how we’ve always done that.’ That’s the reality. When you look at the Journal Register Connecticut newsrooms like that, you start to see things that don’t make as much sense as when we started doing them or when we had a bigger staff. That’s what we have to disrupt, or rethink.”

That includes many aspects of our internal, print edition-focused newsroom operation. That includes how we gather news and how we present it. That includes our definition of “news” and “content” and “journalism.” And that most certainly includes how we interact with and treat our audience.

We’re shifting significant resources away from print and toward Breaking News, Community Engagement and Investigative and In-Depth Reporting. To start, Chris will be leading us through the changes in technology and process that are needed to pull this off.

“I think some of the things we’ve started to dismantle and rethink already as part of our newsroom reorganization, such as how we approach election coverage, moderate online comments and engage with the community, is going to start making some big noise in a really meaningful way for us.”

Chris is quite literally a newspaper kid. His mother, Nancy, is editor of The Mercury, a JRC daily in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and his father, Bill, is managing editor of The Daily Local, a JRC daily in nearby West Chester. “Growing up, they told me to get into anything but writing and newspapers, because of the hours and low pay. And I didn’t argue with that, because why would I?” he said. “But when I was captain of my high school cross country team … I started writing and publishing a weekly newspaper. And that was it. By accident, I stumbled across that joy of capturing a little community in words and watching everyone pass it around and talk about it. I haven’t wanted to do anything other than that since. Plus, it’s cool to rebel against your parents, right?”

Chris graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He wrote about the punk and indie music scene for absolutepunk.net in college, which led to some freelance work in music and entertainment.

In 2007, he joined The Mercury as Promotions and Marketing Coordinator, and in May 2010, he moved to Connecticut to work at the New Haven Register as an online producer. In August of that year, Chris was named to Journal Register Company’s Idea Lab, which equips members with tech tools and frees them up to spend 25 percent of their work week experimenting on new ideas.

He lives in New Haven.

“My modus operandi is discovery and exploration. That extends from music and travel to beer and community journalism. I like being one of those people who sniffs around for the little places where truth and all-out-radness are waiting to be discovered. That’s why I like what we’re doin here at JRC and the New Haven Register right now. We’re exploring. And we’re discovering. And I’m very proud to be a part of that,” he said. “I grew up at a dinner table where the talk was often about how the newspaper business is broken, and a dead end. Now I sit down at the dinner table and talk about how we’re fixing it, and making it a road with possibility and promise.”

Investigative and in-depth reporting bolstered by ‘Digital First’

28 Nov

“What about the journalism?”

That’s the question media analyst Ken Doctor asked a few months ago about both the philosophy of a “digital first” approach to running newspapers and the newly formed company “Digital First” Media that now oversees both Journal Register Company (including the New Haven Register, Middletown Press and Register Citizen, among other publications, in Connecticut) and Media News Group (ranging from the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News to the Berkshire Eagle and Lowell Sun in Massachusetts).

Michelle Tuccitto Sullo

CEO John Paton has a plan that many see as the best hope for rescuing the newspaper industry (in case you missed it, see the recent New York Times story here, and a more extensive Times interview with Paton here).

Will Paton’s formula of cutting print edition-related costs and emphasizing Flip cameras, mobile phones and Twitter improve local journalism or leave a multi-platformed but shallow and empty reproduction in its place?

At the end of the day, Doctor asked, “Are the readers, the citizens of its communities, better served?”

Without question, Journal Register Company news organizations are serving their communities better in breaking news situations thanks to the philosophy of “Digital First.” Hurricane Irene was a great example. When it comes to speed and use of platforms beyond print – from SMS alerts, to social media, blogging, video – we are light years ahead of where we used to be, and our audience has benefited.

But what about depth, context, investigative reporting?

It has taken longer to bear fruit, but as Digital First shifts emphasis away from the print production process, it is freeing up resources to invest in better journalism. And “slow news” – journalism that delves deeply into a story, that invests staff time in investigative work – has a prominent place alongside the breakneck pace of breaking news alerts.

This morning, we announced a newsroom reorganization in Connecticut that will establish a full-time investigations editor position at the New Haven Register for the first time in more than 20 years. A second full-time position will be devoted to the “explainer” format of in-depth reporting on local and state issues and “fact checking” statements made by politicians, public officials, activists and business leaders.

Mary O'Leary

Michelle Tuccitto Sullo, who joined the Register in 1992 and has covered courts and served as Naugatuck Valley bureau chief, will be charged not only with pursuing investigative stories on her own, but in creating a culture of investigative reporting in the newsrooms of the New Haven Register and its sister JRC papers in Connecticut. She’ll team up with staff reporters to pursue stories that the daily grind of a beat don’t allow them to pursue. Michelle draws upon strong knowledge of court and Freedom of Information Act process and award-winning investigative experience in writing about cold case murder and missing persons cases.

New Haven Register Topics Editor Mary O’Leary, who has 31 years of experience covering state government and a variety of other beats at the paper, will be freed from chasing the press conference of the day to focus on in-depth reporting. She will split her time between “explainers” and “fact checking” – both aimed at cutting through the “he said, she said” blizzard of political spin and process to help our readers get to the truth.

We are creating these positions and replacing Michelle and Mary in their old beats, for a big net increase in our “feet on the street” reporting. And we’re doing that by consolidating positions that were focused either entirely or primarily on the process of putting out the print edition of the newspaper.

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