Friday, June 29, 2007

Lowering the bar

There's what passes for legitimate political rhetoric these days and then there's Ann Coulter.

A conservative to the Nth degree, Coulter must have a following of admirers, given all the books she sells. But I have to believe even many of her friends on the far right squirm when she goes over the top -- as she did yet again this week in a broadside against Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards and his wife.

Edwards has been a frequent target of Coulter's acerbic tongue, wishing him dead in a terrorist attack, calling him a "faggot" and bringing up the memory of the couple's late son.

Can't she disagree with Edwards' politics and campaign aggressively for her favorite candidate without that crap? Does she believe her ideology can't be advanced without stooping so low?

Coulter claims comedian Bill Maher lowered the bar with similarly offensive remarks about Vice President Cheney. Is that supposed to excuse either of them?

At a time in our history when serious political discourse has never been more important, this is what turns people off. And that makes our country the loser.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Stormy weather

When you're a newspaper publisher in an area like ours, you become a closet weatherman. Not that you're capable of making forecasts. But you sure do pay attention to maps, radar, isobars and cold fronts.

In the winter, of course, it's worrying about impending snow storms. Will the roads be clear for employees to come to work and for our trucks to deliver the papers? Will people venture out of their homes to buy the paper? Will blowing snow take down powerlines, leaving us -- and our computers and press and everything else upon which we rely on electricity to do our jobs -- in the dark?

In a way, the hot weather months are even more worrisome. No snow, of course. But severe thunder and lightning storms seem to pop up once or twice a week, leaving the area vulnerable to power outages and all they imply.

Late yesterday such a storm blew through Kingston. One bolt of lightning knocked us out of business for a split second. Fortunately, the power returned quickly, although not before frying the air conditioning unit in the pressroom.

Other areas fared worse. My colleague Rex Smith, editor of the Albany Times Union, told me this morning that his plant was dark for so long, the size of their paper was cut, some of the advertising inserts were postponed and arrangements were being made for emergency printing at the Schenectady Gazette. The latter wound up being unnecessary when the lights finally came back at the T-U's Wolf Road headquarters.

So here we are, late on a Thursday afternoon, and the another round of severe weather could be in the cards. Excuse me while I check the Weather Channel.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Nasty business

A letter to the editor arrived today from an aide to a local public official (not the one I referenced yesterday). The letter was critical of a recent editorial. No problem. We invite an exchange of all points of view on our editorial page.

What I found curious was the contention that the tone of the editorial was "nasty." I wouldn't characterize it that way. But OK, if that's what the writer believes, so be it. Except this is the same official who once dressed down a county legislator, in public, with language we wouldn't use in a family newspaper.

I guess it all depends on how you define "nasty."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The sounds of silence

I see this morning from reading Pat Doxsey's story on traffic tickets that one of our local politicians isn't talking to our newspaper. Somehow, Pat managed to write the story without him.

Seriously, we prefer that everyone speaks to our reporters and editors when contacted for comments and/or extended interviews. But every so often, politicians get into snits for imaginary slights, or what they believe is unfair or unwarranted editorial criticism or alleged mistakes in articles (as in, "They can't get anything right!").

Allow me to let you on a little secret: In hindsight, even we occasionally come to the conclusion that some editorial criticism turned out to be unfair or unwarranted. And once in a while (although not nearly as often as critics would have you think), there are mistakes in newspaper stories. So, yes, it's possible a politician can have legitimate beefs with us.

But at the end of the day, who suffers when politicians decide not to talk to the local paper? It's not even close. We still print a paper without their contributions and they miss an opportunity to get their names and points of view out to their constituents in a venue readers have grown accustomed to seeing them.

To coin one of the first bromides I learned when I was a cub reporter, "Say whatever you want about me; just spell my name right." That's what public figures with perspective typically conclude vis a vis their relationships with the press.

From time to time, our paper has gone through the "I'm not talking to the Freeman" slow dance with a variety of politicians of all stripes. A couple of local biggies immediately come to mind. Like the others, eventually they cooled off and re-established lines of communication with us. Hopefully that will be the case with the current serenader of the sounds of silence.

And what if he doesn't change his mind and continues to give the Freeman the silent treatment? Simple: Reporters will write their stories without him. The editors will edit the stories and we'll publish a paper each day. Sometimes there'll be a hole in the story. Usually there won't be one.

There'll be no retribution on the newspaper's part -- we don't engage in that sort of game, although other publications have been known to do so, particularly in major markets. Meanwhile, the politician will seek other media and methods to get his name and face in front of the public. Maybe that work-around will be successful, maybe not.

Not long ago, after one politician stopped giving us the cold shoulder, I pointed out to him that if he thought the Freeman was too tough (or unfair), he ought to be on the other end of the onslaught he would face in a big city media environment. "We're pussycats," I told him.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Reality check

One of the great things about living in this community is that it won't let your head get too large.

I've been at the Freeman for 37 years. My name is in the paper every day. I do a fair amount of public speaking. I'm frequently on the radio. My first name is just unusual and short enough that people tend to use it and it alone to refer to me.

If you're not careful, you might wind up believing everybody knows you.

Not even close (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, by the way).

I'm at the physical therapist this morning. Minor problem with my foot. I'd been to the same place a couple of years ago before and after shoulder surgery. Great place. Excellent care. Friendly people.

One of the assistants who treated me last time helped me out again today. Again, great place, excellent care, friendly people.

"Are you still working for the paper?," she asked.

As I said, the community has a way of making sure you don't get too full of yourself.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

We did it!

The first of three groups teed off this morning shortly after 6:30. The last group played its 54th and final hole of the day shortly after 7:30 p.m.

Eleven players. Fifty-four holes of golf. Thirteen hours. Beautiful weather. No injuries. No particular reason to do it.

If you lit a candle for me, as I asked you to do yesterday, thanks. I survived.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Long day's journey into night

It's been a while since my last entry. Busy doing "publisher things." Looking forward to the weekend, although I'm not sure why.

Seems I've talked myself into playing 54 holes of golf Saturday.

You read that correctly. Fifty-four holes! Three rounds, starting shortly before 7 a.m. and finishing, if they haven't had to mop me up off a fairway before then, by about 8 p.m.

No, it's not for charity. No, I'm not a good player (far from it). And, no, I'm not even going to get the benefit of cardio exercise by walking, as I usually do when I play the standard and sane 18 holes in one day.

It's hard to explain what's going on, other than my wife and our friends want to try it. So, I'm in.

Yes, I realize this plan only solidifies the belief that some of you might have about my judgment. But really, if I survive -- the operative word being "if" -- I'll have something to talk about.

Good news is the weather is supposed to be perfect. Light a candle for me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Millbrook state of mind

I'm in Millbrook today, in my office at Taconic Press, the weekly newspaper group I publish, with eight titles serving Dutchess and Putnam counties.

Now don't get me wrong -- I don't want to steer business away from my home base in Ulster County. But if you're in this part of Dutchess -- or are looking for a day trip -- do yourself a favor and visit Millbrook. What a wonderful little town, with nice people, quaint shops and fine food.

I always look forward to the couple of days a week I spent in Millbrook. Try it, you'll like it.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sorry I wasn't there

I see from reading Don Treat's golf column today that the Herdegen (Ulster County Men's Amateur golf championship tournament) named the Freeman's late sports editor Charlie Tiano as the first inductee into its new Hall of Fame. Also named yesterday at Wiltwyck Golf Club were the Freeman itself (for its sponsorship and coverage) and Bob Casavant (Charlie's successor as tournament director).

Charlie invented the Herdegen and ran it year-round like the proverbial top. His goal was to make the Herdegen a true test of golf -- 72 holes of medal play, 18 each at four different courses, with strict entry requirements and iron-fisted decision making. He succeeded. When it came to the Herdegen, Charlie didn't suffer fools gladly. This was serious business. And it's why the event long has been among the best amateur sporting competitions of its kind here and anywhere.

It was Charlie who hired me as a sportswriter in 1970. I learned the ropes from the guy. His mentoring served me well while he was still working, as well as after he retired, first when I succeeded him as sports editor, then as I moved into my other positions at the Freeman.

I didn't know Charlie and the Freeman were going to be honored yesterday until I read Don's column this morning. I feel like I should be have been there. In fact, I played golf at Wiltwyck Sunday morning -- if you can call it golf the way I play. I even ran into Dean Palen, the current tournament director, who thanked me for the newspaper's sponsorship, but never mentioned the post-tournament ceremonies.

I go to a number of functions in the region, some with less enthusiasm than others. This was one I truly regret missing.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sidney who?

It's been a while since I wrote sports for a living -- 24 years, to be precise. But I still follow the games to an extent, particularly baseball and hockey, which always have been my favorites. I didn't, however, watch a second of hockey's Stanley Cup Finals. That put me in a non-exclusive club, because TV ratings have never been lower. I also didn't watch any of the pro basketball championships, for which ratings tanked, as well.

Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh was named MVP of the National Hockey League last night. How many of you have heard of him, much less would recognize him if he strolled down Kingston's Strand one day?

San Antonio has won four National Basketball Association titles in nine years. The most famous face associated with the Spurs? Actress Eva Longoria, who is engaged to one of the players.

I hate to play the role of an old timer, but give me Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor any day and my TV is on the NBA Game of the Week. How about Jean Beliveau, Jacques Plante, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Bobby Orr? Talk about great hockey players from another era.

So many sports. So many channels. So many prima donna athletes. Not enough time. Once it was fun. Now, not so much.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rather strange

Dan Rather has been around the block long enough to know not to cavalierly toss around hot button words. So unless he suffered a momentary brain freeze when he was being interviewed on a cable network the other morning, it's safe to say the former CBS "Evening News" anchorman knew exactly what he was doing when he accused his old network of "tarting" up the program under his successor Katie Couric.

Rather can be excused for not having kind thoughts about CBS boss Les Moonves (he "doesn't know about news," Rather said), given the unceremonious way in which he was asked to vacate his anchor desk. And Rather can't be too unhappy that ratings for the program he unwillingly departed have gotten increasingly worse in Couric's first year. But Rather does himself no favors by going the sexist route in denouncing the broadcast, particularly because his primary point has merit.

Said Rather, CBS' "mistake was to try to bring the 'Today Show' ethos to the 'Evening News,' and to dumb it down, tart it up in hopes of attracting a younger audience."

Mainstream media, large and small, print and broadcast, certainly have modified their approach in recent years in the face of declining circulation and viewership. Many have veered away from hard news in favor of softer stories they feel can bolster their audiences, especially to lure young people. Indeed, Rather is not the first to accuse the media of dumbing down America.

True or not, it's fair criticism. But are other network news programs on a similar path "tarting up" content, or is it just CBS, which just happens to have a female anchor?

"It doesn't have to do with Katie, it doesn't have to do with gender. It has to do with corporate leadership," Rather told Fox News, according to The Associated Press.

I am one of Rather's admirers. But I'd be more inclined to believe that if he had chosen a word other than "tart," which someone with his skills in the English language easily could have done.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Story time

For at least a couple of years, rumors have been flying about the impending sale of Williams Lake Resort. Lots of people have been talking about it, including many who asked me why there hadn't been anything in the paper. I'd check with editors or reporters and learn they'd heard the same rumors, but couldn't get confirmation.

Finally, today we have a story. The deal is all but done. Friday is D-Day.

The other day Williams Lake hosted a farewell party for longtime friends. In short, everybody who cares about Williams Lake -- and plenty of people who don't -- know it's being sold. That's why the following paragraph from today's story jumped out at me: "Neither the present owner ... or the prospective buyer ... would give particulars on the project, other than to say negotiations have not been completed."

I understand business and the need for confidentiality, particularly when all the T's haven't been crossed. Heck, I'm involved in one such top secret project right now (not involving my newspaper, it's important I emphasize). But the project with which I'm involved is increasingly less top secret as more local people join what was originally a coordinating group of about a dozen. I'm hearing bits and pieces of what is supposed to be confidential on the street. So are a couple of our editors to whom I can say nothing, which is an uncomfortable position for me to be in.

My point is that with the aforementioned project and the sale of Williams Lake, a lot of people know about it, but there's precious little a newspaper can do if the primary sources clam up and the peripheral sources don't have enough for us to produce an accurate and complete story.

Here's a common question asked of a newspaper in a relatively small community: "How come you guys had anything on this?" The Williams Lake story is a good example.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The waterfront

Every time I make it down to the Rondout waterfront section of Kingston, I ask myself why I'm not there more often.

It's surely a far cry from the days in the early 1970s when the Freeman was headquartered in the building now anchored by Mariner's restaurant. Back then, hardly anybody was around.

That was then and this is now.

The Strand sure was bustling Sunday afternoon. Shops were busy, restaurants hopping, the docks filled. People poured off the cruise boat and strolled along the streets.

It was a pleasant day in a picturesque part of the city.

Indeed, many locals probably travel hundreds of miles to experience a Strand-like setting elsewhere ... and we have one of our own right here in Kingston.

If you haven't been downtown lately, check it out.

Friday, June 8, 2007

The master of space and time

One of the things most people don't know about me is that I'm a big fan of musician Leon Russell.

I got hooked on Leon (and Joe Cocker) in 1970 when the legendary "Mad Dogs and Englismen" tour played at SUNY New Paltz. I've seen both perform several times since, Leon most recently a couple of months ago when he was at The Egg in Albany.

Today I saw an ad in our Preview entertainment section saying Leon Russell will be on the bill for a July 14 show at Bethel Woods, site of the original Woodstock Festival in Sullivan County. The headliner: the great Levon Helm of Woodstock, another favorite of mine, who I haven't seen live since The Band was together, even though his popular "Rambles" take place at his home only a few miles from mine.

Don't be surprised if you see me in the crowd when Levon and Leon peform at Bethel Woods.

Thursday, June 7, 2007


I'm always running into people who say they hear me on the Media Project on WAMC Northeast Public Radio. Now's your chance to see us do the program.

Among the premiums during this week's WAMC fund drive are tickets to a special, one-hour Media Project on the evening of July 26 at the Linda Norris Auditorium, Central Avenue, Albany.

It will be Alan Chartock of WAMC, Rex Smith of the Albany Times Union, Elisa Streeter of WTEN-TV and myself, as well as Media Project alums Lydia Kulbeda of WNYT-TV and Monte Trammer of the Elmira Star-Gazette.

Tune into WAMC to hear the details, then call 1-800-323-9262.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Back in business

Good news: As of mid-afternoon today, the traffic lights are back on at Washington and Hurley avenues! (See prior post.)

Be careful out there

You may have read in our paper yesterday about the malfunctioning traffic lights at the intersection of Washington and Hurley avenues in Kingston. They've been out since Saturday night due to a computer problem, perhaps the result of the storm. Nobody's fault. They're working on it. Parts and/or a replacement are on the way.

But it here is is Wednesday morning and the lights are still on the fritz. Amazingly, there have been no fender-benders or worse as far as I know at this busy gateway to the city.

City police officers were on the scene during Monday morning's rush hour to direct traffic. But I haven't seen them since. Motorists have been on their own, nudging their way forward or left or right, hoping some cowboy doesn't make a reckless mistake.

Far be it from me to make assignments for local gendarmes. I'm painfully aware of how difficult it is in my business to stretch human resources beyond their limits. So I can sympathize with the police.

But as long as the traffic lights are out, there's an accident waiting to happen if at no other times than between 7 and 9 in the morning and 4 and 6 in the afternoon. I hope the KPD can assign someone to bring order until the lights are back on.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Failure to communicate

This was my morning to be as guest on Kingston Community Radio on WGHQ.

The first Tuesday of every month at about 7:30 a.m. I sit in with Orvil Norman, Sue Wittig and John Clark for a half-hour and talk about whatever comes to their minds, usually matters involving content or policy at the Freeman. We also take phone calls from listeners, which is my favorite part of the show, even if the callers aren't always friendly.

But for the last two mornings, including today, there was no Kingston Community Radio program on WGHQ, apparently because of a transmitter outage caused by one of the weekend's thunderstorms.

So when I arrived at the studio this morning, there were Orvil, Sue and John waiting for a green light from engineers that might not come before 9 a.m., when the program normally concludes.

Talk about a hopeless feeling for the hosts. They were all dressed up with nowhere to go, as it were.

I felt badly for them because I could relate to the situation. It was what it's like when there's a power outage or a major computer or press problem at the Freeman and dozens or more of us figuratively twiddle our thumbs, fearful we won't make deadline and the paper won't get out on time (or at all).

It's tough to be in the communication business when you're unable to communicate.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Pop goes the culture

I'm late getting into "The Sopranos." For some reason it never caught my attention in its formative years. But with the all hoopla about this being its last season, I've made it a point to watch the most recent batch of episodes, including last night's penultimate program in which a gang war claimed the life of Tony's brother-in-law/lieutenant and all but did in chief aide Silvio (better known to many of us as Little Steven of Springsteen's E-Street Band fame).

Maybe it's because I haven't watched from the beginning that I've been disappointed. The acting is first-rate, to be sure. James Gandolfini, Edie Falco and crew couldn't be better. But I've found the story line rather unimaginative.

Put another way, "The Sopranos" is quality TV, but not "The Godfather" in my book.

Here's the tie-in to the world of newspapers: Should they be covering "The Sopranos" or any of the other pop culture ventures that catch America's attention as if they were "real news"?

We had the winner of "American Idol" (I've already forgotten her name) on Page 1. Did the editors make the decision? "Dancing With the Stars"? A day late on the Life page. "Survivor"? Covered early in its run, less so now that it seems to have cooled off.

You get the point. Are these legitimate news stories? People are talking about them, you say. Is that enough of an excuse to sanction them?

The world economy? Boring. Paris Hilton? Hot!

Are newspapers contributing to the dumbing down of America when they cover the pop culture or do they risk hastening their demise if they ignore it?

What say you?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Word wise

Did you catch any of the national spelling bee on TV last night? Now you know what it's like at the Freeman's regional bee each year at Ulster County Community College -- minus the network TV cameras, of course.

We've been sponsoring the regionals for a couple of decades and I've MC'd all but one, marveling each year at the poise, maturity and smarts displayed by nearly all of the youngsters who have qualified for the competition.

From my perch off-stage, I also look into the eyes of proud parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers who fill the Quimby Theater and live and die with each word.

You really ought to catch next year's bee in person. It's usually held on the third Thursday of the March. (2008's exact date isn't yet confirmed.) We've not yet produced a national champion from our regional competition. A few have been relatively close, however, so it could happen.

Win or lose, these young people are among our region's best. They're worth supporting and encouraging.

Meantime, congratulations again to Seher Sethi, a fifth-grader at Mill Road Elementary School in Red Hook, who represented us this year in the nationals in Washington. Job well done.