Blogs > City Editor's Blog

By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Just the fax

I still remember the first fax machine I ever encountered. It was at The Saratogian, where I had my first newspaper job after college, in the summer of 1985. It was called a “telecopier” back then, it sat on a window sill in a conference room (out of sight and out of earshot from the newsroom), and we used it for exactly one thing: to receive daily horse racing results from Saratoga Raceway, the local harness track. And there was no e-mail back then, so any other written information that needed to reach the newsroom had to be either snail-mailed or hand-delivered. Seems like the Stone Age. Hard to believe it was only 22 years ago.

Today, there isn’t a newsroom in the nation (perhaps the world) without a fax machine, and I can’t imagine being without ours at the Freeman. We rely on it for so much information: event announcements, police reports, obituaries, business news, local sports scores, public meeting agendas, letters to the editor, advertisements, even the occasional menu (unsolicited) from a local pizza place.

And, oh yes, press releases from politicians. Reams and reams and reams of press releases from politicians.

Now don’t get me wrong – we appreciate receiving information from the people elected to public office by local residents. But some of it borders on the ridiculous. This, for instance, from the office of Gov. Spitzer, faxed to the Freeman at 6:38 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30: “Updated advisory for May 31, 2007. Governor Eliot Spitzer is in New York City and has no public schedule.”

Seriously? We needed a fax to tell us the governor would be making no public appearances the next day? Wouldn’t the absence of a fax have accomplished the same thing? This would be funny if not for the cost. We get a fax from Spitzer’s office every evening about his next-day schedule – regardless of whether he has any events planned – and the same fax presumably is sent to every newspaper, radio station and TV station in the state. That’s a few hundred long-distance fax calls per day, 365 days per year, all at taxpayer expense. (And it’s not just a Spitzer thing, by the way. His predecessor, George Pataki, did it, too.)

Then there are the faxes from our local representatives in the U.S. House and Senate and the two houses of the state Legislature. Every time a bill of even marginal interest to the public is approved, each local member of the chamber that took the action sends us a fax that announces the passage, explains what the bill is about, tells us how he or she voted and includes a few sentences of opinion on the matter. All well and good, but isn’t there a way these people could get together and send us joint faxes – especially if they’re in the same party and voted the same way? If it’s a U.S. Senate bill, a single page from Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton would save time, money and paper. Ditto for the House: Can’t we get a joint communiqué from Democrats Maurice Hinchey, Kirsten Gillibrand and John Hall rather than three separate faxes? I guess individual desires for the limelight forbid it.

But politicians DO, from time to time, send us information that we need. Last week, for example, we received a fax from Spitzer’s office telling us the governor would be marching in the Memorial Day parade “in the town of Pine Plains in Columbia County.” Just one problem, Governor: Pine Plains is in Dutchess County.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Picture imperfect

OK, about that picture of me -- the one with the baseball cap and sunglasses. Call it my lame attempt at anonymity.

The picture wasn't taken specifically for this page. It actually was shot about a year ago, by my wife, as I sat in the driver's seat of a Chrysler convertible on a sunny and VERY hot day (nearly 100 degrees) in Palm Desert, Calif. But when it came time to select a picture for my blog, it was the obvious choice -- because it hides my face a bit.

It turns out I have the perfect job for a guy whose ego needs to be massaged every now and then but who doesn't want to be recognized. My name is in the paper every day (in the upper left-hand corner of the Opinion page), but because I spend most of my work day in the Freeman's main office on Hurley Avenue in Kingston, my face is not well-known around town. And that's a good thing, because I've come to learn over the years that when people find out I work for the local paper, and that I play a role in deciding what gets into print, they want to bend my ear. A lot. Until it nearly breaks. They want to sound off on local issues, or tell me what's wrong with the paper (including things I have no control over, like delivery), or beg me to get something printed for them, or -- I kid you not -- ask me why we're not able to provide the same depth of coverage as The New York Times.

I suppose I have no one but myself to blame for these encounters -- especially if I've willingly told the people what my job is -- and I'll never shy away from discussing (and defending) the Freeman. But in general, and for the sake of being able to enjoy my time out of the office, the less I'm recognized, the better. So when it came time to select a picture for my blog, I went with the one that disguises me a bit.

But then it dawned on me: When I'm out and about in Kingston on a warm, sunny day like today, I tend to where a baseball cap and sunglasses. So if you're looking for me -- and want to chat me up about the Freeman -- I guess all you have to do is keep an eye out for the guy in the picture. I shouldn't be hard to find.


Monday, May 28, 2007

I (sort of) love a parade

I have a confession to make: I've lived in Kingston for 19 years, and I've been to only one Memorial Day parade. Today, I'm going to two: the Hurley parade this morning, and the Kingston parade this afternoon.
In the interest of full disclosure, though, I should 'fess up that I have a personal connection to today's events: My son, Marc, is in the marching band at J. Watson Bailey Middle School in Kingston, where he's a seventh-grader, and the band is participating in both parades. So I, y'know, kinda, sorta HAVE to go. I'm not crazy about parades, but I really AM looking forward to today's. I'm sure both will be enjoyable, and I know the Bailey band will steal the show!
To all, have a safe and healthy holiday, and enjoy the day off from work (if you're lucky enough to have one).
Tomorrow, perhaps I'll explain that sunglasses-clad picture of me.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Difficult choices

You may have noticed a story on page A2 of our print edition this morning, and on our Web site, about a woman's body being found in the Hudson River nearly a month after she committed suicide by jumping off the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge.

We often get asked why we report some suicides but not others, so allow me to explain.

The rule of thumb long has been that we'll report a suicide only if it is done in public -- jumping off a bridge, shooting oneself in a store or restaurant, for example -- or if the act involves a publicly known person. If a mayor, a school district superintendent, a well-known local singer or the city editor of the local newspaper decides to end it all -- even in the privacy of their own home -- the details almost certainly will be published in our paper.

A suicide committed in private by a person who is not in the public eye generally will not appear on our pages.

This is a matter we do not take lightly -- and we understand that publishing a story about a suicide can exacerbate an already-difficult situation for the family of the deceased -- but we believe this policy is in line with our responsibility to inform readers about matters of public interest.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Hot time, summer in the valley

Some things to do around here this Memorial Day weekend:
* Find a pool or good air-conditioning. It's gonna be a scorcher!
* Take in the annual art and crafts fair at the the Ulster County Fairgrounds in New Paltz, the antiques fair at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck or Saturday's kickoff of this year's Old Town Stockade Farmers' Market on Wall Street in Uptown Kingston.
* Throw a steak or some burgers on the grill, and tell me what time I should come over.
* Avoid driving too far. Gas prices these days are just ridiculous. (And -- sorry to repeat myself from the other day -- PLEASE don't drink and drive.)
* Catch one of the local parades. I plan to be at Kingston's and Hurley's on Monday because my son's marching band (from J. Watson Bailey Middle School in Kingston) will be in both.
* Wish my wife a happy birthday if you happen to run into her on Sunday. She's turning 29. (Yeah, right.)
* Catch the Yankees-Angels series, either at the Stadium or on TV. It may not be the Subway Series or the Red Sox rivalry, but there's rarely a dull moment when these two teams get together.
* Take at least a few minutes to remember what Memorial Day is about. It's fine to have a barbeque in the back yard and look for sales at the mall, but don't forget the U.S. military personnel who died in service to our country. (And remember all the U.S. troops who currently are serving in harm's way.)
* And, of course, have a safe and happy holiday!


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Not responding to responders

Little more than a week into my blogging adventure, I've discovered the sometimes-dark side: That little "comments" link at the bottom of each entry that allows readers to post responses. Comments posted on my first few entries were genreally friendly, congenial and congratulatory. "Nice job." "Good luck." That kind of thing.
Then a guy calling himself "Honest Abe" showed up. His sole purpose in posting responses appears to be bashing the Freeman. He apparently doesn't like our newspaper. At all.
That's OK. He's entitled to his opinion. My father used to say it's everyone's right to complain about their hometown paper. It looks like Honest Abe agrees with Dad.
But make no mistake. I'm not going to use this blog, or the comment area, to engage in confrontations with people who post responses -- especially people who refuse to identify themselves. (Honest Abe's user profile doesn't provide his name; and his own blog, which is linked from his profile area, is equally anonymous.)
The purpose of my blog is to share observations, insights, experiences and a sense of what life is like in the world of newspapering. Comments, anonymous or otherwise, most certainly are welcome -- and I read them all -- but I'm not going to be drawn into debates, or arguments, with people who are trying to get a rise out of me.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Keep your nose clean

One of the most common calls I get at the Freeman City Desk is from the person who's been arrested and wants his or her name kept out of the paper.
The answer is no. Every time.
If you read the print edition of the Freeman, you know that we publish short items, usually on page A2, recounting arrests made by local police agencies. We can't write up every arrest -- there simply are too many in the four counties that we cover -- so we long ago established guidelines about which crimes we report and which we don't. And if you get busted for one of the crimes we cover -- and the arresting police agency gives us the information, as it is supposed to do -- your name is going to be in the paper.
And if you think we make exceptions for people we know and like, or people who are prominent in the community, you're mistaken. Freeman employees have had their names in our crime stories. So have elected officials, police officers, a county sheriff, relatives of a congressman and a local bank president. The rules are the same for everyone.
There's only one sure way to avoid having your name and the word "arrested" appear in the same sentence in our paper: Stay out of trouble.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Getting ahead of thesmelves

I read today that weather experts -- specifically the folks at the government-run National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- are predicting a busier-than-usual hurricane season this year.
They predicted the same thing around this time last year, then altered their forecast dramatically about two-thirds of the way into the hurricane season because they realized how wrong they'd been. (You'll recall that no hurricanes hit the United States in 2006.)
Forecasters often have trouble predicting what the weather will be two or three days from now. We're supposed to believe, on May 22, that they know what will happen in August or September?


Monday, May 21, 2007

How many deaths will it take?

My blog has been pretty light-hearted so far, but not today.

If you read our print edition or Web site this morning, you know that an 18-year-old has been charged with drunk driving in a car accident before dawn Saturday in Woodstock that left a 19-year-old dead. It's not my role, or that of any newspaper, to pass judgment on the suspect. That's what the criminal justice system is for. And the district attorney notes the arrest was based merely on observations at the scene; that blood tests still could prove the suspect didn't break the law. So we'll wait and see how this plays out. But as we enter high school prom and graduation season, the time of year when far too many young people across the country are injured or killed in car accidents, it's worth repeating the age-old anti-DWI mantra: If you drink, don't drive; if you drive, don't drink. Yeah, I know, it's corny, cliched and simplistic. But it makes so much sense. And if everyone lived by it, the number of drunk-driving arrests, injuries and deaths in our society would fall to zero.

My passion about this subject is twofold:

First and foremost, I have a teenage son. He's only 13, but he'll be a passenger in some other teen's car within a year or two, and he'll be driving in three years. It's not too early to start pressing the "don't drink and drive" message, and my wife and I already have told him it would be better for him to call us for a ride at 2 a.m. than to get behind the wheel drunk or get into a car being driven by a friend who's been drinking. We'll remind him again next year, and the next, and the next. Whatever it takes to keep him safe.

To understand the other part of my passion, you need to know only three names: Julie Brown, Ruth Yudelson and Debbie Chesler. We grew up in the same town outside of Rochester. Julie was dead at 16, Ruth at 14, Debbie at 19. Debbie, in her car, and Ruth, on foot, were killed by drunk drivers; Julie, also a pedestrian, was killed by a hit-and-run driver believed to be drunk but never caught. These girls should be grown women now, perhaps married with teenage children of their own to worry about, but stupidity -- irresponsible, criminal stupidity -- denied them the opportunity.

We can't bring back Julie, Ruth and Debbie, or anyone else killed by a drunk driver. But we can -- and we must -- do everything in our power to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

That was the day that was

A few notes from Saturday:
* Kudos to the Relay For Life participants (and not just my wife, son and the Freeman team). A lot of hearty souls braved the rain to stay true to their cause, and they didn't let the weather dampen their spirits.
* To the guy who e-mailed me in the newsroom in the afternoon, wondering why we didn't have anything on our Web site about a man being found dead on a baseball field in New Paltz, I'd urge you to check more often for breaking local stories. When something is hitting the fan around here, we'll post at least a short story as soon as we have reliable facts. In the case of the New Paltz death, we had a story at the top of our home page by 12:30 p.m., long before your e-mail arrived.
* It was great to have our Internet service back at the Freeman. As you may know from reading our publisher's blog, we were without a Web connection from late morning on Friday until 6 a.m. Saturday due to a service outage near our corporate HQ in the Philly area. It would have been easier to go without food and water.
* The Sabres got bounced out of the NHL playoffs by the Senators this afternoon. So please, for the time being, ignore that line in my "About Me" profile that says I enjoy talking about Buffalo-area sports teams. Today, I enjoy no such thing.
* Lastly, a personal note to 'David in DC,' who posted a response to my previous item: Nice to hear from you by way of this very 21st-century medium, but some days, I'd rather be back in the hallway outside the choir room at Brighton High School in 1980, listening to you play 'The Rainbow Connection' and Tom Lehrer's 'Irish Ballad' on your guitar.


Friday, May 18, 2007

To life!

The annual Relay For Life, a fundraiser for cancer research, is being held tomorrow at Dietz Stadium here in Kingston. My wife, having lost her mother to cancer 14 months ago, is particpating, along with our son. And a team from the Freeman will be there to honor the memory of Hallie Arnold, a former Freeman reporter, Ulster County tourism director and all-around wonderful human being who died of cancer last summer at the far-too-young age of 40. Both of these women are deeply missed by the people who knew and loved them. Please keep them -- and all others who have battled this awful disease -- in your thoughts. And thanks, in advance, to all the people heading out to the stadium tomorrow (probably in the rain) in the effort to make a difference.


Thanks, Lynn

I haven't seen or talked to Lynn Brown in 22 years, but I suppose I should take a moment to thank her. It was Lynn, at the end of our junior year at Buffalo State College in 1984, who asked me to be one of two copy editors at our school paper, where she had just become the editor-in-chief. It wasn't the job I wanted, but I adopted a "team player" attitude and said yes. Four months later, I got a copy editing internship at the Niagara Gazette. Immediately after graduating from college in 1985, I was hired as a copy editor at The Saratogian. Two-and-a-half years after that, the Freeman hired me as a copy editor. I was promoted to city editor less than three years after that. And the rest, as they say, is history. But it wasn't until tonight, driving home from the job I've had for more than 16 years and thinking about what to write here, that I realized it was Lynn who started me on this path -- with a job offer that didn't even thrill me at the time. Maybe she knew something I didn't. Maybe she didn't have a clue. Either way, it seems an acknowledgement is long overdue. So thanks, Lynn.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Coming soon ...

Stay tuned for my first post. It's coming soon.
But I'll understand if you don't sit in front of your computer waiting for it. Feel free to go about your normal routine until it's ready.