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In Worcester, a web site that names names

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Matt Amorello, the former head of the Mass. Turnpike Authority and the Big Dig, debuted a transportation column this morning that criticizes what he calls the minimal impact of stimulus funds on transportation and infrastructure projects around the country.

His trail of personal problems aside, Amorello has some standing from his time at the helm of the Turnpike as well as his days in the Legislature to offer some informed opinions on transportation issues. It was only a matter of time before some local media outlet tapped his expertise.

What’s noteworthy, though, is Amorello’s column is not in any established outlet such as the Telegram & Gazette but rather on a new hyperlocal site launched this week called GoLocalWorcester.com. And Amorello is not the only “name” in the website’s roster that makes you look twice. The stable of contributors, at some point in time, have held some serious sway in a variety of public, private and media platforms that would make them a formidable team for any news organization – in the past.

It starts at the top with legendary former Channel 5 news anchor Natalie Jacobson as executive news editor. You want sports? Is there a more familiar name to Boston-area sports fans than Bob Lobel, who is the site’s sports editor and who will write a weekly column? The news director is Jaclyn Cashman, a former anchor and political talk show host for Springfield’s Channel 22. The three of them make the GoLocalTV portion of the site more than a few steps above the average video presentations of other hyperlocal sites.

In addition to Amorello, other columnists – called Mindsetters – include Paul Levy, the former CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, writing a health column; former state treasurer Tim Cahill offering political insight, including his initial column on his time in office with Mitt Romney as governor; former US rep. and current lobbyist Bill Delahunt; one-time gubernatorial candidate and progressive activist Grace Ross; and a handful of local education and business experts.

For reporting, Scott Van Voorhis, a former reporter and columnist for the Globe, Herald and Banker and Tradesman, offers some heft. He has a two-part series this week on casinos that is labeled an investigation, though it is equal parts speculation and opinion.  But it’s nonetheless original content, as are offerings in politics, business, lifestyle, and local news.

The Herald’s media columnist Jessica Heslam has a different take on the line-up, saying the list of contributors “reads like an island of misfit toys.” Josh Fenton, CEO of parent company GoLocal24, says  past problems are not a deterrent to who he thinks can make a contribution. “Every single person that is contributing to the site, whether they be a paid reporter or a columnist or an editor, except for maybe Natalie Jacobson, which everyone loves, has their detractors and I’m sure have made their mistakes,” Fenton told Heslam. “And in some cases, probably more serious mistakes than others.”

Indeed, Fenton’s first site, GoLocalProv.com in Providence, has former Channel 7 reporter Jeff Derderian on staff. Derderian was part owner of The Station nightclub, where a deadly fire killed 100 people in 2003.

Fenton is using the same formula in Worcester, his second digital media site, that has been put to use in Providence: Some high-profile names that may have some issues that would preclude them from working elsewhere get a shot at using and maintaining their skills in a no pressure setting. And Fenton is also counting on celebrity and appeal to draw in viewers. One of the staff reporters on GoLocalTV in Providence is Lauren Marchetti, whose other job is cheerleader for the New England Patriots.

It’s hard to say whether GoLocal will succeed in a digital marketplace where other well-funded but troubled efforts such as Patch or established entities such as GateHouse’s Wicked Local sites have yet to see profitable returns. But it won’t be for lack of a name.

                                                                                                                                                            --JACK SULLIVAN


ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

NStar and Northeast Utilities agree to freeze rates, rebate millions to customers, and buy more than a quarter of Cape Wind’s output to secure the backing of the Patrick administration and Attorney General Martha Coakley for their merger. CommonWealth focuses on the Cape Wind part of the deal. The Cape Cod Times story is here. A Boston Herald editorial criticizes the Patrick administration for turning the Cape Wind screws on NStar.

BEACON HILL

The MBTA Advisory Board offers a “one-year fix” for the T that calls for a fare hike of 25 percent but no service cuts, WBUR reports. The proposal also suggests selling ferry operations to Massport. Keller@Large says the MBTA’s fiscal mess is too important to ignore but neither the Legislature nor the governor are profiles in courage in offering solutions to fix the problems.

Beacon Hill Republicans unveil a jobs proposal, CommonWealth reports.

A judge ruled state Rep. Daniel Webster owes Rockland Trust $191,000 after the bank foreclosed on the condo mortgage the Pembroke Republican cosigned with his now ex-girlfriend.

CASINOS

The perception is that the deck is stacked for Suffolk Downs to win a casino license, reports the Globe. A new East Boston residents group is gearing up to fight a casino there, no matter what the odds.

Foxwoods goes on the offensive against Bay State casinos with a new $100 million retail outlet complex.

Foxborough’s casino proposal is reshaping the town’s electoral politics.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Cohasset selectmen at a packed meeting last night unanimously approved a resolution to fire the town manager without cause after just six months on the job because of a difference in communication styles, with one selectman intimating the town manager was bad-mouthing some elected officials.

Wareham selectmen voted to add the post being vacated by one board member to the general election ballot in April rather than spending the money for a special election to fill the vacancy.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Michigan lawmakers file bills to reduce the size of the court system, Governing reports.

Governing reports that the federal stimulus spending did more than any other piece of legislation to promote government transparency. Massachusetts earns a grade of B on online access to government spending data.

ELECTION 2012

Joe Kennedy III makes it official. The Washington Post story is here.

Not a working class hero: Mitt Romney does not appeal to blue-collar workers,which could spell trouble in Michigan. His 2008 statement “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” won’t help his pitch to the state either. The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn considers how much of a home-field advantage Romney has in a state where he hasn’t lived since high school. Romney talks tough on China in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column. Meanwhile, Seamusgate continues to unfold: Apparently, the dog, which had been in a cage strapped to the roof of the family car on a trip to Canada, ran away when the family finally arrived.

Rick Santorum responds to Romney’s ad blitz with an ad of his own showing a crazed Romney lookalike shooting mud at anything that moves. The Atlantic ponders the Tea Party’s embrace of Santorum, whose social conservatism and military hawkishness make him last decade’s breed of Republican.

Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren trade indignant press releases over Brown’s support of a broad morality-based exception for health care coverage. Margery Eagan calls Brown’s move “crazy.” So does Yvonne Abraham.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

PAX East, the country’s biggest video gaming conference, has agreed to hold its annual gathering at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center for the next 10 years, a boon to the growing industry that was recently profiled in CommonWealth.

FAIR plan rates are set to rise again, and The Cape Cod Times opposes the proposed increase. The insurer of last resort covers homes in locations, such as the Cape which is overdue for a major hurricane, that others won’t touch

EDUCATION

The former superintendent of the Lowell Public Schools is named the new executive director of the scandal-scarred Merrimack Special Education Collaborative, the Lowell Sun reports.

The state awarded $280,000 in planning grants to 29 schools that are considering converting to innovation schools.

The Weekly Standard highlights a study by three Duke University professors that finds black students with lower SAT scores who are admitted because of racial preference learn less and opt for less-challenging courses than their higher-scoring classmates.

As Lenox debates whether or not to close schools on Good Friday,The Berkshire Eagle says the cost of opening schools when few kids are likely to show up should be the deciding factor.

HEALTH CARE

A $188 million expansion at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Brockton is one of 21 VA projects around the country that were started and are on hold awaiting a budget agreement between Republicans and the White House.

The president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, writing in CommonWealth, says the state can do a better job monitoring prescription drug use.

TRANSPORTATION

More weekday express trains? Transportation Secretary Richard Davey plans to keep the state’s promise to add more service to the Worcester Line even though weekend service would be cut and there would be no weekday service after 10 pm.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The Worcester County DA is calling for a review of the GPS system used to monitor defendants after one complains he was wrongly accused of leaving his home, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

The state Department of Correction has reached an agreement with an advocacy group over care for prisoners with severe mental illness.

Billerica’s town manager is fighting efforts by state officials to move prisoners from an overcrowded jail in Cambridge to the Middlesex House of Correction in his town, the Lowell Sun reports.

High-profile Quincy developer William O’Connell, out on bail awaiting trial on rape of a minor and drug charges, has been given permission by a judge to travel with his brother and two friends to the Vatican for a “religious experience.”

MEDIA

The Republican reels in awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association for its tornado coverage.

Dan Kennedy, writing for the Nieman Journalism Lab, laments the New Haven Independent’s decision to stop accepting reader comments.

Buzz Bissinger fears Philadelphia is about to lose its political watchdogs, the two daily newspapers. The New York Times reports the current owner may be interfering with coverage now. Poynter reports a plan to cut 37 positions at the newspapers.

A new Google algorithm reveals the funniest YouTube video ever.


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