Posts Tagged ‘media’

Former VTDigger journalist dies in kayak accident

Alan Panebaker. Photo: @alanpanebaker Twitter profile

I was deeply saddened to hear about Alan Panebaker’s tragic death in a kayak accident in New Hampshire on Wednesday. Alan was VT Digger’s first full-time reporter. He graduated from Vermont Law School in 2011 and reported on the Vermont Statehouse. He was 29 years old.

I met Alan this past spring when I was on a freelance assignment in southern Vermont. He was friendly and collegial, I knew his work. I remember thinking that Alan was type of journalist I hoped to be. In July Alan left VT Digger to work for American Whitewater, a non-profit that works to “conserve and restore America’s whitewater resources.”

You can read tributes to Alan’s life and work at VTDigger and 7 Days.


Morning Read: Post Star editorial embraces massive Adirondack conservation deal

Over the years, no one has been a more resolute watchdog of state management of the Adirondack Park than the Glens Falls Post Star.

The newspaper’s editorial page has often cast a skeptical eye on the relationship between key decisions inside the blue line and the influence of environmental groups.

So it’s noteworthy, to say the least, to see the Post Star embracing the massive Finch Pruyn land deal, which at roughly 160,000 acres is the largest single expansion of the forest preserve and of conservation easement protected land in the Adirondacks in a century.

The land is invaluable. It lies in the heart of the Adirondack Park and includes 180 miles of rivers, 175 lakes and ponds and six mountains, along with various bogs, fens and forests and a lovely waterfall, the highest one in the Adirondacks.

We have often criticized the state’s land policies in the Park, but we have nothing but praise for the way the 161,000 acres of former Finch Paper woodlands — purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 2007 — have been handled

Read the full editorial here.

100 Day Sprint: Is the media overplaying Mitt Romney’s chances? Yes.

The news media gets a lot of criticism during presidential contests for focusing on the ‘horse race’ stories, questions about polls and fundraising, rather than issues.

But I’m starting to wonder whether journalists are overplaying the idea that there is a real horse race here at all.

The Washington Post’s top political blogger Chris Cillizza has a lead column this week headlined one article “Obama’s running out of time.” Another of his columns was titled “Obama will need to make history again.”

Peggy Noonan, meanwhile, writing in the Wall Street Journal, argued that Obama’s supposed “You didn’t build that” gaffe is hurting him badly, describing the statement as “the gift that keeps on giving.”

Then there are political maps like the one offered by the New York Times, which shows a (relatively) mild 237-206 advantage for Obama in the current electoral college race, with 95 electoral college votes ranked as “toss-ups.”

I’m beginning to think that journalists — in their eagerness to balance their coverage and play up the drama of a presidential election year– aren’t burying an important story.

Here would be my headline:  As of the first week in August, the Republican challenger is getting beat and badly.  And time is fast running out.

Consider the evidence:  In the widely respected Real Clear Politics summary of the race, Obama already has 247 Electoral College votes solidly in his column or leaning heavily that way – just 23 shy of victory.

Even that assessment downplays (rather than overstates) Obama’s advantages.

Why?  Because RCP argues that Coloradio, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and Ohio are “toss-ups” rather than leaning Obama, despite recent history and Obama-friendly polling trends which have held steady through the entire campaign.

On that New York Times map, meanwhile, Wisconsin is ranked as “toss-up” and North Carolina as “leans Romney.”

This despite the fact that Obama’s advantage in Wisconsin (+6 in the RCP average) is far larger and more consistent than Romney’s advantage in NC (+.8% in the RCP average).

There is also the fact that widely respected political analyst Nate Silver now gives Obama a 70% chance of being re-elected, based on his state-by-state breakdown.

Added to these numerical advantages are growing indications that, despite a significant money advantage, Mitt Romney is struggling as a campaigner and a messenger for his party.

Lead Politico columnist Roger Simon wrote a devastating column last week arguing that Romney “needs to change the narrative, the conversation, the buzz, the impression left by his recent foreign trip that he can’t chew gum and chew gum at the same time.”

Combine that assessment with the fact that, by Politico’s read, Romney is only leading in one of the ten key battleground states that he needs to make this race a real race.

Obama leads by roughly 5% (or more) in four of those states, and by narrower margins in five others.

These facts taken together and framed by the fact that Obama is a sitting incumbent — albeit one burdened by a sour economy — make it hard to escape the idea that this is a decidedly lop-sided contest.

It also appears that, by the end of July, anemic job numbers and the unpopularity of Obamacare simply aren’t disqualifying Obama from a second term, as some analysts expected.

I would also add to the mix the fact that Obama’s team has once again run a ruthless, take-no-prisoners campaign, perhaps even more aggressive (and at times cynical) than in 2008.

So far, any fair-minded observers would have to say that, so far, Chicago looks hungrier and more agile than Boston.

With just three months to go before election day, that’s an important story.

It suggests that the Romney campaign will have to pursue a far more aggressive, risk-taking approach if the GOP hopes to pull off what would now qualify as a dramatic, come-from-behind upset victory.

Romney needs several things to break his way to shift a stubbornly entrenched electorate.   A brilliant convention.  An inspired vice presidential pick.  Or maybe a huge blunder by the Obama campaign.

Some journalists are finally beginning to nod to the underlying dynamic in this race.  Writing in the Washington Post, Dan Balz argues that Romney has put himself in a very deep hole.

The best that can be said about how Mitt Romney fared in July is that he survived. That has only raised the stakes for what the presumptive Republican presidential nominee needs to do in August.

Writing in the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky goes one further, making the case that the contest is essentially over.

There’s a secret lurking behind everything you’re reading about the upcoming election, a secret that all political insiders know—or should—but few are talking about, most likely because it takes the drama out of the whole business.

The secret is the electoral college, and the fact is that the more you look at it, the more you come to conclude that Mitt Romneyhas to draw an inside straight like you’ve never ever seen in a movie to win this thing.

I think Tomasky overstates the mathematical tilt of this contest, speculating about a “possible coming Obama landslide.”

The point isn’t really that Obama is all that likely to win big.

The point is that, unless the overall dynamic of the race shifts very soon, and Romney flips one or two big states, Obama is very likely indeed to win by at least a narrow margin.

And that’s all it takes.

7 Days ventures west, again

In this year’s Adirondack Issue, 7 Days blows kisses instead of raspberries across the lake.

Burlington weekly paper 7 Days published their annual Adirondack issue today. It’s a glimpse of across-the-lake culture for Vermonters, and features stories about the Adirondack Woodsmen’s School at Paul Smith’s, North Country wineries, the debate about the rail line from Old Forge to Lake Placid, and a personal essay on tubing down the Hudson.

It’s all pretty summer-y and upbeat. And it’s a far cry from last year’s issue, where a snide commentary on dreary nightlife in Plattsburgh sparked outrage among North Country readers and furthered the perceived disparity between Plattsburgh and Burlington. This year’s issue is a careful counterpoint that works to point out similarities between New York and Vermont, not differences. Take the story on mid 20th century artist artist Rockwell Kent, a “ballsy, left-wing activist as well as a prolific painter, best-selling author, dairy farmer, boreal adventurer, Thoreau-like mystic and notorious philanderer,” with deep connections to Vermont and northern New York both.

I’m curious what you think. Did 7 Days capture the Adirondacks you know? And are the places we live really so different?


Big ups for Jasmine

Kudos and many thanks today to Jasmine Wallace, here at NCPR this summer under internship through St. Lawrence University, for her true broadcast debut this morning during the 8 O’clock Hour.

Jasmine Wallace, at work in the NCPR web office.

Jasmine is a senior at SLU, and will be features editor for the school newspaper, The Hill News, this coming year. Her profile of Pat Curran and his wood pellet business in Massena was the capstone of a 3-part series this week on renewable and locally produced energy, and its place in the North Country economy.

You’ve heard Jasmine’s work before, in Heard Up North audio postcards from her favorite place: the stables where she keeps her horse, and where she rides most afternoons after she leaves the station. Find them here, and here.

She’s also an integral part of the web production team here, writing and editing text for news stories, finding photos, researching additional web content, and generally adding to the mix at

Her piece on air this morning got her out on the road in St. Lawrence County for a substantive story, requiring a fuller range of the public media journalist’s skills: research, interviewing, writing, and in-studio voicing and production.

Great job, Jasmine! What’s next on the story list?

Losing Andy Griffith

I’ve written a lot about the clumsy, painful ways that America’s national culture thinks about rural life.   It often amounts to a sort of minstrel show, with small-town characters translated into buffoonish caricatures.

The list of these shameful parodies is long, reaching an all-time low with Paris Hilton’s The Simple Life, which aired from 2003 through 2007.

From the Beverly Hillbillies to Hee-Haw to Green Acres, an entire genre of television has grown up around the notion that people living outside of urban America are rubes, hicks, and goofballs.

Into that troubled media landscape came the Andy Griffith show, which aired from 1960 to 1968, and then lived on in syndication.  I grew up watching the black-and-white program after school in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Griffith, who passed away this week, played the golden hearted, but often inadequate or uncertain father and sheriff.  He was a single parent in an age when single parents weren’t common in television.

The show wasn’t immune to the tropes of the genre.  Things could get pretty silly, with plenty of small town slapstick and corn-pone hijinks.

But this was the 19060s and the Andy Griffith Show tackled some pretty compelling issues, ranging from the growing independence of women in small town life, to rural poverty, to the growing influence of urban culture.

At one point, Opie even joins a rock and roll band!

While sitting around Floyd’s barber shop, the men of Mayberry chewed over everything from the Cold War to the space race.

Don’t get me wrong.  This wasn’t To Kill A Mockingbird.  The show, which was set in the South during the Civil Rights era, paid little attention to the crisis of race in America.

But the portrayal of rural life was, with rare exceptions, sympathetic and loving.  Yes, Mayberry was a romanticized place.  But it had recognizable textures, capturing real nuances of the actual experience of  small towns.

There is small-minded Babbitry, but there is also neighborliness, tradition, and a human pace.

And certainly when compared with the less savory portraits of non-urban culture, it transcended the genre.

The Andy Griffith show was, also, often simply a joy to watch.  I wish that more Americans these days had an entry point, a window into our way of life, as humorous, as warm and as cleverly written.




The heavy lift for journalists in 2012

Regular readers of the In Box know that I have plenty of appetite for — and fascination with — horse race stories.  And for good reason, I think.

The complex textures of political campaigns, the money, the messages, and the candidates’ style on the stump all matter quite a lot, shaping the thinking of voters and the ultimate outcome of elections.

But in 2012, there is a significant risk that this kind of story will obscure the really revolutionary heft of this election cycle, a vote that could radically change the direction and fabric of our society.

Think that’s overblown?

Consider that the two most prominent Republican leaders of the moment, presidential candidate Mitt Romney and budget leader Paul Ryan, have put forward spending plans that would dramatically shrink the role of government in American life.

This isn’t hyperbole, or political jingoism.  It is simply what the GOP is promising to do.

They have decided that the fundamental architecture of government, widely accepted since the late 1930s, should be dismantled and replaced with a model that more closely resembles the republic that existed prior to the New Deal.

In the past, journalists have assumed — correctly, I think — that much of this rhetoric was just that, election-year posturing.

From Ronald Reagan onward, the GOP has talked a solid conservative game and then cheerfully boosted spending, raised taxes, and expanded the national debt.

But the story this year is different.  Republicans in the House have flirted almost casually with the idea of defaulting on America’s national debt.

They have stated clearly that fundamental programs serving poor Americans — unemployment insurance, Medicare, student loans, and so on — are on the chopping block.

Programs that Republicans from Eisenhower to Nixon to Reagan embraced are now decried as European-style “socialism.”

The GOP has also embraced unambiguously the idea that corporations and wealthy Americans (or “job creators” as the GOP has rebranded them) should pay far less to fund the services we still receive from the Federal government.

This is a radical departure in a society where progressive taxation has been a mainstay for generations, particularly at a time when the wealthy pay lower taxes than at any other time in the post-Second World War era.

Telling this story doesn’t mean scaring senior citizens about Social Security, or buying into Democratic talking points about student loan interest rates.

What it means is simply examining the GOP’s own plan, taking it seriously, and explaining to voters the kind of departure that conservative leaders envision from the way of life Americans have experienced since Franklin Roosevelt was in office.

That’s a big story and so far reporters haven’t tackled it.

I fear that this is also one of those stories where journalists will be tempted to reach for false equivalencies, or for some kind of artificial “balance.”  But that’s just not factually accurate, not this year, not this election.

In fact, one of the big stories in 2012 is that Republicans and Democrats have essentially swapped roles in American society.

During the 1940s and again in the 1960s and ’70s, Democrats largely led the attack on the status quo, demanding huge changes in the way government operates.

The Democratic agenda was often pretty radical, spurred in significant measure by groups on the left who wanted swift, radical reforms.

But these days, Democrats — led by Barack Obama — have taken on the role of defenders of the status quo.

Their argument, boiled down to its essence, is that with a little tweaking and fiddling and belt-tightening, the Federal government that exists now works well enough, and has roughly the right amount of power and influence in our lives.

This is one of the reasons that President Obama’s “hope and change” message has lost so much luster in the eyes of his supporters.  The truth is that Mr. Obama, like Bill Clinton before him, appears fairly satisfied with the system that now exists.

Even Obamacare, widely viewed as this president’s biggest and most controversial accomplishment, is hardly a radical departure from the kind of Medicare and Medicaid programs that have existed for decades.

It’s been widely documented that the individual mandate, requiring people to buy some form of health insurance, was originally a conservative idea, one that favored personal responsibility and relied on private companies for its success.

That’s not a very exciting story.  As a consequence reporters are often tempted to buy into conservative talking points, that the Democratic agenda somehow represents a vast expansion of government power, or a new attack on free enterprise.

Journalists, economists, academics and even many right-of-center analysts who’ve examined those claims find that they are, bluntly, unsupported by fact.

The Obama White House has used powers that other presidents — including Republican presidents — have wielded for decades.

The point here — and this is important — isn’t that journalists should condemn the GOP’s agenda, or favor the Democratic vision.

Conservatives may, in fact, have formulated exactly the right agenda for the country, and their plan may be exactly what American voters want.

It may be that Americans will decide that the structure, powers and services of the Federal government, that have shaped so much of our society for so long, were a dangerous aberration, or are simply unaffordable, as many Republican leaders believe.

But my fear is that because of a lot of sloppy and lazy journalism, far too many voters will go to the polls next November not understanding the issues, or the stakes, or kind of future they’re deciding on.

Media Notes: Glens Falls Post Star ads paywall, Almanack gets new look, new paddling film

A few media notes for this Tuesday afternoon.  First is news that readers of the Glens Falls Post Star will, after today, be limited to fifteen free reads per month (CORRECTED).  After that, you’ll have to subscribe.

Meanwhile, the Adirondack Almanack — in its new partnership with the Explorer —  has a brand new look.

There’s a big new film from Mike Lynch, outdoor writer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise about the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

Also, the Saranac Lake based political cartoonist Marquil is now being featured in Newsday.

Morning Read: Governments behaving badly

So if there’s one broad bias that runs through the In Box narrative, it’s that I think government and politicians generally deserve more praise and respect than they get from voters.

But sometimes it’s hard not to shake your head at the shenanigans that public officials get up to.  Take the scandal in Jefferson County that involves topless photos of a sheriff’s deputy.  This from the Watertown Daily Times.

[I]n the state Supreme Court lawsuit, sheriff’s Deputy Krystal G. Rice, alleges that a detective took topless photographs of her in an online pedophile sting and that those photographs no longer can be accounted for.

Then there’s the simmering crisis in Lake Placid, where the school district superintendent is under siege from voters for describing some female staff members as “bitches,” and where the high school and middle school principal abruptly left her post last week.

This from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise:

Earlier in the evening, former middle-high school Principal Robert Schiller…said [superintendent Randy] Richards has exhibited “behavior unbecoming of a school leader, flawed decision making, retribution in the workplace, lack of respect for work environment, lack of effective communication, disregard for parents’ needs and concerns, and lack of long-range planning designed to return the district to a place of excellence in the North Country.”

This next story falls outside our region, but I just stumbled across reports that public school teachers in Buffalo were granted free plastic surgery as part of the contract — a deal signed off on by school district officials.

Last year, that provision cost taxpayers $5.9 million according to the Buffalo News.

The cost fluctuates from year to year because the district pays out of pocket for every procedure, rather than paying a set premium to an insurance company.

The benefit is used by about 500 people a year — less than 2 percent of those who are eligible for it.

Yikes.  In this age when governments, politicians, and public employees face constant criticisms and attacks, you’d think officials and union leaders would be smarter than that.

These scandals aren’t just gossip.  They have real-world impacts.

The sexual harassment case that forced Harrietstown supervisor Larry Miller out of office cost taxpayers $30,000 in settlement costs.  The sheriff’s office case in Jefferson County has sparked a $50 million lawsuit.

And in Lake Placid, it’s possible that the on-going turmoil in the district could convince people to vote against this year’s district budget, an outcome that could seriously disrupt education programs.

How do you see these cases?  Outliers?  Rare exceptions that draw most of the media coverage?  What’s your view generally of local government in the North Country?

Burlington Free Press a Pulitzer finalist

The Burlington Free Press has been named a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in the editorial writing category.

Editorial page editor Aki Soga and Executive Editor Michael Townshend were recognized by the Pulitzer Prizes website for “their campaign that resulted in the state’s first reform of open government in 35 years, reducing legal obstacles that helped shroud the work of government officials.”

Soga and Townshend have written extensively about public records reform and in 2010 won the Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award for their editorial campaign.

The other two finalists in the editorial writing category were the Tampa Bay Times and Bloomberg News. No winner was chosen among them.