Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Hein era

It won't be quite the same as a presidential inauguration. There won't be millions crowding around the Ulster County Office Building to view the swearing-in, nor will there be a parade, followed by a series of lavish balls.

But the New Year's Day launch of a charter form of government is a big deal around these parts. And a lot of the foot soldiers who worked long and hard to see this day (many of whom unsuccessfully sought a city manager form of government in Kingston), are crossing their fingers and toes in hopes that it will produce the desired outcome: an accountable, professionally operated, efficient and effective operation, something the county sorely needs.

Is soon-to-be County Executive Michael Hein up to the task? While he was clearly the better of the two candidates for the job in November's election, he has plenty to prove. Many of us would have liked someone without any prior ties to local politics and politicians, as well as to some of the professional hangers-on who always seem to be lurking nearby. Hein's opponent generally fit that bill, but he didn't do enough homework prior to running for office to make swing voters comfortable enough to earn their trust.

So Hein gets the keys tomorrow. It says here he's capable and can be effective, if he's his own man. Everyone in the county - regardless of political persuasion - should be rooting for his success.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The readers react

The lead story in today's paper about the decapitated dog lit up the scoreboard on our Website.

As noted a while back, when it comes to crime stories, readers can't get enough, protestations of the sanctimonious to the contrary.

Add a pet to the equation and reader interest jumps off the charts.

A bunch of people already have commented on the story. If you want to join the discussion, register at its bottom (if you haven't already done so for a previous story), and let the community know how you feel.

Talking points

To follow up on the last blog about Caroline Kennedy and the voracious press corps, consider what The Associated Press is reporting this afternoon about her overuse of the phrase, "you know ...":

"NEW YORK (AP) — If Caroline Kennedy had, you know, only known.

"Tracking the would-be New York senator's verbal tics has become a political parlor game in the days since she gave her first round of in-depth interviews, even spawning a hip-hop-style mash-up online blending her 'you knows' with President-elect Barack Obama's 'uhs.'

"Such conversational fillers are, of course, as common as, like, speech itself. But the buzz about Kennedy's 'you knows' illustrates how problematic a few extraneous syllables can be for a public figure, especially in an era when today's verbal foible is tomorrow's viral video.

"'It really did a huge disservice to her,' said communications training coach Matt Eventoff, a partner in Princeton Public Speaking in Princeton, N.J. Rather than focusing on Kennedy's views, he said, 'people are going to spend time deconstructing the 'you knows.'

"Deconstruct they have, on newsprint, blogs and YouTube, where the 'Kennedy Obama UmYouKnow Remix' can be found alongside 'The More You Know: Caroline Kennedy.' The latter counts — with a buzzer — 30 'you knows' in 147 seconds of excerpts from an interview with The Associated Press.

"Bloggers have torn into President John F. Kennedy's Harvard- and Columbia-educated daughter for such remarks as: 'You know, I think, really, um, this is sort of a unique moment, both in our, you know, in our country's history and in, you know, my own life, and, um, you know, we are facing, you know, unbelievable challenges.'

"The 'you knows' have punctuated a rocky media rollout for the Democratic scion, who emerged from a lifetime of closely guarded privacy to seek appointment to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate seat. If Clinton is confirmed as Obama's secretary of state, as expected, Democratic Gov. David Paterson will choose her successor.

"Kennedy, 51, has never held public office and has faced questions about her preparedness for the Senate. She has pointed to her experience as a lawyer, education advocate and author of books on constitutional law and other subjects, as well as her family's long history of public service.

"A Kennedy spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday but told the Daily News on Monday: 'Caroline has acknowledged that she hasn't mastered the art of the political sound bite, but if Governor Paterson appoints her, she'll fight her heart out to make sure New York families have their voices heard in Washington.'"

Most of us have speech quirks of our own. But most of us aren't trying to get appointed to the Senate while the national media hangs on your every word.

Not so sweet on Caroline

Some have been calling Caroline Kennedy the "Sarah Palin of the Democratic Party." Ouch!

I'd say that's a bit much, but it is painfully obvious that Kennedy hasn't exactly been a dazzler in the weeks since she let it be known that her eye is on Hillary Clinton's soon-to-be-vacated U.S. Senate seat.

Unlike other Kennedys who have gotten into the family business, JFK's daughter has been content to be a mother, wife, education advocate and fund-raiser. So far behind the scenes has she been, that few even knew the sound of her voice (except those who have watched her introduce the annual Kennedy Center Honors event in Washington - the latest renewal of which airs tonight on CBS).

In stepping into the political spotlight to secure Gov. Paterson's appointment, Kennedy has seemed distant, not particularly specific and terribly ill-equipped to meet the predictable New York and national media onslaught.

On our editorial page some weeks ago, we were cool, to say the least, about a Kennedy appointment. New York can do better, our editorial board said, and not just from a pool of established politicians.

We have no problem with a political outsider - like Kennedy, in fact. But we'd prefer the Daniel Patrick Moynihan model: a thinker, an academic, someone with gravitas.

For one example, here's a name to fit that description: Leon Botstein, president of Bard College.

Caroline Kennedy no doubt has lots of offer the citizens of New York and the rest of the country. But it doesn't seem appropriate for her to start at the top simply because of her family tree.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Weekend notebook

*From where I sit, Eric Mangini wasn't that smart six weeks ago when New York fans had the Jets heading for a Super Bowl game against the Giants, and he wasn't that dumb after his team completed a late-season collapse yesterday and missed the playoffs. Mangini certainly wasn't an animated sort on the sidelines, which you might say meant his players lacked fire as a result. But he's never been animated, yet after his successful first season, he was called Man-genius. Sure, Mangini and his assistants weren't blameless for this season's bad finish. But, again, from where I sit, the difference between the team that started 8-3 and ended 1-4 was the horrible play of his Hall of Fame quarterback, not the coach.

*Our paper made a careless mistake the other day regarding something submitted by a local politician. It wasn't earth-shattering in its importance, but it was a bad error nonetheless, and it passed through two hands without being spotted, so it shouldn't have occurred. That said, it was a mistake, human error, nothing more, nothing less. Unfortunately, the politician's first instinct was that it was deliberate on the newspaper's part. I hope I've convinced him otherwise in private correspondence. But he wasn't the first - and probably won't be the last - to incorrectly assert that the newspaper had ulterior motives to make him look bad. I used to talk about this with my longtime former colleague Hugh Reynolds. It was Hugh's take that politicians see backroom machinations where they don't exist because that's their frame of reference from the political universe where they do exist. I think he's on to something.

*Our Christmas Day movie experience was in Albany this year. First time I'd been to the Spectrum, a neighborhood theater that reminded me of Rhinebeck's Upstate Films, only larger. We wanted to see "The Reader" and it wasn't on any local screen. My recommendation on the movie: See it. My recommendation on the theater: Try it, you'll like it (and it's not all that far away). I'd be remiss if I didn't urge you to patronize your local movie houses. But if the Spectrum has something you can't find in the Hudson Valley and/or you're spending a day in Albany, you'll enjoy the experience. The Spectrum is at 290 Delaware Ave., a mile or so from Thruway Interchange 23.

*Also part of the weekend was dinner at Cucina Restaurant in Woodstock, right across Route 212 from the golf club. The place was packed, the food was good, the atmosphere was lively.

*My wife has been belatedly catching up to the TV series "House." It's a medical drama for which the star has won numerous awards. I've caught bits and pieces and found the lead actor to play as obnoxious a character as there is on TV (if you don't count comic Larry David, whose character I like).

Friday, December 26, 2008

When celebrities die

When someone of note dies "unexpectedly" -- that is to say, in his or her prime of life, at the height of their professional popularity -- news of their death will be prominently played in newspapers and broadcast, even if in the grand scheme of things the person wouldn't overwise be considered an "all-time great." Deaths of current-day celebrities, even those on the "B list", invariably are big news stories.

But when an "all-time great" dies after living a full life, it's possible their passing won't get the "play" it deserves, particularly if they rose to fame in another era and may have been mostly out of the public eye in recent years. When that happens, it's typically due to a generation gap in the newsroom.

This comes to mind today as I read about the deaths of playwright Harold Pinter and singer-actress Eartha Kitt.

These were two giants in their respective fields. But depending on where you read or heard of their deaths, they were either duly recognized for their place in history (in Pinter's case, for example, the front page of The New York Times and a lengthy "jump" inside, with an equally significant obit for Kitt on the facing page), or less so (as in the case of our newspaper this morning).

I haven't spoken with the editors yet today, and it's not my intent to spank them in public. I'm guessing their story selection was subject to the aforementioned generation gap, not inattentiveness or disinterest. Despite long, impressive resumes of groundbreaking work, Pinter and Kitt simply weren't households names for today's journalists of a certain age.

In a way, it's similar to why Pearl Harbor Day doesn't get as much attention as it once did: It doesn't resonate with much of the post-World War II generation, young journalists included.

Occasionally, our sports editors will ask me about the importance of athletes who have just died. Often, these were athletes I grew up watching, but were distant names to the young editors and they want to be sure they're giving news of the deaths appropriate space.

Sorry I wasn't in the office yesterday to tell our news guys about Pinter and Kitt.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas at the movies

There was a time when those of us who don't celebrate Christmas would spend the day at a movie matinee and then look for someplace that was open for something to eat.

When my boys were younger, I can recall our family and a handful of others standing outside the original movie theater entrance at the Hudson Valley Mall. You may remember it being on the corner of the building in between the current entrance and what is now Macy's.

There were only several screens in those days and there was no lobby to speak of, so we'd huddle outside in the cold until they unlocked the door, all the while hoping the Freeman ad was correct and the theater actually was showing films on the holiday. (Since that day, I've insisted that our Advertising Department double-check the accuracy of Christmas Day movie listings. If the listings are wrong, please don't blame us; we use what the theaters send.)

The hunt for post-movie food has rarely changed. One year we found nothing open except a convenience store, at which we bought hero sandwiches. Some treat.

Another year, the Chinese place we anticipated being open wasn't. (Christmas Day was Monday that year, the restaurant's normal day off.) Antsy and hungry, we found a diner (which hadn't been open in the past). Another year, it was a Mexican restaurant.

There's nothing like the angst from driving through near-empty streets in the town of Ulster and Kingston searching for a restaurant and finding one after the other dark.

That's pretty much what we'll encounter tomorrow, but no longer is the audience for a Christmas Day movie filled only with non-celebrants. Christmas Day has become boffo box office for Hollywood, which now promotes big movie openings for, as they say, wide release on the holiday. If you've never gone, you might be surprised at how many folks crowd into the mall for a Christmas Day flick.

The irony this year is that that film we want to see isn't playing around here. We're thinking of driving to Albany. I wonder how many restaurants we'll find closed?

Wake up call

If you read no other newspaper column over the holidays, read this one by the great Tom Friedman of The New York Times.

It's a wake up call for all Americans.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Remember when flying was a special experience? Heck, remember when seeing someone off at the airport was a big deal, too? You'd wear your Sunday best (even if only to wish grandma well as she jetted to Miami for a couple of weeks). If you were the passenger, you'd look forward to special treatment on the plane: drinks, snacks, a meal!

Those days are long gone. But they're nicely remembered in this New York Times piece by a former "stewardess."

Then you're brought back to earth in the same edition with this story about passengers and baggage in today's inconvenient airline world.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Giants' view

More about the aformentioned "stadium audience":

It was a good to read the following in today's New York Times:

"Pat Hanlon, the Giants’ vice president for communications, said the team got feedback from fans when games were changed from day to night, and most from people not happy.

“'The fans do not return their tickets, but certainly many of them resell their tickets either through our ticket-exchange program or directly themselves,' Hanlon said via e-mail.

"He said that the decision to play at night was made by the NFL’s broadcasting department and that John Mara, the president of the Giants, had lobbied strongly against changing the times of games.

“'He knows it inconveniences some of our longtime season-ticket holders, and he feels an obligation to speak out on their behalf,' Hanlon said. 'We are a traditional organization with a traditional fan base. If it were up to us, all of our games would be played on Sunday afternoon at 1 o’clock.'

"The 'flexible scheduling,' which allows late-season games to be moved from afternoons to nights, is 'another reality of the business,' Hanlon said, because 'our broadcast partners pay our league and its clubs tremendous rights fees.'”

If more John Maras took a cue from Howard Beale, maybe matters would change.

The stadium audience

Ever been in the audience for a TV show? Maybe Letterman or Conan or Regis and Kelly?

What was the price of admission? You know the answer to that: Tickets for TV shows are free. The producers want you there. Your laughter and applause are part of the fabric of the program. Without the studio audience buzz, a show could fall flat.

Which is why I propose the following:

Whenever a TV network decides to move a previously scheduled afternoon sporting event (football and baseball are the prime targets), all those who paid for tickets should get their money back. Open the gates and invite people to be in the "stadium audience," free.

After all, the shift to prime time for games like last night's Giants vs. Panthers is all about TV and ratings. They don't care about the ticket-buyers. There are only about 80,000 of you. They want the home viewers.

Of course, the networks and the leagues know people will attend, even pay their way into a game on a frigid Sunday night in December on the East Coast. So they have no reason not to inconvenience you by changing the schedule.

It's not just the weather, either. Take your summertime scheduling shifts in baseball.

Suppose you buy tickets for you and your family to see a Yankees game on a Sunday afternoon in August. Maybe it's your child's birthday. You have a big day planned, perhaps including dinner after the game. But then TV moves your afternoon game to 8 o'clock (or later) at night. Weather may not be a problem, but this isn't what you had in mind. You wanted a summer's day at the ballpark, not a late night game that may not conclude until around midnight, following by the ride home. Heck, it may be 2 a.m. before you're in bed. And you have to be up at 6 the next morning to go to work. (If the game time is changed in June or September, the kids have school the next day.) That's not what you expected when you shelled out a lot of money for your tickets.

The least you should get for your trouble of being in the "stadium audience" is your money back.

I know: Keep dreaming, you say. Of course it will never happen ... unless, particularly in this bad economy, enough fans stand up like Howard Beale in "Network" and declare, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday fillers

*I'm all for thoughtful urban planning, but at a time when developers (save for CVS) aren't exactly banging down the dours in economically challenged Kingston, the concept of a building moratorium along parts of Washington Avenue is bizarre.

*Here is how all the scripts for last night's New York City TV newscasts went (and remember, all were independently written): "Our big story tonight is the impending snowstorm. We have team coverage." Cut to first reporter standing near a highway garage, while the camera shows mounds of road salt. "Crews are getting ready... 12-hour shifts... snow going ..." Then cut to the reporter standing along the side of a New Jersey highway. "It will be a messy commute tomorrow night. ... Drive carefully ..." Then cut to the taped piece at a Home Depot, where managers are reporting the shocking information that people are buying shovels. Then cut to a supermarket, where people are said to be stocking up on bread and milk (although the shelves are far from bare). (By the way, this is the New York Metropolitan area, where snowfall totals aren't expected to exceed six inches. And even if it's more snow than that, do the bread and milk shoppers really believe they'll be stuck inside their homes for days?) Then cut to the weather person and the map and the whites and pinks and greens. Team coverage! Virtually the same on every channel. And winter isn't officially here.

*Memo to headline writers in sports departments, including ours: Don't make fun of names. Or are we just going to see how many different ways we can jostle Putz?

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Sorry to learn of the passing of Jerry Gillman.

Jerry and his wife, Sasha, founded radio station WDST and created unique programming that earned it national recognition.

And who can forget the famous Jerry Gillman voice?

Jerry Gillman was opinionated and erudite. the Woodstock community and beyond will miss him.

Condolences, too, to the Badalato family on the death of young Cody, 14.

The grandparents are Tony and Barbara Badalato, now of Lake George, formerly well-known in Kingston School District athletic and academic circles.

It says here ...

*Is there anyone who doesn't believe the Caroline Kennedy appointment to the Senate is a done deal? Seems to me the only way it won't happen is if Kennedy changes her mind and withdraws her name from consideration after encountering reporters from one end of the state to the other who appropriately ask her if she's qualified.

*Maybe you have no sympathy for those who lost their life savings in the Wall Street Ponzi scheme, but I do. You didn't have to be a millionaire to be vulnerable. And this scandal, many fear, may be just the tip of the iceberg.

*To all those who are lambasting Gov. Paterson's proposed budget, haven't you heard, the nation is in a recession, the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression? It's been in all the papers.

*If you get the Sundance Channel, zero in on Elvis Costello's weekly talk-music show "Spectacle". Guests so far have been Elton John, Lou Reed and Bill Clinton. Next week it's James Taylor.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The day after

We're still trying to digest the small print in Gov. Paterson's proposed budget. What's clear is there's a lot not to like and special interests are already on the war path. But I haven't heard anyone dispute these basic points: Times are extraordinarily tough and there will be pain.

The Daily News' Bill Hammond puts it nicely in perspective here.

Words of Wednesday

*How'd you like to be in a business in which your competition uses your space to steal your customers? That's one of the crazy elements in the cable-satellite TV media wars. Most visible these days is Verizon, which is plugging the heck out of its FIOS service on TV channels piped into homes via cable or satellite. You'll also see cable commercials aired on satellite-delivered channels and vice versa. Imagine how this would work elsewhere. How about a Poughkeepsie Journal ad in the Freeman. "Buy our newspaper, it's better than this one." Maybe a ShopRite sign in Hannaford's. "Our meat prices beat this store's."

*Adam Sandler sang a Neil Young song (for real) on Letterman the other night. I don't care much for Sandler's TV and movie work, although there seems to be a market for it. But I'm begging you, Adam, stop butchering the work of rock legends.

*Imus has been out sick the last couple of days. For a guy who supposedly lives a healthy lifestyle now that his drinking and drugging days are behind him, he always seem to be ill. Anyway, Bernard McGuirk has done just fine in Imus' absence.

*Why does anyone with a contrary view want to be a guest on the programs hosted by Bill O'Reilly or Chris Matthews? It's just a license to be clobbered. Matthews disagreed with a former Bush administration official last night. No surprise. But he barely let the guy get in a word to offer his point of view. Matthews asks a question and then asks it again three different ways even when his guest is in the same pew. When he's not, the repetitive questions are more in the form of harrangues. Of course, O'Reilly is no different from the other side of the political spectrum. His recent shouting match with Barney Frank no doubt pleased the base, but was an embarrassment. Again, why subject yourself to the ridicule when you know coming in that's what you're going to absorb?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Score one for newspapers

If you're me, a four-decades veteran of the daily newspaper business, you're looking for all the good cheer and ego-builders you can find in these troubled times in our industry.

Here's one to consider from the Washington Post's Richard Cohen.

Paterson's budget

In the normal course of events, a governor of New York offers his State of the State in January, then a week or so later, he unveils his proposed Executive Budget.

After the State of the State, in which a governor outlines a wish list of exciting initiatives, editorial writers invariably say, "The devil is in the details." Meaning, it all sounds good, but what's it going to cost? Then we get the budget message that deflates the State of the State rhetoric.

This year is different for a number of reasons, led by the monumental fiscal crisis the state (and everyone else) finds itself. So David Paterson did a smart thing: He offered his Executive Budget today, a full five weeks ahead of the state constitutional required date, and before his State of the State.

Paterson didn't sugar coat this budget. New York is in its worst shape since the Great Depression, so plan accordingly, he said.

And now we'll see how the Legislature responds to the tough medicine.

One thing rank and file lawmakers can't say is that Paterson didn't give them enough time to do their due diligence and still pass a final plan by the spring deadline.

Our editorial board will be commenting in more detail on Paterson's budget on Sunday's Opinion page once it's been more carefully reviewed. But for now, we applaud the governor's resolve and timing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Paterson and SNL

Hey, what's the deal with Gov. David Paterson?

If nothing else, in his brief time in office, the "accidental governor" has boasted a neat sense of humor, often making fun of himself and his lack of sight. (Paterson is legally blind.)

So why is he so worked up about "Saturday Night Live's" skit about him?

Sure it was tasteless. But it was a scream. Comic Fred Armisen had Paterson cold. The look, the voice, the expressions, the timing. If Tina Fey had Sarah Palin down pat - and she did - Armisen nailed Paterson.

As The Associated Press pointed out this afternoon, "Paterson has used self-deprecating humor for years, riffing on his own blindness regularly, even on national television. The patter has only increased praise from advocates for the disabled black man who worked his way through Albany's stodgy Senate, was elected lieutenant governor and, in March, became governor."

"I can't recall the last time a politician has reacted negatively to being lampooned on 'Saturday Night Live,'" Marist College pollster Lee Miringoff told AP. "It humanizes them. At least your name is on the marquee."

"I don't mind that they make fun of me, but I thought it was important of me to stand up for people who don't have a voice and don't have a job," said Paterson.

The National Federation of the Blind called the skit an "attack on all blind Americans," AP reported.

No it wasn't. It was four minutes of political satire on "Saturday Night Live," the home office for all things mocking for over three decades.

I'm hoping Paterson gets a grip. Maybe the financial pressures of the job - and they're considerable - have put him in a bad mood.

Who isn't in a bad mood?

That's why we need something like thison "Saturday Night Live" to lighten the mood.

The weekend notepad

* Satirist Harry Shearer, on his NPR program Sunday, was the latest to ask a simple question: If things are going so well in Iraq, why does the president have to make a "surprise" visit? You'll know it's safe there when a presidential journey to Baghdad can be announced in advance.

* Army fired another football coach the other day. They've had a succession of coaches at West Point over the last couple of decades. Army football started going downhill in the '70s. For a variety of reasons that have little to do with football, the academy has not been able to attract enough good players. So what's the brass done? It's hired and fired qualified coaches, creating an unstable program. Is instability the message they want to teach the Cadets?

* On "60 Minutes" last night, in the first segment, I thought I heard Massachussetts Democratic Congressman Barney Frank say the economy will turn around by late 2009. Then, in the second segment, an expert on the housing crisis (sorry, I didn't catch his name) painted a horribly bleaker picture. Do you suppose anybody really knows for sure?

* Speaking of the economy, I made a very unscientific observation yesterday. It occurred to me as I was driving on East Chester Street Bypass towards the town of Ulster shopping district that traffic was extremely light for what should have been a busy day less than two weeks before Christmas. Ordinarily at this time of year, that stretch of road is like the Long Island Expressway at rush hour. Not yesterday. It doesn't say much for the amount of commerce being transacted this holiday season.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Senate dance card

When it comes to replacing Barack Obama as U.S. senator from Illinois, that state's governor was allegedly looking for pay to play.

In New York, the Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton has attracted plenty of suitors, too, although fortunately it doesn't seem likely money will pass any hands to obtain it.

No, in New York, it's not dough, but dancing - as in the tap dancing act being performed by some wannabe senators.

Outside of Caroline Kennedy, the name drawing the most public attraction is Andrew Cuomo. To read how he's coping, check out this analysis in today's New York Times.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


So here we are again, the first of what likely will be many bad winter weather days.

The weather forecasters are doing their jobs, alerting the public about what may happen. They have to do it. But they're also scaring the bejesus out of people.

At Ye Olde Freeman, we'll toil as always putting out a newspaper, keeping our fingers crossed that the power doesn't go out, setting us back countless hours. We've moved up our deadlines, just in case. And that also will get delivery vehicles on the road a couple of hours earlier than normal.

But the roads will be dangerous, we're told by the weather forecasters. Some routes will take much longer than usual to complete. Some may not be delivered until later we'd prefer, if rural motor route drivers fear getting behind the wheel.

And then, tomorrow morning, the phones will start ringing in our Circulation Department, as customers - apparently not having looked out the window to see ice or snow or whatever else is slowing us down - berate our clerks for not having received their paper on time.

It's days like these when San Diego sounds awfully nice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


* More bad news from the media world: National Public Radio is eliminating 85 positions. No media outlet is exempt from the hard times, even NPR, which has enjoyed increased popularity in recent years.

* You're Major League Baseball. More than anything else, your institutional integrity has been marked by a harsh anti-betting platform. The Black Sox Scandal. Pete Rose. Zero tolerance on betting on baseball. Post-career suspensions for Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays for being greeters at Atlantic City casinos. Tough stuff. So where does Major League Baseball conduct its annual winter meetings this week? Las Vegas. Go figure.

* Speaking of baseball, Tony Kubek will be inducted into the broadcasters' wing of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Kubek, a former Yankees shortstop, was a superb analyst for years with the Yankees, Blue Jays and NBC. Good choice. Kubek was incisive and took no prisoners. He walked away from the money and the game in 1994, saying the greedy players turned him off. Right on! But can we really believe, as Bill Madden reports in today's Daily News, that Kubek hasn't watched a single pitch of a baseball game on TV since his retirement? Can't be. Tony, please, come back to us.

* Next time we write about our state's dysfunctional government, I promise to think about the governor of Illinois.

Meanwhile, in TV land

Newspaper layoffs here and most places continue. Major financial problems and the first (Tribune Co.) of what may be more bankruptcies has been declared.

But it's not just newspapers suffering in this changing media and economic climate. Broadcasters are similarly in tough straits. One example jumped out at me this morning when I read that WNYT-TV (Channel 13 Albany) has cut a number of positions, including popular anchor Lydia Kulbida.

How popular? Not only is the Channel 13 news top-rated in the Capital District, Kulbida routinely places first among area TV types in the Times Union's annual reader polls. (And having worked with Kulbida on WAMC, I can attest to her journalistic and broadcasting chops.) Yet her contract won't be renewed and she'll no doubt be replaced by lower-priced, less experienced talent.

When will the figurative blood-letting end? I wish I could tell you. But it's as bad as I've ever seen it in four decades on the job.

The fate of the media business may not mean a hill of beans to people who have their own personal financial issues, and that's understandable. But I'm here to tell you that there are negative consequences for a democracy when its newspapers and TV and radio stations don't have the wherewithal to put enough reporters' feet on the street.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Shots fired!

Did the headline get your attention? Good, it worked. That's what headlines are supposed to do.

But it's more than that. "Shots fired!" suggests violence, crime, mayhem. That's not really what this blog entry is all about. It does, however, point to what people want to read, their protestations fo the contrary.

Here it is, early afternoon, and the "Most Popular" story on our Website so far today is about "Shots fired" near Kingston High School last night. The story runs a few paragraphs and it appears in the top left corner of the second page of our print edition. It's several stories down the list on Yet it's the one that's been most-read on the site.

This story didn't rise to the level of the front page of the newspaper. Certainly not the top of the front page. But reader interest on the Web suggests that had the editors put it on the top of the front page, we would have sold more newspapers today.

My point is, when we do print more serious crimes or other controversial stories "above the fold" on the front page, we get the usual array of calls and letters from people alleging, "You're only interested in selling newspapers."

Fact is, we are interested in selling newspapers and I'll not make any excuses for it. But if we were "only interested in selling newspapers," stories like "Shots fired near KHS" would be spread across the front page every day, even though in this case, at deadline last night, it wasn't conclusive enough to be there.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Boss

When the Freeman was sold by the Goodson Newspaper Group to the Journal Register Company in the late '90s, my brother-in-law asked how it impacted me.

"I'm working for George Steinbrenner now," I told him, knowing he'd catch my drift.

Boss Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees was a visionary. He also was a brilliant administrator, sharp businessman, driven personality, loud, energetic, competitive, impulsive, sympathetic, profane, motivating, infuriating and a host of other adjectives, favorable and unfavorable.

At Journal Register Company, that also described my boss, Bob Jelenic.

Bob Jelenic died this week at 58. Cancer claimed him much too soon, about three years after it forced him to retire from the newspaper business.

Yes, Jelenic was all of what I mentioned about Steinbrenner and then some. He was bigger than life.

His decisions impacted thousands of employees, often not to their liking. Indeed, many will never forgive him for hard-line business decisions that impacted them negatively. "It's my job," he told me one day in a rare letting-down of his guard when discussing a particularly wrenching decision.

In many ways, Jelenic was ahead of his time. He understood the concept of running a tight ship long before most other newspaper company executives, who have since followed his model. Other companies are doing things today that Journal Register Company was doing a decade ago.

I'd be lying if I told you I didn't grimace each time my assistant said he was on the phone. But our conversations nearly always went well. Many more of his messages were encouraging than scolding. And we generally had time for a few minutes to chat about hockey, one of the Canadian-born Jelenic's passions.

Above all, Bob Jelenic was fair. All he asked from his publishers and others in his employ was dedication, hard work and good results.

I'm a better publisher for having worked for and with Bob Jelenic.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

From the notepad

*I'm watching the Grammy nominations last night. B.B. King is scheduled to sing. (When B.B. King is on the bill, I'm there.) But before he comes on, several performers sing tunes made famous by others. Mariah Carey does a Darlene Love Christmas favorite. Christina Aguilera tries her voice on a Nina Samone classic. I'm an old white guy, but I'm there. But I'm gone when Foo Fighters (David Letterman says they spend their time fighting foo) murders Carley Simon's "You're So Vain". (Aren't those lyrics written for women singers?) And a young songstress named Taylor Swift (I'm an old man and I've never heard of her) offers a flat "I'm Sorry," the Brenda Lee standard. As for the nominations, the pop culture has long since passed me by. The names of most of the honored artists are mysteries to me. Now I know how my parents felt when I started listening to rock and roll in the 1950s.

*Come to think of it, here's another hint that I'm a senior citizen and then some: After the Grammy nominations show there was a Victoria's Secret special. I watched 10 minutes, then turned on the news.

*Really, is George W. Bush still president? It's like the man has disappeared. The Obama administration is under way, inauguration or no inauguration. And, the Constitution aside, I can live with that.

*How is Ulster County Executive-elect Mike Hein's 21-member economic development task force doing? I can't tell you. It's a secret.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Spitzer emerges

Remember Eliot Spitzer? Yes, that guy. He's pretty much kept to himself (and, hopefully, his family) since his shocking fall from grace. But now that he's not facing criminal charges and the personal legal issues involving his hooker friend and others have been resolved, the former governor is stepping out of the shadows.

The New York Observer has the scoop on where you'll be able to find Spitzer.

On deck

It looks like David Gregory is getting the nod to host the prestigious "Meet the Press" on NBC, succeeding the late Tim Russert.

That's not good news for those of us who predicted everyone from Katie Couric to Tod Koppel. But that doesn't make it a bad choice.

In fact, Gregory has done an admirable job in various high-profile roles, including White House correspondent, fill-in host on "Today" and hosting his own MSNBC program. In fact, it's said he's the guy the network saw as successor to Matt Lauer on "Today".

I'd prefer to give Gregory a nudge in a different direction: How about a year on "Meet the Press" to solidify his chops, then promote him to anchor of the "Nightly News"?

Put current anchor Brian Williams on long-form features. They'd be perfect for his long-form questions and wordy introductions.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fox News vs. MSNBC

You may have heard us from time to time on the Media Project talking about the merits, or lack thereof, of Fox News Channel and MSNBC.

Leave it to Jon Stewart to put it into focus.

A summary of his observations (with accompanying video) appears on the Huffington Post site.


It looks like Elliott Auerbach of Ellenville has emerged victorious over Jim Quigley of Kingston in the contest to be Ulster County's first elected comptroller.

The best part about this race was that county residents couldn't lose.

Although we believed Quigley had much better credentials for the job, that didn't mean we were unimpressed with Auerbach. On the contrary, both men struck us as solid citizens and fully capable of taking on the challenges of this new position.

Auerbach has long been one of the Freeman's most loyal readers and biggest boosters in his part of Ulster County. Thus, he likely was more than just a little bit disappointed when our editorial page endorsement went to his opponent.

But now that he has the job - presuming no last-minute recount shocker - let the record show that he has our full confidence.

Bruno the lobbyist

Once one of Albany's "three men in a room," former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno is now on the outside looking in. Or is he?

Check out this profile of Bruno, lawmaker turned lobbyist, in today's New York Times.

Monday, December 1, 2008

No sale

A snapshot of lost patience (mine) and lost business (a major local retailer):

Two of us are making a variety of purchases today for a newspaper promotion. We're using my company credit card for ease of billing. We've run up a fair amount of charges by the time we get to one of our stops, at which we select a $200 item.

My card runs through the machine and the clerk says it has not been approved.

"Can't be," I said. "Try it again."

He does. Same result.

Maybe I exceeded the limit, I thought. So my colleague tries his credit card - same carrier. It, too, was disapproved.

"Have you used the card here before?," the clerk asked. "Sometimes this happens and we have to call."

"No thanks," I said, not able to hide my exasperation.

So we departed the store having not made the $200 purchase.

On to the next store we went. We found the same item. My card cleared with no problem and we completed our purchase.

I wonder how many other sales the one store is losing due to what appears to be a credit card system that's both inefficient and inaccurate?