• Nelson Sigelman

Martha’s Vineyard Publisher Spikes Book Review Over Porn Story Tell All

Updated: Aug 3, 2019


In the digital bowels of The Martha’s Vineyard Times newspaper, a completed review of my second book, “Martha’s Vineyard Fish Tales: How to Catch Fish, Rake Clams, and Jig Squid, with Entertaining Tales About the Sometimes Crazy Pursuit of Fish,” gathers dust.

A review of a ‘how to’ fishing book, built around columns I wrote over a 26 year span at The MV Times prior to my departure in 2016, would interest the newspaper’s readers on a fishing-obsessed island and thus merit publication. Except for porn star and director Nica Noelle and a change in the newspaper’s ownership, the review would certainly have appeared.

MV Times publisher Peter Oberfest spiked it. Spike is newspaper idiom for murder, killing a completed story just before its publication. Publisher Oberfest condemned the review because an article I wrote, “The porn-studio-on-Martha’s-Vineyard story that never was,” appeared May 2018 in the Columbia Journalism Review.

The CJR article described how in 2015, I prepared a well reported story that Monica Jensen, who went by the stage name Nica Noelle, a well-known-in-the-business former porn star and award winning director of gay porn films, had left Los Angeles, set up shop in West Tisbury, and brought actors to Martha’s Vineyard to make pornographic films in a rented house in West Tisbury.

My article described how, over my strenuous objections, Mr. Oberfest refused to publish the story. He cited privacy concerns.

I explained how much to my surprise, three years later, a report about the Martha’s Vineyard porn studio surfaced on a celebrity news website in connection with a lawsuit filed in federal court. The click bait was picked up by newspapers as far away as Australia. And, funny thing, on the same day the story finally made it to the MV Times.


Do No Harm to Whom?

For most of my career, I worked closely with Doug Cabral, editor and co-owner of the MV Times. Doug is a newspaperman through and through. He never balked at publishing a story he thought would be of interest or service to the community.

When Doug retired in 2014, Mr. Oberfest named me editor. It was an uncomfortable marriage from the start. He was not a newspaperman by training, profession, or inclination.

My CJR account of our disagreement over the Nica Noelle story was intended to highlight how a change of ownership — to an individual, a hedge fund, or really anyone rich enough to buy a megaphone — can change the calculus of community reporting, a discouraging transformation all too common these days among newspapers across the country. That is, in those instances where the paper just changes ownership. Often, it is not mere change, it is dissolution.

Mr. Oberfest sent an angry letter to the editor. of CJR. He invoked the application of what he described as the “do no harm” rule.

He argued that Nica Noelle “had broken no laws; there were no complaints, no police report, no lawsuit. Publishing this story would have embarrassed the subject and her family with no discernable community benefit.”

How silly. A community newspaper publishes a variety of news. The community benefits when it is well informed. The story made no value judgement. The notion that a well reported story would have embarrassed Ms. Noelle, whose porn career is well documented and public, is laughable.

Mr. Oberfest said that CJR, by publishing my essay, had “missed the opportunity to talk about the serious issue here: the continuing importance and complexity of defining and practicing ethical reporting and publishing in a media world simply exploding with ambiguity and risk for all parties.”


Author Ostracism

On the contrary, the opportunity whose loss Mr. Oberfest lamented is exactly what my CJR essay was about. The discussion he longed for might well have got to the question of whether ethical publishing can countenance the refusal to publish material that is smack dab in the newspaper’s wheelhouse just because the publisher is pissed off.

Last month, I looked into why a review by Jack Shea, who was commissioned months ago to do the review by a member of The Times staff, had not appeared in The Times. I learned that it was spiked at Mr. Oberfest’s request.

I raised the notion of ethical publishing in an email to Mr. Oberfest on July 19. I wrote:
 By any normal journalism standard, a good looking and well written book, published by a reputable publisher and written by an Island author and former longtime columnist for The Times, deserves a book review in the paper. More important, the book's subjects are outdoor activities common and celebrated in our Island lifestyle and culture, and the text draws heavily on columns published in The Times over decades.

You are unable to distinguish between your anger over the CJR piece and your responsibility as a newspaper publisher to report on items of interest to the community The Times serves. My book is the first of its kind: a 'how-to' fishing book specific to the Vineyard. It is for sale at both of the Island's bookstores and two major tackle shops. Your decision to ignore it to spite me is sadly petty and small minded.

Ironically, you behave this way even as you prepare to host "Islanders Write," which you describe as a celebration of writing and journalism, and you regularly use The Times editorial page to excoriate (rightly so) Trump for lashing out at those who cross him.

I would welcome an opportunity to discuss this issue with you and other journalists. Perhaps author ostracism would make a good panel discussion at "Islanders Write."

Mr. Oberfest responded. He said “... you’ve burned your Times bridges more than once. We will not be publishing a review of your book.

On Sunday and Monday, August 11 and 12, The Times will host two days of panel discussions, presentations and workshops with a range of authors, journalists and book people. Perhaps Mr. Oberfest sees no irony in his role.

So that’s that, except that I’m disappointed that I will not get to read what Jack Shea wrote. Jack’s a lively writer, and he’s been known to cast a rod.


Nelson Sigelman is also the author of “Martha’s Vineyard Outdoors, Fishing, Hunting and Avoiding Divorce on a Small Island” (Tashmoo Publishing, $19.99), available at local bookstores and major book retailers.

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