Category Archives: banned

Crime Scene Middletown: MiddletownMike Banned From Receiving Township Press Releases

Last week, just after the 4th of July holiday weekend, I was expecting to recieve the latest press release from Middletown Police Detective Lieutenant Steve Dollinger, reporting the recent activities of the Middletown Police. I had noticed that updates for the holiday weekend activities had already been posted on the websites,Middletown Patch and Atlantic Highlands Herald and I was wondering why, after 8 months of receiving the MTPD press releases, I didn’t receive the July 5th press release.

I sent an inquiring email to Detective Dollinger that afternoon wondering if I had been somehow overlooked when he had sent the current press release to those on his distribution list. Usually when I have sent an inquiry to the detective I received a prompt response, this time however was different. I never received a response from Detective Dollinger, instead the following day, Wednesday, I received the following email from Middletown Public Information Officer Cindy Herrschaft with no other explanation:

Dear Mr. Morris,

The township has revised the policy regarding the distribution of press releases. Please feel free to check the township website for information updates.

When I received this response coming from Ms. Herrschaft, I was puzzled. I have been receiving press releases for 8 months without any issue and wanted to know why I was now being excluded. I immediately responded by requesting that a copy of both the old policy regarding press releases and the new policy be sent to me so that I could review it. I also stated that no such policy was posted on the Township website for such review. Needless to say, I am still waiting for her response.

After waiting for an answer for almost 24 hours I decided to send an email to Township Administrator Tony Mercantante Thursday afternoon:

Mr. Mercantante,

For the past 8 months I have been receiving MTPD press releases from Detective Dollinger for posting on my Middletown Mike blog. These press releases have been very well received by the readers of the blog and are often the most read feature of the day when posted.

So you can imagine my dismay when I did not receive a press release from this past weekend and subsequent releases issued this week from Detective Dollinger, but found updates on other blogs or websites.

When I sent an inquiry to Detective Dollinger, I did not receive the usual quick response from him that I am accustomed to when I have a question, instead I received an email (below) from Cindy Herrschaft saying that the policy regarding the distribution of press releases had been revised and basically stating that I would not be receiving press releases for the Township anymore for posting.

I responded to Ms. Herrschaft, asking her if she could forward me a copy of the previous press release policy and that of the revised policy, so that I can understand why it seems that I am being singled out from receive township press releases from the MTPD or administration. So far I haven’t heard from her and that disturbs me.

If at all possible I would appreciate if you could look into this matter for me and provide me with the simple documents that I requested without having to file an OPRA request.

It would be great if this was just a misunderstanding and my name was taken off Detective Dollinger’s contact list by mistake and therefore you could authorize Detective Dollinger to once again include me in his updates.

I appreciate your help in this matter

Again nearly 24 hours pasted without a response, I figured that they were trying to come up with a plausible explanation as why I wasn’t to receive press releases any longer because it was becoming evident to me that no such policy documents exsisted.

So as not to be ignored,on Friday I sent yet an other email to the Township, this time to Assistant Administrator James Van Nest:

Mr. Van Nest,

As Assistant Township Administrator I am hoping that you could provide me with an answer to my inquiry below.

It has been two days since I respond to Ms. Herrschaft email notifying me that I have been taken off the contact list and will no longer be receiving Township press releases and almost 1 full day since sending an email inquiry to Mr. Mercantante about it, with no response in return.

I understand that it is the summer and people my have taken off a few days (hence no response from Mr. Mercantante) but I would like to know the true reason why I have been singled out by no longer being a recipient of direct notification of press releases.

In her email Ms. Herrschaft stated that the policy for distributing press releases has been changed. I would like to see in writing what the old policy was and how it differs from the new policy seeing how no such policy is listed on the Township website and that press releases are not always posted there in a timely manner.

Ultimately I would like to be restored to the notification list if possible. If you could be so kind to follow-up on this matter and respond back I would be greatly appreciative.

Thank you for your help in this matter.

They say that the third time is the charm and I suppose in this instance that old adage rang true because a short time afterwards Tony Mercantante finally responded to my emails with the following explanation:

Mr. Morris,

The policy for distributing Press Releases consists of essentially lists that have evolved over time. In order to keep distribution to a manageable magnitude it has been decided that automatic distribution of press releases will be limited to the following:

stablished new organizations and media outlets, whether they be print, online or on air organizations.

Community organizations and homeowners associations that have requested to receive information.

Other governmental agencies and officials.

We are currently reviewing the lists to make sure that all who are on it fall into the categories mentioned above. Blog sites are not included. If you ever become aware of a blog receiving such information automatically, please report it and we will look into it right away. You or anyone else has always the right to request specific information and/or pull it from the web site when it is posted, which is usually within a day.

Tony Mercantante
Township Administrator

That to me was an interesting reply. I responded by stating that I was in disagreement with his response and that it made it clear that there was no written policy in place that specifically dealt with this issue. I pointed out that my blog serves the community as a source of local news and opinion to those that read it and that I believe the township was being arbitrary in it’s decision to exclude my blog from directly receiving press releases. At which point Mr. Mercantante replied that all blog would be excluded, not just mine.
I asked him how does the Township differentiate between what is a News site and what isn’t and what is constitutes a community group? By definition Blogs and other Social Media outlets are virtually the same and almost impossible to differentiate. Websites such as Middletown Patch, and MiddletownMike are just as much social media outlets as they are news outlets. Any website that allows reader comments to be published in response o columns posted are considered social media.
Thus it doesn’t make much sense not to include Blogs or Social Media in the Township’s policy, it only makes sense that public information should be disseminated in all possible manners and not excluded for arbitrary assumptions as to what constitutes a news outlet.

Out of further curiosity, I asked Tony Mercantante if Art Gallagher’s blog MoreMonmouthMusings, was considered a legitimate news outlet, seeing how often I have seen Middletown press releases on his site well before being posted on the Township’s website.

His responded by stating “...we specifically discussed Mr. Gallagher’s site and concluded it was a blog and will not be getting automatic distribution of press releases.”
At this point in our email exchanges I ended my inquiry but stated that I will be on the look out for evidence to the contrary.
Regardless of Mercantane’s explanation and assurances that no other blogs will be included in automatic press release notifications, I can help but think that this petty behavior on the Township’s part is in retaliation to negative posts I have published concerning members of the Township Committee. It would not be the first time that the Township Administration tried their hand at childish retaliation against a website.
I was reminded by Carol Schwebel that when Allan Dean, the publisher of the Atlantic Highland Herald, was attempting to help her fight the new Middletown website requirement that users must first register name, address and other personal information before hand to get information, the Administration stopped sending him information as well.
It’s just all par for the course I suppose. Why make the system more transparent when you live for it to be opaque? Saying that the reason for such a decision has to do with manageability of lists doesn’t cut it, a distribution list is not that hard to manage.
So while the crime of me being officially banned from directly receiving press releases from the Township has been committed, it wont prevent me from lifting press releases from other websites, be it directly off of Middletown web page or others. I wont allow them to intimidate me it such a way. I’ll just start posting all the press releases I notice, not just those from the MTDP.
I’ll show ’em 🙂

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Filed under banned, blogs, Crime Scene Middletown, Detective Lieutenant Stephen Dollinger, Middletown Police, MiddletownMike, press release, public information officer, social media, Tony Mercantante