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Mark Brackenbury named Editor of the Year by Local Media Association

8 Apr

New Haven Register Managing Editor Mark Brackenbury has been named Editor of the Year by the Local Media Association, an organization representing hundreds of newspapers across the United States and Canada.

Mark Brackenbury

Mark Brackenbury

Brackenbury was recognized for his distinguished career in Connecticut journalism as well as a remarkable recent tenure of leadership in which he guided the Register’s newsroom through coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, a hurricane, blizzard, Boston Marathon bombing, a plane crash and two historic elections.

“Mark is an unsung hero of our newsroom, and Connecticut journalism,”  read the nomination letter that helped earn him the honor. “Unsung because over the course of his 27-year career at the New Haven Register, he has done the work while shunning every opportunity at the spotlight. Time after time, people in positions below him or above him get credit for the work and leadership he has put into award-winning and policy-changing journalism.”

Friends and colleagues will see the award as evidence that sometimes, nice guys do finish first.

“He has been the rock to which the newsroom is anchored through so many changes in the industry and our company,” the nomination said. “He has strong convictions about the news and journalism, and has quietly and consistently held us to them. We once polled newsroom veterans to see if anyone could remember Mark raising his voice. There were only two documented cases in 27 years, and the facts were in dispute.”

“We came to realize just how valuable Mark Brackenbury is and always has been as a newsroom leader when the New Haven Register journalists experienced one of their most difficult years in modern times.”

Brackenbury is a Rhode Island native and Penn State grad who worked as a reporter in New Hampshire and Connecticut before joining the New Haven Register’s staff in 1986 and advancing to the position of managing editor more than a decade ago.

His work and the work he has inspired and guided journalists at the New Haven Register through has been recognized numerous times over the years, including dozens of awards from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists last year, and recognition from Digital First Media and the Local Media Association in breaking news and numerous other categories this year.

First Ann DeMatteo intern named at New Haven Register

5 Dec

Adam Stuhlman has been named as the first participant in an annual paid internship program at the New Haven Register established in the memory of longtime editor and reporter Ann DeMatteo.

Adam Stuhlman

Adam Stuhlman

“Adam is looking to gain more experience to break into the field full-time,” said New Haven Register Managing Editor Mark Brackenbury. “He is just the kind of person Ann would have taken under her wing, so I think she would be pleased that he is joining us for the next couple of months.”

The program was announced earlier this year, after DeMatteo passed away at the age of 56 after a battle with cancer. DeMatteo worked for 34 years as a reporter, bureau chief and editor at the New Haven Register. She was named managing editor of its sister daily, The Middletown Press, in the fall of 2012.

For many years, DeMatteo ran the internship program at the New Haven Register, training dozens of future journalists.

Ann DeMatteo

Ann DeMatteo

Stuhlman is a graduate of Southern Connecticut State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He has worked as a freelance reporter for the New Haven Register,, the Middletown Press, the New Britain Herald and the Hartford Guardian.

He is also active with the Veterans Art Foundation, which uses art therapy to help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

New Haven Register establishes paid internship in memory of Ann DeMatteo

21 May

The New Haven Register is establishing an annual paid internship dedicated to the memory of longtime reporter and editor Ann DeMatteo, who died Sunday after a battle with cancer.

Ann DeMatteo

Ann DeMatteo

For years, DeMatteo led the newspaper’s internship program, so honoring her in this way seemed like the natural thing for New Haven Register Managing Editor Mark Brackenbury.

“This feels like such a fitting way to honor Ann’s memory.  She mentored dozens upon dozens of aspiring journalists and young reporters through the years.  Few things seemed to make her happier, and in her own unassuming way, she was great at it,” Brackenbury said. “When interns started at the Register, I knew I could send them Ann’s way and she would handle the rest.  By the end of that first day, they would have accompanied her on rounds and have three or four story assignments for the week.  And Ann would work with them every step of the way on those stories, right down to the editing process while still filing a few stories of her own. Ann always made sure new staffers felt welcome, and she shared with them her voluminous Rolodex of phone numbers  – most of which she threw out off the top of her head.  The best place to be as a young reporter in the Register newsroom was at the desk next to Ann.”

DeMatteo managed the internship program without funding. Students participated for college credit and experience only. The position created in her memory will include a salary for the intern chosen over the course of their time in the program.

The first Ann DeMatteo intern at the New Haven Register will be named for the upcoming fall semester. Students who are interested in applying can contact Brackenbury at

Brian McCready promoted to metro editor at New Haven Register

17 Apr

The New Haven Register’s assignment desk just got better, with Brian McCready‘s promotion to metro editor.

Brian joined the Register as a reporter in Milford in 2000, and has developed a reputation among his colleagues as one of the hardest-working members of the staff, and a strong reputation for fairness in the communities he’s covered. He has served as Milford bureau chief since 2004.

In his new role, Brian will be chiefly responsible for coordinating news coverage of the Naugatuck Valley and Milford, Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge.

He’ll also be a vital assistant and backup to Managing Editor Mark Brackenbury and City Editor Helen Bennett Harvey, who have been taking on an increased role in planning statewide news coverage and investigative story projects.

New Haven Register reporters fix up readers looking for love

14 Feb

Three reporters at the New Haven Register can look back on this Valentine’s Day and say they’ve done  more than their part over the past year in playing cupid.

Annette Kirk, a supervisor at the Knights of Columbus, and Dan LaTorraca, a retired banker from Hamden, were fixed up on a date at Bar Bouchee in Madison thanks to the New Haven Register Matchmaker program.

Amanda Pinto, Alexandra Sanders and Susan Misur launched the Register’s “Matchmaker” program last year after Managing Editor Mark Brackenbury asked staff to think up community engagement ideas.

They set up readers on dates at local restaurants, who donate a $100 gift certificate for the occasion and get some free publicity in the process.

Pinto got the idea after being glued to a similar feature, “Dining with Cupid,” a few years ago in the Boston Globe.

“I was convinced the model would work here – as a vehicle to bring in younger readers and foster community engagement,” Pinto said. “It is intriguing copy, and it has that ‘reality TV’ voyeurism aspect that is so popular today.”

Pinto had to think through liability issues, seeking and getting permission from the Globe to mirror its legal release form for participants. And how to best solicit participants.

“There have been hiccups,” she said. “The first match we sent out was a disaster, and the man, who maligned an ethnic group during his date (according to the woman he dined with), threatened to sue us if we published the column. Even though he had signed off on all the paperwork, the decision was made that it was best not to start off on that foot.”

“Once we started publishing matches, there were other challenges – daters who bailed at the last minute or never returned our calls,” Pinto said. “We very nearly sent one woman to a restaurant owned by her former boss (the work relationship had ended badly).”

But there have been many success stories.

Since launching in late summer, 140 readers have signed up to participate, ranging in age from 21 to 83.

Melissa Tardif, a custodian at Quinnipiac University and dental hygienist, and Vincent Cerbone, an ultrasound technologist from Fairfield, hit it off from the start at their Matchmaker date at Leon's in New Haven. "I noticed how gentleman-like he was. ... He seemed genuine and real, like a great father, attentive."

Pinto, Sanders and Misur have paired readers up for dates once a week since August, with the help of 17 participating restaurants. They’re on their 20th match.

Readership has been strong.

“One dater told me she got recognized on the street for her participation in Matchmaker, and that a convenience store clerk spotted her and regaled other customers with a retelling of the column,” Pinto said. “Another reporter here was told a small office ‘didn’t get any work done’ the morning one of the columns came out, because they couldn’t stop discussing the date, which featured a ‘great kisser.'”

Matchmaker participants are asked to describe the night in an article that appears each week in the Register and to give a letter grade to the date.

And the possibility of a love connection? Many of the readers who have been set up on Matchmaker dates say they’ll see each other again.

Public forum invites input on changing New Haven Register story comment policy

3 Nov

A public forum on changing the New Haven Register’s online story comment policy will be held at 6 p.m. tonight (Nov. 3) at the New Haven Public Library, 133 Elm St.

For a few months, a group of staff at the newspaper led by Metro Editor Ed Stannard have been working on the draft of new guidelines for what kind of comments should not be allowed on NHRegister.Com. Last week, Managing Editor Mark Brackenbury announced that the newspaper would be switching to a system in which staff will review comments before they’re posted rather than after the fact.

Mark’s column generated a huge response – 274 comments were made at last check, including a great deal of back-and-forth discussion between readers, Mark and me.

Recurring themes in those comments included:

* Screening comments beforehand (or at all?) is censorship, and the Register already is too heavy-handed in removing comments that have been posted.

* The Register’s editors do or will allow their personal political beliefs to influence what comments they allow or delete.

* The Register is kowtowing to public officials who don’t like to be criticized.

* This is all about how liberal staff at the Register are and it’s all designed to silent conservative voices. There were about 100 variations of this comment: “EVERYONE knows this is being done to justify screening out all messages except those from bleeding-heart anarchist liberals.”

* The site should require “registration” instead, and use that to better screen or improve commenting, while continuing to allow comments to go up without prior screening.

* Anonymity is the problem, and the Register should require registration with verified name, address, phone number – real identity.

* Some have stopped commenting because of the toxic environment and would welcome the new system because they’ll feel safe again to participate in the discussion.

* People need a thicker skin … if you think a comment is offensive, just ignore it.

* The new system is necessary because the site has been taken hostage by a small group of “trolls” that post racist, hateful and offensive comments, dragging the discussion into a back-and-forth about it instead of a real discussion of the issue.

* Race is at the heart of most of the offensive comments on the site, and a great deal of the cries of “censorship” from some readers. Stories about crime in New Haven continually have racist and offensive comments made.

There’s lots to be said and discussed about all of these points. I’m expecting tonight’s discussion to raise additional points. When we made a similar switch in Torrington, we held a public forum and the people who showed up in person to comment took a completely opposite view of those who were commenting about the new policy anonymously on the web.


Curating an earthquake

24 Aug

You couldn’t draw up a better example of a breaking news story that called for audience engagement to be at the center of news reporting.

Gateway students text friends and family after being evacuated from the building because of earthquake tremors Tuesday. Melanie Stengel/New Haven Register

That’s in part because Tuesday’s earthquake – centered in Virginia but felt as far away as New Hampshire and Vermont – was experienced by close to 100 percent of our audience in Connecticut.

So after the desks stopped shaking at the New Haven Register, Middletown Press, The Register Citizen in Torrington and Litchfield County Times in New Milford, editors and reporters turned first to TwitterFacebook and YouTube, to gauge the extent of how the quake was felt locally and across the region, how it was disrupting workplaces, public safety operations and airline and rail travel, and the extent of damage, if any.

Editors’ first step was to send out SMS text message alerts to readers’ mobile phones, confirming that what they just felt was, indeed, an earthquake – 5.8 on the Richter scale. A breaking news email alert followed.

Simultaneously, Twitter was used to report the news, both with original information and a retweeting of reports from throughout the coverage area of readers’ reactions the quakes and institutions’ reports of evacuating buildings or halting events. Readers started chiming in via Facebook and story comments on our websites, and the most interesting and relevant information provided by the audience was incorporated into our main story.

Editors set up a real-time feed of Twitter reactions with the hashtag “#earthquake.” It was an interesting thing to watch, as more than 40,000 Tweets were sent out about the earthquake within a minute of the first tremor. Then they used the curation tool Storify to collect local Twitter reactions and present them in story format. An editor at a sister publication in Pennsylvania even created an “earthquake humor” Storify of the best jokes to hit Twitter about the situation.

Flip camera-wielding beat reporters on assignment in downtown New Haven and reporters and photographers covering the New Haven Open pro women’s tennis tournament were submitting video within minutes of the quake. Sports writer Dan Nowak’s Flip camera video of the evacuation of the tennis stadium at Yale was picked up and used on the national NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams Tuesday evening.

Early in the process, our sites linked to an “explainer” on why earthquakes happen in New England and how they’re different from West Coast quakes.

And of course, reporters made all of the old-style beat calls to local fire departments, city hall, the public utilities and other “official sources.”

But for Journal Register Company newsrooms in Connecticut on Tuesday, crowdsourcing and a digital first toolbox of equipment, technology and mindset spread news of the earthquake as fast and as effectively as any breaking news story, ever, in the history of our newspapers.

That speed paid immediate dividends in audience growth. Because the weekly Litchfield County Times posted within seconds of confirmation of the earthquake, monthly unique visitors went from an average of about 100 an hour to nearly 1,000 after the news broke.  A high percentage of that traffic came from Yahoo and Google searches. Traffic on the daily sites tripled for the same reason, and the constant addition to and enrichment of earthquake content kept readers on the site throughout the afternoon.

And the testament to how far we’ve come in embracing a “digital first” mindset is that this happened almost completely on its own … It was second nature for New Haven Register Managing Editor Mark Brackenbury, City Editor Helen Bennett Harvey and reporters and editors throughout the newsroom in New Haven, Torrington, New Milford, Middletown, both in news and sports. I certainly didn’t have anything to do with it. And no corporate deep thinker had to pick up the phone and suggest it. Our reporters and editors know how to use these tools now and when to use them. They are eager to get the audience involved. It’s part of the culture now. And Tuesday’s earthquake experience gives us the confidence to further embrace it as the new normal. It’s an exciting proposition.