Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Checking in

Bet you thought I forgot about my blog. Nothing like that. But between a house full of family (and one visiting pet pooch) during Thanksgiving week and the beginning of the year-end fastening of loose ends on the business side of the newspaper operation, I haven't found much time to pontificate (no doubt to the disappointment of the handful who write, usually disparagingly, but who don't have the courage to sign their names and still haven't caught on that I don't OK "anonymous" posts).

What's made my plate a bit heavier these days is the departure of the publisher of The Independent, our company's twice-a-week paper in Hillsdale, Columbia County. Add that title to the Freeman in Kingston and the Taconic Press weeklies in Millbrook, and you have a sense of why I'm seeing so much of the inside of my car.

Grant Cover, my former publisher colleague in Hillsdale found greener pastures upstate, so the search is on for his replacement. We have some good candidates, so hopefully that position will sort itself out shortly.

Today, however, I would be remiss if I didn't salute Lenny Bovee, who has been on the production side of the Freeman for about four decades, starting as a kid in our former home at the foot of Broadway. Lenny, the best dressed man in production anywhere, is retiring as foreman of the Composing Room. He's been a great friend and colleague. I wish him well. And I understand he'll be working greeting diners at Frank Guido's new restaurant in Midtown Kingston. Next time you're there, say hello and congratulate him for a fine career.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The early bird

I mostly know Mike Hein from the golf course. We're both left-handed. He's an excellent player. I'm a terrible player. He's a nice young man. (When you're my age, even someone who's 42, like Mike, is a young man.) Whether I'm a nice old man is for others to decide.

We occasionally talk about county business and politics while hanging around outside the clubhouse. He's typically finished his early morning round -- having played with the better golfers -- while I'm nibbling on a bagel in anticipation of throwing away another four hours of my life hacking around the course.

I believe I sat in on one or two editorial board meetings at which Mike (the county administrator, for those who don't know him) discussed county fiscal matters. He appears to be serious, capable and sincere. But I don't pretend to have given much thought to sizing him up as a candidate. Now, however, to no one surprise, he's officially running for county executive.

I don't know how he'll do, mostly because I don't know what he'll stand for and who he'll be running against, both within his Democratic Party and in a general election if he emerges with the nomination. I do know that barely a week after one election, it's awfully early for Mike or anyone else to begin a campaign for the next one.

The public is worn out. We've been through the usual blitz of commercials, road signs, print ads and junk mail, as well as the debates and news stories, door-to-door visits and handshakes outside of the supermarkets.

Many of this year's contests were particularly heated -- Ulster County DA and the towns of Hurley, Rhinebeck and Red Hook immediately come to mind. The public (and the press) looks forward to post-Election Day through, say, the first week of January. It's historically a kind of no-fly zone. We clear the decks, enjoy the holidays, take a deep breath and eventually plunge ahead.

I suspect Mike and his advisers believe there's good reason to start so early. (I'm told he originally planned to announce two days after Election Day, then thought better of it.)

Maybe it's because he's still relatively unknown, despite his current high-level county position, and he believes he needs as much time as possible to get his name on the street and in the papers.

Maybe it's because he knows intramural competition is likely -- could be even from Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who has name recognition and several elective successes on his resume. Kevin hasn't said he's a candidate, but he hasn't said he isn't. Perhaps Mike and his political strategists think being the first one out of the starting gate will leave Kevin or anyone else of a mind to run left in the dust.

There's an argument to be made that the longer the race the better, since this will be a landmark election, as Ulster County switches its form of government and chooses a person who will hold extradorinary power. If you buy that rationale, Mike should be congratulated for starting the dialogue well ahead of the vote.

But this isn't the presidency. Ulster County may be large geographically, but Mike and all other comers will have plenty of time to cover ground. The process wouldn't have suffered had he waited until just after the first of the year -- which still would be early in the minds of many.

I'd like to think that with all this campaigning, Mike will have less time to work on his golf game and slip back to my skill level. But I can safely predict that won't happen. That says more about my game than it does about his.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The right time

Welcome to my favorite weekend of the year. The weather will be crisp. Thanksgiving is in sight. And the political season is over. That means the road signs will be gone and mostly what we'll be hearing are the sounds of silence. Enjoy.


I again had the honor of being master of ceremonies at the Rip Van Council, Boy Scouts of America's annual awards dinner last night. It was the fourth straight year at the microphone for me for reasons about which I'm not entirely clear. Not bad for a former Cub Scout from Parkchester. You want to know what's right in our community? Show up at one of these events. Wonderful young people, dedicated volunteers and worthwhile projects. That's what Scouting is all about. And if you weren't there to hear Webelos Scout Vinny Castaldo, a Port Ewen fifth-grader, bring down the house with his remarks, you really missed something.


The only newspaper in our company whose Internet site had more page views on Election Night that ours was the New Haven Register, and it's in a large city with a print circulation about five times more than the Freeman's. No doubt some of our nearly 80,000 page views were by those hungry for results that were unavailable when Ulster County's election site crashed. Nonetheless, the turnout reinforces what we in the industry have been telling anyone who'll listen: Although paid circulation of the traditional print products is declining, when you combine print and on-line, newspapers like ours have never been better read. We're at about 800,000 page views a month, with well over 100,000 unique visitors a month. And in our case, the latter number is only going to grow as we continue to add content, video, podcasts and other unique features, including a redesign scheduled to be up and running in about a month.


You may have seen my son Matt's picture in the paper the other day. The Associated Press captured him carrying a picket sign and a bullhorn outside Fox Studios in Los Angeles, where he writes for the animated sitcom "American Dad." Next day Matt was pictured with the legendary Hollywood entertainment writer Army Archerd for his Variety on-online column. As you probably know, the Writers Guild of America is on strike against the Hollywood producers and studios. Typically, nobody wins when there's a strike. Here's hoping cooler heads prevail and a settlement is reached soon.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Finally, the voting

With a deep sigh of relief that we're finally at the finish line, I look forward to Tuesday's voting, out of which hopefully will come definitive results and the end of some of the most vile, misguided, uninformed rhetoric I've had the displeasure of reading in all my years in this business.

The political process is an interesting one, to say the least. It's always tended to bring out the best and worst of people. But in the past, you at least could identify who was who and where they stood. You might disagree with your neighbors, but you respected their points of view and the mostly civil level of discourse.

Not anymore. Now we have people who "analyze" politics, the media and assorted other issues of the day from the cowardly comfort of anonymity. It's easy to be a big shot when you're hiding behind a tree or a computer keyboard.

Please, everyone, cast your ballots Tuesday. Vote for who you want to lead our communities. Don't allow editorial writers or radio commentators or public access "producers" or bloggers or anyone else tell you how to vote. Prepare yourself before you enter the voting booth. Be aware of what's on the ballot. Spend some time tonight and tomorrow morning doing your homework. Then vote. The more people who cast ballots, the better. Don't be intimidated. You'll be all by yourself when you vote. The decisions are yours.