Posts Tagged ‘media’

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.

North Country journalism wins

Will Doolittle (Source: Glens Falls Post Star)

We’ve been grumbling a bit lately about cutbacks and challenges in the North Country’s media culture, so why not enjoy a couple of quick victory laps?

First, a shout-out to Will Doolittle at the Glens Falls Post-Star, who won a Society of Professional Journalists award for his reporting on veterans dealing with the aftermath of Agent Orange exposure.  This from the Post Star.

The series was told primarily through the struggles of a local man, Charles Cooley of Fort Edward, whose benefit payments were stopped after his condition worsened and he applied to have his disability level raised.

As a direct result of the stories, Cooley’s benefits were restored at a higher level and he received a lump sum check to cover back payments.

“This is a great example of what great journalism can accomplish,” Post-Star Editor Ken Tingley said. “These stories changed the life of Mr. Cooley and helped to right a wrong. You cannot ask for anything more rewarding than that.”

And another big kudo to former NCPR freelancer Jacob Resneck, who has a byline in this week’s USA Today, reporting from Turkey on the continuing violence in Syria.  Here’s a taste:

Former Syrian secret police operative Zakaria Mohammed walked for three days from Dier al Zour to get here this weekend, he said. He deserted after regime troops arrived and began indiscriminately killing civilians and members of their own ranks who hesitated to follow orders.

“They call it the security solution,” he said. “But it’s inhumane. They have been stripped of every sense of humanity. They’ll take a whole family to prison and torture them.”

Pretty cool for journalists from our corner of the world to get that kind of exposure and recognition.  Congrats…

North Country newspapers face deep job cuts, budget pressures

Glens Falls Post Star (of 10/31/11)

The last couple of years, a simmering debate has unfolded here on the In Box and in other venues over the future health of the Adirondack-North Country journalism culture.

That often-heated conversation was revived this month by news that the Glens Falls Post Star’s corporate owner had decided to cut a third of the newspaper’s reporting staff.  (News of the decision was first reported by blogger Mark Wilson.)

Dan Alexander, publisher of the Denton Publications chain of newspapers, based in Elizabethtown, blasted the decision in an editorial as “nothing more than greed.”

He questioned “the corporate culture that is killing the sense of community these organizations once had.”

More shocking than the cuts at the Post-Star and the 51 other Lee Enterprise-owned papers who made similar large-scale staff cuts across the country, was the announcement just days before that Lee CEO Mary Junck was awarded a $500,000 bonus and CFO Carl Schmidt was awarded a $250,000 bonus.

Of course, the Post Star isn’t the only newspaper squeezing its editorial staff.

This spring, the Watertown Daily Times eliminated its long-standing and highly respected Washington DC bureau.  (Hat tip to TomL for pointing this out.)

“Well, the saddest part about all these lost bureaus, and now the north country’s, is the stories that never will be written because the paper won’t have eyes at the Capitol to see them,” wrote Marc Heller, WDT’s veteran Washington correspondent.

Lake Placid News publisher Cathy Moore is also cutting the reporter position at the weekly paper.  (Corrected:  the LP News is a weekly, not a daily.)

And the Plattsburgh Press-Republican continues to require that reporters take mandatory unpaid furlough days.

(All of these newspapers, with the exception of the Watertown Daily Times, are owned by corporate chains, headquartered outside the region.)

Why does all this matter?  It means fewer journalists out on the beat, for one thing.  That means fewer eyes on local government, fewer people tracking important stories.

But tightening budgets will also, inevitably, mean fewer really great reporters sticking around in the North Country.  If you can’t earn a decent living, pay your  mortgage, maybe earn enough to put your kids through college — you’re not going to stay, right?

Complicating this dreary news is the fact that some elements of the region’s media culture are thriving.

Denton Publications — also locally owned — has continued to build a stronger and stronger newsroom, breaking more important stories across the region.

NCPR, which is licensed to St. Lawrence University in Canton, has been adding staff and stringers, with new people on the ground now in the Plattsburgh-Burlington area and in Watertown.

Then there’s the growing clout of bloggers and “citizen journalists,” exemplified in this case by the professional-grade reporting and analysis of Mark Wilson, who broke the story of the Post-Star’s cutbacks.

What we know for certain is that the media culture — and the business of media — are changing rapidly, because of technological changes, new patterns of corporate ownership, new ways that people use media.

We also know that this process is hurting a lot of great reporters, leaving them unemployed and with few prospects.

What we don’t yet know is how well the public will be served going forward.  Will there be enough alert, skeptical, curious people out there to serve as watchdogs, community bulletin boards, and information sharers?

As always, your views welcome.

Does the newsroom have a glass ceiling?

The number of 2011 New Yorker articles written by men and women. Image: VIDA

My friend from college is an up-and-coming D.C. print journalist. We’re always checking in and comparing notes about our work. But her latest memo detailed a strange sort of sexism she’s encountered in the journalistic world: “You are a girl,” she told me. “So you’re expected to write about girl things.”

Girl things is short for women’s issues: contraceptives, abortion, parenting, and, yes, the “war on women.” But my friend wants to write about public policy and campaign finance. She has no interesting in writing about the pill. None at all.

According to a 2011 count conducted by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, that’s precisely what female writers are expected to do.

“When it comes to a career in journalism, chicks should stick to writing about chicks,” VIDA co-founder and poet Erin Belieu lamented to Mother Jones.

Belieu and her colleagues counted the number of articles written by women in publications like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Harpers. Their conclusion: that between 65 and 75 percent of the material was written by men.

And then there’s the issue of who writes which stories. Do men get all the serious bylines, while women write about women’s issues–or worse, fluff? Here’s Belieu:

“A friend of mine defines this kind of intellectual segregation as the “tits and nether bits” ghetto, a place in which women only speak to other women. Meantime, men are allowed and encouraged to speak to whomever they want. We also want to give women writers the confidence to say, “Hey, I can write about whatever I want. I have authority. I have expertise. I have a unique perspective as a person, first and foremost.”

I like covering and reading about women’s issues because I care about them. But I shudder to imagine a journalism career in which writing about women’s issues proved its own glass ceiling.

What do you think? Should women be the people covering women’s issues? And is journalism still a man’s game?