Blogs > City Editor's Blog

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

Sunday, December 30, 2007

20 years ... and counting

When I first came to the Daily Freeman – 24 years old, newly married and only 2-1/2 years out of college – my game plan was to stay for no more than three years, then move on, probably to a bigger paper in a bigger city.

But then I was promoted from copy editor to city editor, bought a house, had a kid, and next thing you know, I’ve worked at Kingston's daily newspaper for 20 years.

Exactly 20 years, in fact, as of this coming Wednesday – my start date was Jan. 2, 1988.

But lest anyone think I’m the exception to the rule, I’d urge you to look around our newsroom. Sure, we have turnover among young reporters and copy editors, as all small papers do, but a core group of us has been there for ages, forming what I truly believe is the solid foundation on which the Freeman of the 21st century is built.

Life section reporters Bonnie Langston and Blaise Schweitzer both predate me, as do Publisher Ira Fusfeld, Managing Editor Sam Daleo and Assistant Managing Editor Tony Adamis.

Political Editor Hugh Reynolds, arguably the most recognizable name and face at the paper, started long before me. And two of the guys I share the City Desk with – Assistant City Editor Matt Spireng and Ulster County Editor Tom Wakeman – have markedly longer tenures than me.

Sports Editor Ron Rosner started just after me, but two of his longtime reporters – Don Treat and Mike Stribl – have enough newsroom years between them to make me look like a rookie.

Typist Carol Schaff has years on me, too, and our Rhinebeck bureau reporter, Patricia Doxsey, joined the Freeman around the same time as me.

That’s more than a dozen newspeople at a small-town daily who all have more than 20 years under their belts with the same company. Some of them have passed 30 years, and a couple are closing in on 40.

Not to brag, but that’s pretty amazing. And I’m proud to be a part of it.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Beam this guy a clue

Ted Moustakis, a Trekkie from New Jersey, claims he was ripped off by Christie’s because a visor for which he paid $6,000 to the venerable auction house – which said the head piece was worn by a character on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” – is, in fact, a fake.

Six-thousand dollars? For a visor? I think you’re missing the big picture, Ted. You got ripped off even if the thing is authentic.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Fun With Anagrams (or ... Amusing Wrath Fan)

Thanks to Mark Rosen, host of WPDH-FM's annual Christmas Eve show, for this nugget of rock 'n' roll trivia (which I'm probably the last to know):

"Mr. Mojo Risin'," a line repeated several times in the song "L.A. Woman" by The Doors, is an anagram for the name of the band's late lead singer, Jim Morrison.

Sadly, the only anagram I could come up with for my own name, Jeremy Schiffres, was Mr. Jersey Fish Fecs. (Well, there's also Mr. Jer Fishy Feces, but let's not go there.)

Actually, there are dozens -- sometimes hundreds -- of anagrams for most word combinations, and there are numerous sites on the Web that let you plug in words find out what the letters will spell in different orders. Here are two of those sites. Enjoy.


Monday, December 24, 2007

What we Jews do on Christmas

A hilarious video that’s been making the e-mails rounds …

Whatever your religion and traditions, have a peaceful and joyous holiday season and a happy and healthy New Year!


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Multiple-choice forecasting

As of 11:45 a.m. Saturday, here’s the National Weather Service’s Sunday forecast for the Kingston area:

“Overcast with showers. Becoming windy in the afternoon. High around 45. SE winds 10 to 15 mph, increasing to 20 to 30 mph. Chance of rain 90%.”

And here are the two main sentences in the “High Wind Watch” for the Kingston area on Sunday, also courtesy of the National Weather Service and posted on the same Web page at the same time as the above information:

“Sustained winds of 20 to 40 mph will be likely, with gusts around 60 mph. Some mountainous locations could experience wind gusts of 65 to 85 mph.”

For heaven's sake, WHICH IS IT?!


Just the facts, Ma'am

There’s an old saying in the newspaper business: “When in doubt, leave it out.” It means that if you’re not sure about something, don’t report it.

A woman in Red Hook should have taken that advice on Friday.

I didn’t get her name, but she called me at the Freeman City Desk about 6:30 p.m. to ask if I knew what was going at Hudson Valley Mall. She said she had heard the town of Ulster shopping complex was in “lockdown” because there was an armed man on the loose inside.

Referring her to a story that already had been on the Freeman’s Web site for about two hours, I assured her that no such crisis existed. It was a case of mistaken identity, I told her, in which a person had called 911 about 3:40 p.m. to say there was an armed man in the mall’s parking lot, heading for the Citizens Bank branch near Macy’s, but that police quickly discovered the “suspect” was an off-duty cop who was carrying his service weapon. I told the woman that the situation did cause a brief flurry of activity outside the mall – police cars from three agencies had swooped in, and some of the officers were donning bullet-proof vests when a Freeman photographer reached the scene – but that the tension dissipated quickly when authorities realized there was no threat to the public’s safety.

The woman thanked me for the information and then asked me for the URL to the Freeman’s Web site. I assumed she simply wanted to read the story I had just described. But, in fact, she said she wanted to put a link to our story on the Web site operated by her community group. And she assured me she would remove the erroneous information from her group’s site immediately.

What she was telling me, I suddenly realized, was that she had posted the equivalent of a news story on her group’s site to inform the public that an armed man was on the loose inside the mall. She hadn’t bothered to call police, the mall or anyone with knowledge of the situation before posting the information; she simply accepted as fact what she had heard as a rumor, and she repeated it in such a way that readers of her group’s site probably believed it.

This is what scares me about the Web, and it’s a perfect example of why people should be skeptical of what they read online.

The Web is a virtually boundless resource of useful information, to be sure, but it also is cluttered with inaccurate nonsense posted by people who – simply because they can -- act as news reporters without having any training in the profession. They mean well, I’m sure, but they often wind up doing more harm than good by writing and posting what they believe to be true rather than what they know to be true. (In the case of the Friday incident, for instance, imagine the reaction of someone who read the Red Hook woman’s “story” and became gripped by fear because a family member was shopping in the mall at the time. How awful.)

News reporting is not the regurgitation of gossip, rumors and speculation. It is a craft that requires thoroughness, accuracy, attention to detail and an absolute certainty that what is being written is true.

And it is best left to the professionals.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Shame on you, Jamie Lynn! (And Nickelodeon, too)

Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant.

Sixteen years old. Kid sister of celebrity train wreck and Worst Mother of 2007 Britney Spears. Pregnant.

Star of “Zoey 101” on wholesome, kid-friendly TV network Nickelodeon. Pregnant.

I’m trying to teach my 13-year-old son -- a Nickelodeon viewer, by the way -- about responsible behavior between male and female teenagers … and Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant.

And what does Nickelodeon do? It releases a statement that reads: "We respect Jamie Lynn's decision to take responsibility in this sensitive and personal situation. We know this is a very difficult time for her and her family, and our primary concern right now is for Jamie Lynn's well-being."

If I were you, Nickelodeon, I’d worry more about the network’s image than about Jamie Lynn’s well-being. She’s got doctors and a rich family to worry about her well-being. You probably should worry about angry parents boycotting your shows and their advertisers.

And I’d rethink that statement, too. Perhaps this instead: “We are aghast that a 16-year-old role model for young girls would engage in such reckless behavior. We do not condone sexual activity at such an early age, and we find it appalling not only that Miss Spears would choose to have intercourse, but that she would do so in a manner that frequently results in unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.”

And then cancel her show.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Part of the plan

I was saddened to learn early Monday about the death of Dan Fogelberg, one of the great singer/songwriters of the 1970s and early 1980s. He was taken by cancer on Sunday at the far-too-young age of 56.

Fogelberg often was overshadowed by the bigger names in his genre -- notably James Taylor and Jackson Browne -- but he was every bit as gifted, and I was proud to call myself a fan.

His guitar playing simple, his vocal style understated, Fogelberg nonetheless touched the hearts and souls of countless listeners with such wonderful songs as "Same Auld Lang Syne," "Make Love Stay," "Longer," "Part of the Plan" and "Leader of the Band" (a YouTube clip of which appears below).

I only saw Fogelberg in concert once -- in 1991 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center -- and perhaps only now do I realize now how lucky I was to have had the experience, and how much emptier the music world is today because of his passing.

Rest in peace, Dan.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

School slush

How is it possible that virtually every road in Kingston is clear of snow this morning, but Merilina Avenue -- the road that runs between Harry L. Edson Elementary and J. Watson Bailey Middle schools -- is a complete mess?

At 9:45 a.m., the road was covered with several inches of slushy, rutty muck that looked like it had been tamped down by vehicles but untouched by plows.

Knowing that schools would be open today, wouldn't it have made sense for the city to pay special attention to the roads nearest the schools?


'Roid redux

I wrote the following in August, but it bears repeating today in light of the Sen. George Mitchell's report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Major League Baseball players.

Here’s how to get steroids out of Major League Baseball, once and for all:

Tell the players -- all of them -- that they have to submit a urine sample every day of the season, and if they test positive for a banned substance even once, they’re done. Out of the game. Forever.

What could be simpler?

And if the players’ union objects, shut down the league. Forever. Having no baseball games at all would be far better than having games in which every accomplishment has become suspect.


Thursday, December 13, 2007


When I woke up at 7 a.m. today, the forecast for the Poughkeepsie-Kingston area being shown on The Weather Channel called for 6 to 10 inches of snow.

And hour-and-a-half later, at 8:30 a.m., the forecast had been revised and called for 4 to 6 inches of snow.

Now, at 10:30 a.m., the forecast calls for 5 to 8 inches of snow.

How about a little truth in forecasting for the next update: "Snow is falling outside. It will continue to fall for much of the day. Total accumulation can be ascertained by waiting until the precipitation stops and then sticking a ruler in the snow outside your home."

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The madness has begun

It's 7 a.m. Thursday, not a flake of snow has fallen, and virtually every school district in the Hudson Valley has canceled classes for the day.

There'll be snow later, probably a lot, meaning most of these districts will be closed on Friday, too.

Then we're supposed to get another storm on Sunday, so schools inevitably will be closed on Monday.

At that point, the start of winter still will be five days away, and, in all likelihood, the Kingston school district will have used three of its 2007-08 "snow days," and Onteora, which burned two in recent weeks, will have used five.

Is it any wonder that this is the only part of New York state in which school districts don't give kids a week of vacation time in February? They can't. They allocate too many snow days, and then they use up that allocation simply because they can.

How silly.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

There's supposed to be snow in the Hudson Valley on Thursday. Maybe 6 inches or more.

Let the mass hysteria and overreacting begin!

I mean, seriously, I’ve lived in four places in my life – in order, Rochester, Buffalo, Saratoga Springs and Kingston – and never, ever before moving to Kingston did I witness such irrationality over winter weather.

In Rochester and Buffalo, no school or business would close before there was a foot of snow on the ground. Here, a dusting of white powder sends school districts into a panic; a few inches closes everything within 50 miles; and a foot leads to a “state of emergency” being declared.

In Buffalo, a foot of snow falls and the kids get on the buses and go to school. In the Hudson Valley, a foot of snow falls and local leaders ban all but emergency driving. Unbelievable.

It’s winter, folks. We live in the Northeast. We get snow. But instead of simply dealing with the weather and getting on with our lives, we treat it like a catastrophe. We run to the grocery store to stock up on milk, eggs and bread, as if no more food will ever get through to our region; we stage a run on snow shovels and blowers, as if we don’t already have these items in our garages; and we make sure to have sufficient stockpiles of bottled water and batteries, in case the power goes out and we have to live in darkness for days ... perhaps weeks ... maybe months!!

If people in the central and western New York snow belts witnessed this lunacy, they’d laugh uncontrollably for hours. And they’d be justified.

And by the way, we’re supposed to get more heavy snowfall on Sunday. So if you’ve forgotten to overreact to the expected Thursday storm, fear not -- you’ll have another chance in a matter of days.


Friday, December 7, 2007

SEX! (OK, now that I have your attention ...)

A story on page A3 of Thursday's Freeman said the Kingston school district is banning student clothing that advocates sexual activity.

I wonder if high schoolers in the 1960s got in trouble for wearing T-shirts that said "Make Love, Not War."


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Whopper of a mistake

There’s a photo on page A3 of this morning’s Freeman of several students from Meagher Elementary School in Kingston sitting in a limousine, waiting to be taken on a victory ride for being the top sellers in a recent PTA fundraiser.

Unfortunately, the ride was to Burger King for a celebratory lunch.

This is how we reward our children for a job well done? By giving them greasy, fattening, completely unhealthy fast food?

We hear so much these days about kids’ poor eating habits, about the skyrocketing obesity rate among our nation’s young people and about how schools should do more to promote nutrition. And then we congratulate the winners of a school contest by letting them load up on Whoppers, French fries and sugared sodas. Lovely!

Send a mixed message to children, and the best you can hope for is a mixed result.


Monday, December 3, 2007

Winter blunderland

On Saturday, the weather prognosticators told us there would be an inch or two of snow on Sunday, a mix of sleet and freezing rain Sunday night into early Monday and then a mix of rain and snow all day Monday.

It’s now 9:45 a.m. Monday and the sun is out. Another fine job, guys!

And speaking of weather, I couldn’t help but notice when I was in Syracuse the day after Thanksgiving that it snowed for about 10 hours but nothing accumulated on the roads. Here, it snows for 15 minutes and roads become slick and dangerous. The difference? Snow-trained cities like Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo get their roads salted both before and during snowfalls, causing the wintry precipitation to melt on contact. Here, the people in charge of cleaning our roads let the precipitation fall for a while before doing anything about it-- if they do anything at all. (The side street I live on in Kingston was never touched by the city on Sunday.) And they almost never use salt. The result is dangerous driving, car accidents that could have been prevented and far too many school closings when there’s less than an inch of snow on the ground.


Gas pains

The price of oil has plunged more than $12 a barrel since topping out at $99 two weeks ago.

Funny how the price of gas at the pump hasn’t retreated at all in that time.