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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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1 Comments:

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