Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bee there

The 24th annual Freeman-sponsored regional spelling bee takes place at 7 p.m. tonight at Ulster County Community College's Quimby Theater.

Fifteen of the four-county (Ulster, Dutchess, Columbia and Greene) area's finest young people will be on stage, vying for a place in the national competition in Washington later this spring.

It will be tense. It will be fun. It will be educational.

If you've never experienced this event, come on out. Admission is free.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Like old times

I've been making the rounds with our advertising sales team the last couple of months. It's more for my benefit than theirs, as I reacquaint myself with people I haven't seen in a while and introduce myself to those I've never met.

Just about everyone is surprised to see me. Most think I'm checking up on my employee's work. Not so. I want to help them make a sale if I can. And I want to hear what people are saying about the newspaper, the economy, politics ... anything.

It can be uncomfortable, as was the case yesterday when one merchant told me she wasn't sure she wanted to spend any more money with us because of news coverage she disliked. I obviously prefer not to get that kind of information, but I do welcome the opportunity to confront it. I like to remind businessmen and women that the reason they should advertise with the Freeman is because it's effective and it brings customers to their establishments. If you aren't getting good results from Freeman advertising, you ought to try something else. But if the Freeman works for you, your dismay with news stories or editorial points of view or whatever shouldn't dissuade you. It's not good business.

Anyway, most of my conversations have been entertaining, particularly the one I recently had when we stopped off at Van Gordon and Co., an office supplies store in the heart of Catskill.

Tom Thornton runs the place and he lit up when he realized it was me.

"I called you once," he said.

I didn't remember. Then I did.

Tom's family has run the Orpheum Theater in Saugerties for years. He called one day to ask why the one movie review we publish each week invariably was negative. Tough to sell tickets, you see.

We talked for nearly a half-hour about the quality of movies these days. He bemoaned the kind of films Hollywood is turning out -- and choosing to honor with Oscar nominations. Heck, the only "upbeat" nominee for Best Picture was "Juno", and that was about teen pregnancy.

Anyway, if you want a throwback to a different era, when you strolled along a village's main drag, saying hello to and chatting with the familiar people behind the counters, check in with Tom. It'll seem like old times.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Just desserts

Alan Chartock gets his just desserts tonight when he's feted for the benefit of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation at 5:30 p.m. at the Grandview in Poughkeepsie.

I'll MC the event honoring the venerable professor/broadcaster. Joining me at the microphone with their best Chartock stories will be SUNY New Paltz Dean Jerry Benjamin, Poughkeepsie Journal Local News Editor Kevin Lenihan, Assemblyman Kevin Cahill and SUNY New Paltz President Steve Poskanzer, among others.

It may not be too late to be there. Call the foundation office at 845-257-3240. See you tonight.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

We'll never know

It was near the end of our editorial board meeting with Sen. Chuck Schumer yesterday.

We had hit on a variety of topics -- perhaps not as many as normal for a 75-minute session, but the senator tends to be wordy.

Just as we were wrapping up, I asked Schumer if he had any comments on state government, in particular the way the governor had come into Albany with a mandate to produce change and subsequently ran into all sort of problems, many of his own doing.

Schumer asked if we could go "off the record." I told him we didn't do "off the record" at our editorial board meetings. He agreed and then offered a brief, non-specific reply.

Three hours later, news of the governor's involvement with a prostitution ring sent shockwaves through the state and the nation.

Was Schumer going to give us a tip, "off the record." We'll never know.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

On the air

Somebody who heard me on WGHQ this morning called to ask why I hadn't lit into Assemblyman Kevin Cahill the way he lit into me last week. I let him off easy, the caller said.

I told him I hadn't heard Cahill's radio rant, although others had told me about it. It wouldn't have mattered. Regardless of what he may think is going through our minds at the Freeman, we have nothing personal against Cahill. I certainly don't (although I must say I've lost some respect for him in the wake of this on-going tempest). We don't dislike him and we aren't out to get him.

We don't think much of the state Legislature, however, and he is its most prominent representative in our circulation area, so he embodies most of our criticism. But as for responding in kind, I wasn't about to go on the radio to make the kind of personal attacks all-too-common to the political psyche.

Yes, I know, a critical editorial some months ago used a colorful 50-cent word Cahill felt was demeaning. On top of that, I'm told he connected the dots -- incorrectly, I hasten to add -- between that editorial, and a couple of news stories published within the same time span, at least one of which had incorrect factual information (which was corrected in short order), and he had concluded the anti-Cahill brigade was in control of our news and opinion operation.

Indeed, while I was on the air this morning, Cahill called the studio and offered off-air to engage in some sort of radio face off with me. Nice try. I'm not running for office, I don't need to win a debate and I'm not looking to prevail in a popularity contest vs. Cahill. If Cahill -- who hasn't spoken on the record with Freeman reporters or editors for months -- wants to clear the air and/or show us the errors of our ways, we're more than willing to hear him out, just as we've done in the past when others have thought we had dealt them a bad hand. But with all due respect to WGHQ's small, but loyal morning audience, a daily newspaper doesn't have to seek a broadcast forum to do its business when it has a larger audience of its own. (And make no mistake, even though most daily newspapers like ours are experiencing declines in paid circulation, we've never had more people reading us than we do today, when you combine our print and on-line operations. Put another way, if you want to reach the most people in Ulster County on a daily basis, like it or not, the Freeman is how you do it.)

So, no, I wasn't about to say all sorts of nasty things about Cahill this morning, as I'm told he did about me and at least one of our editors last week. I imagine some listeners cheered Cahill's personal knocks against us. The Freeman certainly has stepped on enough toes over the years that a fair percentage of people view this as comeuppance. But I rather think most were uncomfortable and maybe even a little embarrassed listening to their assemblyman.

Like any good lawyer and political incumbent -- and Cahill is both -- I'm confident enough in his debating skills and knowledge of the inner workings of Albany that he could have staged an admirable defense of the institution and his position without distracting listeners with nonsense. That the assemblyman took the low road is at best disappointing.

I think Cahill's making a professional mistake by not turning the page the way who knows how many politicians, large and small, have done after they've had scraps with the media. (Wasn't it Hillary Clinton who never wanted to cooperate with NBC again after an MSNBC correspondent made an ill-considered remark about Chelsea Clinton? Well, last week Hillary debated Barack Obama on MSNBC, and several days later, there she was, "Live from New York," on NBC's Saturday Night Live.) Maybe he's just getting bad advice. Whatever, if he changes his mind, he knows where to find us. I really do hope someone in his camp points him toward a more civilized path.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Dilapidated no more

Decades ago, when I was a lot younger, a lot thinner and had a lot more hair, I wrote columns about the sad state of Dietz Stadium in Kingston.

The years went by, my weight increased and my hair decreased and Dietz Stadium declined some more before wiser heads prevailed and it was renovated.

It's been quite some time since those days, and I don't get over to Dietz nearly as often as when I was covering sports. But I have found my way there again the last couple of months in search of a place to exercise.

Now, what I call exercise wouldn't pass muster in any fitness club. But walking around the perimeter of the stadium four or five times a session is better than what I'm used to doing physically in the winter: nothing. So I'm feeling pretty good about it.

But enough about me. My real point is that I've become reacquainted with the stadium after all these years as a stranger. It's a far cry from when I would sit on the first base side when it still had a baseball diamond, the dirt blowing in my face, the bleachers creaking and the overall condition of the facility conducive to my describing it in print as "Dilapidated Dietz."

Dietz Stadium today is a crown jewel for the city of Kingston and the Kingston school district. Its use for organized sports and recreational purposes is significant. It's a must-see for anyone considering locating in this community.

The Dietz Stadium I knew in the 1970s was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. I hope city and school officials never allow that to happen to the Dietz Stadium of today.