Joe Strupp is a classic newspaper reporter. He’s also an ordained minister as well, but more on that later. He was born in Wisconsin, moved to Summit, which he considers his hometown, at age seven. He started his career at the Daily Journal in Elizabeth, went west to San Francisco to work for the San Francisco Independent and then came back east and on to become senior editor for Editor & Publisher magazine. He’s written a novel – The City and County. He’s currently an investigative reporter for MediaMatters.org. He came to live in Maplewood for all the same reasons everyone else does. He loved the small town feel, the great schools, the railroad line into NYC and the fact that it’s not as upscale as Summit.
But locally, he’s know best for his blog, The Maplewoodian, and stirring the pot. The blog came about after the resignation of then Mayor Ken Pettis. Strupp found it odd that no one covered the story. The New Record had a short piece on it a week later and the Star Ledger had a mention long after the event. Strupp launched the site on New Year’s Eve in 2008. His tag line? “News, Views & Rants.” Strupp is not shy about speaking his mind. Baristanet contributor Joy Yagid spoke with Joe Strupp about the state of media today, Maplewood and about becoming an ordained minister.
Why do you think Maplewood was a hotspot for the hyperlocal phenomenon?
Maplewood is a media mecca. Same as Montclair with Baristanet. Many, many media folk here. Maybe they all had the good idea at once. The Maplewoodian was the first site. Maplewood Online is a different animal but I tell Jamie Ross he is the great grandfather of the hyperlocal. The New York Times’ The Local came in March 2009 and Patch after that. Now there are only two left, Patch and MOL. [Actually, The Local handed over its territory and contributor list to Baristanet last year.]
What do you think of hyperlocal news sites?
They are a necessary evil. Traditional media has changed so vastly that they (hyperlocals) are filling a void. The internet gives anyone a chance to have a site and that’s both good and bad. The good is local info. The bad is that sometimes you get people without experience, no tools to properly cover [things] and no editor to guide them. Maybe I’m a journalistic snob, but when I’ve covered town meetings, I needed an editor to guide me. Also, speed is a factor. An experienced reporter does better with stories when they have eight hours (to work on them) than 20 minutes.
You like to stir the pot. Remember the coffee lady scandal?
That was great! I was still working in the city and I saw her every day. It was an interesting story and an easy one to cover. Another was when they wanted to move the farmers’ market to the pool. I like doing stories that don’t get a lot of attention. When I was in San Francisco, I read the Bay Guardian, it’s like the Village Voice. Bruce Brugmann, their founder, adopted as his motto (Wilbur F.) Storey’s “The job of the newspapers is to cover and raise hell.” I grew up with a well opinionated dinner table. I like to raise hell in my own little way.
You did a piece on the murder of Christine Burns.
I moved here in 2000. The murder of Christine Burns later that year went unsolved for years. There was no information from anyone. Yet there was an break in five blocks away five months later. I did a story on it for New Jersey Monthly in 2003. A month later they caught someone. I won an award for that story. (New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, Second Place, Magazine/Investigative Reporting, 2003). This was my intro into Maplewood news.
Where do you think journalism will go?
I think quality is going down, sadly. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still flashes of greatness. The New York Times is still a great paper, but the Star Ledger and the Philadelphia Inquirer are not as good because they have had to cut staff to increase profits. And more people will accept mediocre news.
You have a new job at Media Matters. Who are they?
They are a media watch dog group that monitors conservative media, like FOX, The Wall Street Journal, etc…and reports on misinformation and to correct the record. They are a stickler for accuracy…getting their facts right, more so than any other place I’ve worked before. We take issues, do extended reporting and then get reaction to it. I interviewed Shirley Sherrod. Breitbart is a media scofflaw. He took the video out of context and she got fired.
I did a story the other day on Thompson/Reuters and how they brought in four people (to work for them) from The Wall Street Journal. Murdoch buying The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones has benefited their competitors, the New York Times and Bloomberg. About 100 people have left because of Murdoch. And these aren’t cub reporters, they’re top reporters.
So you’re an ordained minister. How’d that come about?
I do it for fun and profit. After I was laid off I thought it’d be fun and for the money. I’m ordained through the Universal Life Church of Seattle. My slogan is ‘your wedding, your way.’
Anything else you’d like us to know?
Yes, Maplewood is a great town and I will stay until I can’t afford it anymore. I love the halloween parade, the duck race. There’s a good race on for the township committee. Maplewood keeps changing and mostly for the good.