Newspaper endorsement

Media Literacy Week

newspaper endorsmentWhen I read the Vanity Fair article, Is the Newspaper Endorsement Dying? and similar articles elsewhere, I was sad, but for a slightly different reason than one might think.

“Alden Global Capital—the second-largest newspaper publisher in the country—began adopting a new endorsement policy. ‘[The Boston] Herald stands for the people, not pols,’ read the headline of the Herald’s editorial, which went on to announce that the paper would stop endorsing candidates in presidential, gubernatorial, and Senate races…” Now, there may well be endorsements at the more local level.

“Earlier in the piece, the editorial staff offered some context for the decision. ‘As America’s political divide continues to deepen, the role of traditional news media as impartial providers of a common set of facts is more vital than ever,’ the editorial began, citing the ‘increasingly acrimonious’ nature of public discourse ‘with misinformation and disinformation on the rise.’

“At this particular moment, the [Hartford] Courant added in their editorial, the ‘partisan selection” inherent to endorsing political candidates “is counterproductive to achieving the essential goal of facilitating healthy public debate and building trust in our journalistic enterprise.'”

Other newspapers are cutting back as well. It may be “prudent” not to offend their shrinking customer base. Indeed, “a committee of editors from Gannett newsrooms nationwide [recently]… recommended the company’s papers avoid making endorsements in [statewide] races… ‘Readers don’t want us to tell them what to think’ and ‘perceive us as having a biased agenda,’ the committee said… citing editorials and opinion columns as not only ‘among our least read content,’ but a ‘frequently cited reason for canceled subscriptions.'”

The Wire

A friend of mine pointed out that writer David Simon, way back in 2009, “expresses fears for newspapers’ future and accuses media owners of contempt,” some of them rightly so. Ultimately, he was making a case for online paid subscriptions, which has had mixed success.

More pervasive in the years since is the cult of personality that has become more important than real news. In The Hollywood Reporter, psychotherapist and media theorist MJ Corey views the cultural sway of the Kardashians. ‘There is a sadomasochistic element to the way they put themselves out there.’ The sociologists and philosophers who have foundationally influenced your thinking on media — Jean Baudrillard, Marshall McLuhan, and Daniel Boorstin — spoke a lot about the acceleration of media, spectacle, and the creation of the self.”

Another Hollywood Reporter story, this by Keli Goff, suggests Trevor Noah’s “decision to leave his Comedy Central show — and the continued decline of late night it signals — back to the politician who first eschewed legacy media,” Sarah Palin.

“Palin’s [Katie] Couric interview became fodder for memorable sketches on Saturday Night Live, but the fallout also led to the political divide that defines media consumption today. Palin wrote off the press as condescending, mean-spirited, untrustworthy, and out to get people like her (non-elites who would rather hunt than read.) People who saw themselves in her began to write the press off, and the rise of social media finally made it easier for them to do so.”

Pushing back

Some papers, including the Albany Times Union, want to push back. Editor Casey Seiler noted, “To be clear: The editorial page doesn’t direct news coverage, and it isn’t beholden to opine only on topics the Times Union’s reporters have covered.” Knowing Seiler somewhat, I’m willing to take him at his word.

But many folks do not. They perceive the mainstream media – or “lamestream media,” as Palin called them, as intrinsically unfair. There was a recent poll that was conducted by the New York Times indicating that the Republican generic House candidate had a 4-point edge over the Democrat. This was a straightforward story unless you read right-wing media, which I do. Newsmax indicates that EVEN The New York Times had to ADMIT that Democrats were losing. A very different spin.

Even a decade ago, people would share with me some info nuggets. I’d ask the source; they’d say Facebook or Twitter. “But what SOURCE, not the platform?” Even then, it was a struggle to get my point across. Now, what Kim Kardashian tweets about is treated the same as, and indeed is followed far more closely than, actual news on the legacy media. And THAT makes me sad.

Hope?

Still, I always try to find hopeful signs. The New York Times notes that this week, October 24 to 28, is Media Literacy Week. The article Teenagers and Misinformation: Some Starting Points for Teaching Media Literacy – the link SHOULD be available to you – has lots of useful information. “Five ideas to help students understand the problem, learn basic skills, share their experiences and have a say in how media literacy is taught.”

Number 3 is Learn from teen fact-checkers, specifically “the MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network, which publishes fact-checks for teenagers, by teenagers. According to the site, the network’s ‘fact-checks are unique in that they debunk misinformation and teach the audience media literacy skills so they can fact-check on their own.'”

Some of this, I would think, is common sense. Mike Caulfield, “a digital literacy expert… has refined the process fact-checkers use into four simple principles:

1. Stop.

2. Investigate the source.

3. Find better coverage.

4. Trace claims, quotes, and media to the original context.

Otherwise known as SIFT.”

Even adults could make of the methodologies described in the article.

CDTA’s Purple BusPlus v. NIMBY

neighborhood

cdta purple routeThis is one of those topics I would have put in my Times Union blog. But alas, it’s gone. Still, you folks not in Albany, NY, might find it interesting if something like it comes to your neck of the woods.

The Capital District Transportation Authority is currently building the Bus Rapid Transit/Purple BusPlus Line, which will run more frequently and make fewer stops. It will connect Crossgates Mall, UAlbany, Harriman, and Downtown Albany, mostly along Western Ave. it will be funded with federal money.

Recently, I signed a petition supporting the bus stop at the corner of Colonial Avenue/Eileen Street and Western Avenue. The petitioners believe the proposal will:
● Reduce traffic on Western Avenue, which can be quite congested.
● Provide better and higher quality access to transit in the neighborhood, potentially enabling many drivers to transition to public transportation. Sidebar: parking in downtown Albany is sparse and expensive.
● Make a busy intersection more pedestrian and cyclist friendly, something I always favor.
● Be a great asset for the neighborhood students relying on buses to get to North Albany Middle School and Albany High School.

The planned stop will be lighted and sheltered, with improved pedestrian access/crosswalks/beg buttons and heated sidewalks to melt snow and ice in winter. CDTA has committed to using it for tripper buses to bring kids to school.

Naysayers

A counterproposal from a few neighbors suggested relocating the stop to Brevator, where Western crosses over Route 85. That intersection has comparably little housing north of Western and has far fewer residents nearby. “Relocating the stops to this less centralized street will increase walking time to the stop and make it more challenging for residents to take advantage of the route.

“Looking at the proposed purple line from the CDTA website, the distances between Allen St. and Colonial (0.6 mi) and the distance between Colonial and the East Harriman Campus stop (0.6 mi) are already at the upper end of the distance that CDTA prefers between its BRT/BusPlus stops.

“If a stop is placed at Brevator instead of Eileen and Colonial,” which are central to the neighborhoods, “the distance between the two stops will be 0.8 mi, which is a very long walk for those who live between those streets; let alone those who have to walk a couple of blocks just to get to Western.”

I miss not being in the TU because I could point out the newspaper’s shortcomings in its article. It didn’t point out the benefit to school children or the university. Instead, it focused on the fervor of the discussion at a recent city hall meeting rather than the substance.

I figure I should bug CDTA, my city council member, my state assemblyperson, and anyone else I can think of.

I’m going to miss Ken Screven

a fixture in his community

Damn. I’m going to miss Ken Screven. Ken, who reported for decades at WRGB/CBS6, the first African-American television reporter and news anchor in the Albany market, passed away on May 18 at the age of 71.

I first met Ken back in 1979 when he was covering an arts program at Hamilton Hill in Schenectady, but he doesn’t remember that. He did remember that he interviewed me in January 1985 when we were plugging a benefit concert called Rock for Raoul, in memory of Albany cartoonist/FantaCo employee/my friend Raoul Vezina.

For a number of years, we had this nodding acquaintance. I was going to church in Albany’s Center Square and he lived literally around the corner.

I watched him on the air with his booming voice and compassionate, intelligent presence covering a wide range of stories. One of his best was The Mystery Of Screven County. this was a 3-part series he made in 1996. “Ken spent a week with a producer and a cameraman in 1996…searching for the connection to his name…to a place called ‘Screven County, Georgia’. It was a journey that took him to New York City…Maryland…Savannah Georgia…and the low lands of South Carolina. It went on to win the award of ‘Best Documentary’ from the NYS Associated Press Broadcasters Assn.”

Ken was, as the Times Union’s Chris Churchill noted, “the most recognizable black person here in one of the nation’s whitest metropolitan areas.”

Retirement?

It was The End Of An Era when Ken retired from WRGB after 34 years. Retirement suited him. He was outspoken on Facebook and in his Times Union blog. Since I was also on the TU platform at the time, we ended up comparing notes about audience reactions.

While some, including me, loved what he wrote, others were upset. And part of it was that he acknowledged stuff he had to endure as a black man in the sometimes parochial Capital District. Sometimes, it’s not the big stuff, it’s the little irritants that get under one’s skin. “Gee, you don’t sound black on the radio.” He wrote about being the only black kid in his class, something I could relate to.

When he reviewed the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, he noted, “Even though [James] Baldwin died in 1987, and much of his words contained in the movie reach back 50 years, the issues Baldwin talks about are still with us, raw and festering in the minds of many of Trump nation… This is a significant spotlight on an America we thought no longer existed.” His disdain for Donald J. was unapologetic.

As he noted in  The Conscience of the Newsroom for the New York State Broadcasters Association, he encountered “racism as he joined WRGB.” He insisted on “relating the humanity and heart behind the news.” Correctly, I believe, he felt “the art and craft of reporting are succumbing to the demands of the market-driven news cycle.”

Profiled

Ken was often profiled. For our PBS station WMHT, he was part of the
Breaking Stereotypes | Out in Albany series. “Ken Screven, a broadcasting trailblazer, talks about life as a gay black man. Originally from New York City, he started in broadcasting in 1973… ‘When I came here I said, ‘OK, this is your authentic life. The person that you’re supposed to be. And who you are.'”

For Spectrum News: Screven Remains Active, Despite On-Air Retirement (Feb. 18, 2019). Years after his retirement from WRGB-TV after 38 years of telling stories that touched everyone, reporter Ken Screven remains a fixture in his community, from his Albany Times Union blogs to his active social media following. This Black History Month, we take an in-depth look at the trails he blazed to become the first black on-air reporter in the Capital Region.”

Chuck Miller and I had an idea for some Times Union bloggers to get together. I jokingly suggested having it at Ken Screven’s place because Ken was having some mobility problems. Chuck actually pursued it, and it was so. Twice, actually, in early 2015 and late 2016.

Talking at FPC

It may be that the last two times I talked with Ken in person were at funerals at my church. In January 2019, it was after the funeral of Bob Lamar, the former pastor of the church. While we were talking, one of the choir members said he had a voice like a Stradivarius, which was true.

Almost exactly a year later, we talked after the service for our friend Keith Barber. It was at that reception where Ken took this selfie of us, though he didn’t send it to me until a year later, with the message, “Be well.”

In February of 2022, Ken was facing “mounting medical bills.” He went from hospital to rehabilitation a couple of times. His friends started a GoFundMe campaign and raised over $33,000, crushing the goal of $25,000. I contributed, of course. But should this be the way we do health in this country?

Ken was a 2009 Citizen Action Jim Perry Progressive Leadership Award recipient and the In Our Own Voices 2018 Community Advocate honoree. In 2020 he was honored by the Albany Damien Center with its Hero Award, for his commitment to educating and advocating for the community.

But more than that, he was my friend, who died too soon.

Binghamton and Albany, NY

140 miles

I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in upstate New York, specifically Binghamton and Albany.

A while ago, Kelly sent me a link to Walking America, part 2: Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott. Photos and thoughts from Broome County, New York.

Of course, Binghamton is my hometown. But I can’t argue with the first sentence. At all. “Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott are either the northern-most cities in Appalachia or the eastern-most in the Rust Belt, depending on what expert you talk to.” Even when I lived there, there were people suggesting the Appalachia designation.

(It doesn’t help that there is a Census-Designated Place called Apalachin in neighboring Tioga County. It’s less than 10 minutes west of Endicott and 15 minutes from JC. Apalachin is 20 minutes from Binghamton, the Broome County seat, and the only one of the Triple Cities which is actually a city, as the other two are villages.)

It can only get better

At Binghamton’s nadir, in the 1990s, the Boscov’s was the only major retailer keeping downtown Binghamton afloat. It depressed me greatly.  In fact, for years, I just didn’t go downtown at all. I’d be in Broome County attending the Olin family reunion. But it was held in one of two parks in Endicott. And we’d stay in Endicott or Vestal, or even an hour away in Oneonta at my in-laws.

When I was a Binghamtonian, Harpur College/SUNY Binghamton seemed remote. (It’s technically in the town of Vestal.) So it didn’t have that economic stimulus some colleges provide to their locales. I’m thrilled the new businesses downtown, driven by the college kids now living there, has created new opportunities.

Still, as the article notes: “They are struggling towns with good people trying to keep their heads afloat. Towns that haven’t recovered from all the lost jobs that were once here, like making shoes [Endicott-Johnson, where my mother briefly was employed]  or making computers [IBM, where I spent five months before college], and all the good people that left because of that.”

Capital city

I saw this article in the Albany Times Union: Ex-Capital Region news anchor schmoozes with extremists in a bid for Arizona governor. Ugh.

“Former WNYT Channel 13 television anchor Kari Lake… is greeting supporters who include a Jan. 6 insurrectionist, an anti-mask advocate, and a Nazi sympathizer… ” Of course, she’s being supported by 45.

“In August 1998, she moved to the Capital Region… At the time, Lake told the Times Union she ‘just wanted to live in a real nice place. And that is Albany.’ Some 15 months later,  Lake was finished in Albany…”

But I think she was right about one thing at the time. “‘It is so parochial here. I could be here 30 years and feel sort of new… We came all the way across the country, to find out just how much we miss home.'”

I used the P-word when I wrote about the place back in 2013.  My theory was that it does take about three decades to fit in with the unspoken norms. I moved here in 1979, so I’m nearly as close to a native as can be.

98 acres

Still, I wasn’t present when 98 acres were leveled to build the Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, “a massive modern office complex” designed to transform ‘historic but shabby’ Albany into a ‘brilliant, beautiful, efficient and electrifying capital.'”

Well, there are modern office buildings, performance spaces, and many other amenities. But at a cost. “7,000 people, old and young, black and white, immigrant and native-born” were displaced as well as “more than 400 businesses, most of them small—neighborhood groceries, grills, taverns, tailors, and shoemakers.

“Over the course of two-and-a-half years, as the State demolished 1,150 structures to clear 40 city blocks, residents and businesses were forced to move out.” Occasionally, I STILL find someone who will lament the loss.

Two visits

Walking America has made TWO visits to Albany, The first contains this paragraph: “Here, the poverty and wealth are juxtaposed against a downtown filled with politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists who claim to care about the very inequality they are surrounded by, making it a physical metaphor for the failures of our political class.” Ouch. 

And he had avoided the aforementioned Empire State Plaza the first time, so he came back. “Avoiding it wasn’t fair though, because the Plaza dominates Albany, both spatially and as the manifestation of a technocratic philosophy found in every modern political center: The idea that government, empowered by the best and brightest, wielding ‘Science!,’ can mold humans, cities, and societies into their better selves…

“While the [surrounding] blocks are poor they also have what the Plaza doesn’t have. A genuine humanness.” The last part, alas, is certainly true. This doesn’t mean I don’t care for the place – and changing it back is impossible -but the downtown, in particular, is a bit soulless.

Still, I’m not looking to live elsewhere. Given the vagaries of climate change, being here suits me just fine.

Dad’s observation

Here’s one thing my late father, who grew up in Binghamton, but moved to Charlotte, NC in 1974, noticed. He made a comparison between his old city and his new one. Binghamton is near the Pennsylvania border, just as Charlotte is close to South Carolina. One has to travel northeast to get to the state capital, 140 miles to Albany, 175 to Raleigh, NC.

Writing your own obituary

You matter

ObituariesWriting your own obituary? First of all, I should note that I’m not in imminent danger of dying. As far as I know. I suppose I could be mistaken. In any case, I’m betting against living another six decades.

The idea of writing my obit appeals to me. It’s mostly because I recognize that the task can be onerous. Writing it yourself alleviates the stress of your family and friends having to take on the task. Of course, you also have to face up to your accomplishments. You might say, as  Peggy Lee did, “Is that all there is?” Conversely, you might be forced to consolidate the bullet points. That racquetball trophy I won in 1989 won’t make MY list.

I love a good obituary. It’s like any compelling story. I remember leafing through The Last Word: The New York Times Book of Obituaries and Farewells: A Celebration of Unusual Lives by Marvin Siegel. Where this happened, I don’t remember, but it was several years ago. Thrift Books reviews speak to me.

“Rather than an ode to death, this book cherishes lives once lived by all kinds of people. Whether brilliant or simple, rich or poor, actions great or discreet, each of the people written about contributed to society in a meaningful (and often surprising) way.”

“You wouldn’t think a book of obituaries would be entertaining, but it is when the obits are well-written and celebrate the lives and characters of the 100+ people found in this collection. The subjects are most often unknown to the majority of us, but the various authors (including well-known NYT obituary author Robert McG. Thomas, Jr.) humanize each subject and inspire you to contemplate your own life.” Yeah, that.

The recent prompts

I started thinking about this – again – because of a May 14 New Yorker article, Telling the Stories of the Dead Is Essential Work. This was a COVID-19 -related tale.

Then there was an October 15 commentary in the Albany Times Union. “On the obituary pages, reflections of lives fully lived” was written by Karl Felsen, a local retired public relations executive. His daughter, in the time of COVID, had asked Karl and his wife to write their own obits. “If you have a favorite picture, include it.”

Felsen quotes poet Jim Harrison. “Death steals everything except our stories.” He started perusing the longest obituaries in the TU. Charles P. Rougle lived a fascinating life “that ran from Montana to Moscow, from Sweden to Slovenia. A translator and expert in my many languages, a woodworker sand cello player on the side.” Someone Felsen wished he had met.

Of the collection of obituaries that he read, “They were here. They lived. They mattered.” So Felsen’s going to write his own obit. “It’ll be long, celebratory, and mostly true.” He’s “come to the conclusion that crafting your own final story is one way to stay busy living.”

I’m inclined to do this. Maybe not next week, or next month, but probably in the next year. Have any of you done this? Any pointers? This could be an interesting posthumous “ego trip.”

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