Community Journalism Gone Bad

The New Britain City Journal, once a promising venture in community journalism, has plunged into a tabloid gutter of innuendo, rumor and personal attack over the issue of regulating non-owner occupied housing and paying for code enforcement in the city.  

The City Journal, violating basic rules of journalism with all kinds of unsubstantiated accusations, has taken sides and cast its lot with out-of-town landlords, particularly their loudest voice,  New Yorker Sam Zherka, the owner of Farmington Hills apartments (formerly Ledgecrest Village) and publisher of The Westchester Guardian

Yellow Journalism In New Britain

Every week now scurrilous stories and anonymous advertising of questionable legality are hammering the O’Brien administration and members of the Common Council. 

The latest “news story” in the January 25th edition, offers readers a $25,000 reward for information leading to “the arrest and conviction” of Mayor O’Brien and Aide Phil Sherwood to “clean up city (sic) of a corrupt and dirty administration.”  The Journal, at Zherka’s behest, is relying on readers to come up with the “dirt and corruption” to bring down Mayor O’Brien. 

Wrote City Journal Editor and Publisher Robin Vinci: “Anyone who has any information is asked to send it to: The New Britain City Journal….and it will be forwarded to ‘Taxpayers and Associates affiliated with Farmington Hills.”  

The situation at the New Britain City Journal is akin to what occurred at Zherka’s Westchester paper in 2010.   
In his column, “The ‘Zherkus’ is back in town,” Phil Reisman of  The Gannett-owned Journal News wrote a story on the resignation of the Guardian’s editor in chief, Sam Abady: 

“The falling-out was caused by the Sept. 16 issue, which featured a cover story about Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone titled,’Rumours (sic) Of Impending Indictment?’ The piece by Hezi Aris, who succeeded Abady as editor, is all over the map in its criticism of the Mayor, but it never says exactly why Amicone is supposedly in hot water. It is overwrought, rife with tortured metaphorical references to the battle of Gallipoli, Shakespeare and ‘Waiting for Godot’ — and thick with innuendo and winking, read-between the lines suggestions of criminality. Nothing is substantiated. But the most damning piece is that Aris all but admits he didn’t have the only metaphor that matters — the smoking gun. The self incriminating sentence is as follows: ‘The rumor mill has been spewing out tidbits of information accepted as ‘facts’ by some, yet is unsubstantiated to date.” 

In that 2010 column Reisman reported that Zherka, the organizer of a Tea Party demonstration in White Plains (confirming his right-wing, extremist views),  had won a 1st amendment lawsuit when the Yonkers Mayor overstepped his bounds during a longstanding feud and ordered removal of newspaper dispensing boxes.  

“Besides owning a topless bar in New York City and publishing a vanity newspaper filled with political conspiracy theories, Zherka is known for being a self-styled ‘player’ with a flare for attracting attention,” wrote Reisman, “Zherka is also notorious for filing lawsuits against public officials he believes have crossed him. There are many who fall into this category — and many have also been the subject of sensational attack stories in The Guardian since it was started in 2006.”

When the City Journal began in October 2009 it was the subject of a laudatory post by NB Politicus. Then known as the Hardware City Journal, the grassroots, free-circulation paper was praised on this blog:

New Britain’s “October surprise” has nothing to do with the upcoming municipal election and everything to do with what may be a revival of community journalism in town.
The first edition of Hardware City Journal (HCJ), a 16-page free circulation paper, began circulating Friday (Oct. 16th) packed full of local news and information. The paper, with only a handful of ads upon which free circulation newspapers usually depend, is similar in content and appearance to the Berlin Citizen weekly next door. The upstart HCJ appears to be the brainchild of Robin Vinci, a former Herald reporter who covered Berlin and a native of New Britain. Vinci’s love for her native city comes through in an opening letter on the editorial page. She is a journalist who knows the town she is writing about past and present, a factor which can count for a lot in delivering news you may not find elsewhere.

Robin Vinci denies that anything has changed at the City Journal or that it has become Sam Zherka’s “vanity newspaper” in New Britain.   She maintains the out-of-town landlord’s money and influence are not a part of her publication. It’s hard to believe, however, that print and online ads  in a 16 page tabloid alone are paying for mailings of the paper into 23,000 households and for the addition of  “writers” and ad reps who may be imported by Zherka himself.  

Whatever the Vinci-Zherka relationship,  the tone and content of Ms. Vinci’s stories over the past few months calls into question her credibility as a reporter.  Her tirades without facts about the O’Brien administration sound more like a propagandist  beholden to special interests, the Republican Party or both.  

The City Journal has  abandoned the mission that you can still find on its online masthead: We will not publish accusations or hurtful comments. We feel New Britain is a great city and want to focus on the brighter, positive aspects of it.”

This is not the same City Journal that won praise here three and a half years ago.  The promise of “honest, straight-forward reporting” has given way to the strident and sensational and an agenda that is not in the public interest.


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