Why Newspaper Readers Are Mad and Don’t Rent from Budget…

March 9, 2013

Why Newspaper readers are mad

Jay Jochowitz, the editorial page editor at the Times Union, complained recently on Facebook about the public’s anger in dealing with the newspaper. One commentator thought the problem stemmed from the Internet and the ability of people to rant and rave–as if letting the public speak and be heard is a bad thing in a democracy. My take is that the anger at the media stems from the breakdown of the distinction between the opinion pages and news pages.

People my age remember when stories on the New York Times news pages weren’t editorials posing as news stories. That breakdown should be seen through the prism of class. The news media is seen as a biased vehicle of those in power in this country. That means non-college educated Americans and working and middle class white males find their views treated with disdain at best in the national news media. Hence the anger, which in the case of the Times Union, is exacerbated by the fact that the TU does not allow readers to comment on news stories.

I suspect Jay and my friend Rex Smith, the TU’s editor, are in favor of allowing reader comments. Maybe they need to let corporate Hearst listen in on some of those angry phone calls. Then they can explain that one way to reduce the number and volume of those calls would be to allow readers to express their views on news stories as well as editorials.

Don’t Rent from Budget Rental Cars…

I made the mistake of renting from Budget on a recent trip to Albany. They were the first name on the list and had I known they are not on the airport, I would have skipped over them.

Having to get them to pick me up at the airport was only the start of my problems. Because it took so long for someone to pick me up, I was worried about being late for an appointment and misunderstood the agent’s explanation of gas payment options–a fact I only discovered when I turned the car in.

Now here’s why you shouldn’t rent from Budget. When I explained the problem to the agent when I dropped off my car, he told me I would have to call Budget’s 800#…which I did only to be told the Albany office is a franchise and I would have to talk to the owners. However, it’s impossible to get the owners on the phone. Either they’re not there or they pretend they’re not.

This problem is not unique to Albany. I’m in Tucson this week. One of the first stories I read in the local paper is about a similar problem. Someone was overcharged and corporate Budget tried to pass the buck blaming the franchisee.

Bottom line. Avoid Budget at all costs.


Sunday Best Stories & PQ Wrap

August 8, 2010

It’s August which means it’s time for people in the news media to take vacations, visit Saratoga and/or bring a novel to work…right? Thank goodness not all of the reporters around the state have gone awol. Some good work is being done and it ought to be read and appreciated.

Let’s start by thanking NY Daily News for publishing “How public worker pensions are too rich for New York’s – and America’s – blood” by two professors from George Mason University. They provide a nice overview, but the problem is that the numbers are so large as to be incomprehensible, and because pension obligations are entered into by thousands of individual governmental entities, there’s no easy solution. The day is coming when some of those will not be able to meet their obligations. Then what? Another bailout is coming folks, even before we’ve paid for this one.

On Saturday, The Times Union‘s Rick Karlin reported state layoffs have not been taken off the table by the good news that the nation’s taxpayers will be sending New York another $805 million for Medicaid and $620 million for education and Joe Spector pointed out that despite the state’s dire fiscal condition, $12.5 million worth of member items were approved for payment by the Comptroller’s office. Those monies include $100,000 for an organization lobbying against those who want to run a major new power line through central New York.

Question: Since when does the state fund public interest organizations? IMHO that kind of pork violates one of the fundamental principles of democratic government, which is if an issue is important enough to enough people they will be able to raise sufficient resources to make their opinion heard. To interfere in this process is to make a mockery out of the concept of one man, one vote.

There Ought to be a Law: No public interest (lobbying) organization ought to be eligible to receive funds from any government agency for any purpose. You’ve seen what that brings with Acorn. Without regard to the merits of issue itself, the power-line group should not be applying for nor should they be given public monies.

Inmate Census Story

The other big story being covered by the media this weekend is the law passed this past week which will have a major impact on New York’s political infrastructure — namely, the fact that prison inmates will no longer be counted in the census as living in the county where they are incarcerated. This practice which mirrors the time when slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person when allocating members of the Congress allowed upstate New York to have more political clout than it deserved in relation to the actual number of the citizens who were eligible to vote.

Gannett‘s Joe Spector — Areas with prisons to lose clout in redistricting — and the Dunkirk Observer‘s Robert Rizzuto– Hurting Upstate: Census to count inmates in last community — provided excellent coverage of this issue.

I’m a big proponent of upstate New York and can catalog in dozens of ways that downstate interests do damage to the upstate communities like the one I grew up in (Gloversville in Fulton County) and where I currently own property and live part of the year (Hamilton County). However, to count prison inmates as part of a county’s population was wrong and it’s long past time when the practice should have been ended.

When redistricting takes place the political balance will shift even harder towards downstate. Thus, don’t look to the NYS Legislature for help addressing the long term economic decline of upstate New York. Upstate’s fate is now in the hands of its citizens — those who are not waiting for housing prices to rise or propitious business conditions to leave.

Poll Question Update

47 percent of our poll takers last week want the public to be able to buy cigarettes via the mail! Only 44 percent like the recent ruling against that practice and 9 percent have no opinion. Odd!

This week we’re asking you to grade the budget, but keep an eye on the home page, we’ll be changing the poll mid-week.


What Budget Crisis, Unfunded Mandates & Poll Question of the Week

September 13, 2009

When Gov. Paterson reported a while back that tax revenues will be short by an estimated $2.1 billion for the current fiscal year, he stated he planned to call the Legislature back into session in September to balance the budget. He also stated that he would not sign a bill that increased taxes or raised fees. It’s September, but the Legislature thinks the Governor is bluffing. Speaker Silver says he’s not bringing his house back until there’s a deal and Senate Democrats want to wait another 3 months to see if things get better.

The truth of the matter is that neither the Governor or the Legislature has the slightest idea of how to cut $2.1 billion out of the current $132 billion budget. If the Gov. waiting for the Legislature to come up with the savings he’s got a long wait coming. If he’s got a plan, when is he going to reveal it?

Ginger Otis writing in the NY Post decided to save the Gov. and the Legislature the strain of finding ways to raise money that aren’t taxes or fees. She asked a number of Republican lawmakers as well as Post State Editor Fred Dicker if they had any suggestions and lo and behold they came up with $3.0 billion worth of saving.

The savings would come from eliminating give-away programs, not buying more land from the Nature Conservancy, shutting down commissions and public authorities, capping overtime, cutting back on administrative hirings as well as eliminating Medicaid fraud, member items and the governor’s $1 billion slush fund. Fred Dicker wants the state to sell the art collection off the walls of the concourse level of the Empire State Plaza.

In February the Citizens Budget Commission sent recommendations to the Legislature that had $3.1 billion worth of savings. They suggested reforming Medicaid, better targeting school aid, right-sizing prisons, trimming “overly generous” public employee benefits and making state programs more cost-effective.

I’ll add one more: reduce the Legislature’s budget by 10 percent!

The Tax Chickens are Coming Home to Roost in New York’s Villages, Cities, Counties and Towns

If you checked out the stories posted by the Empire Page this weekend, you’ll have detected a trend:

  • Tax payers are shocked when they open their school tax bills reports The Times Union
  • The cities of Kingston, Troy, Geneva and Newburgh need to reduce spending or increase taxes
  • The Auburn Citizen says the city’s school board needs to make more cuts

What is behind this crisis? Runaway pension costs and unfunded mandates are two of the causes.

The Poughkeepsie Journal wants public employees in Dutchess County to share in the cost of their health care benefits.

To get an overview on how New York compares to the rest of the country in terms of unfunded mandates, read the guest editorial published today on the Empire Page by Paul Moore and Elizabeth Lyons of the Government Law Center of the Albany Law School.

Poll Question of the Week: Sell Art Collection?

Last week we asked our readers to tell how they view New York’s economy. More than half (57%) think it’s still getting worse while only 12 percent think it’s on the mend.

This week we want to know if you agree with NY Post state editor Fred Dicker’s suggestion that the state sell the artworks that Nelson Rockefeller bought for the concourse level of the Empire State Plaza in Albany. I didn’t have room for suggestions as to what should go in their place, but if you have any let me know and I’ll share them next week.


Sunday’s Best & Poll Question of the Week

August 30, 2009

Let’s Reform our Government: But How?

This week the Empire Page provided links to the news media’s continuing focus on what’s wrong with our state government and what can be done to fix it. In an overview piece Joe Spector, writing for Gannett News Service, compares New York with other states on campaign finance laws and legislative operations. He quotes experts who point out that New York provides fewer restrictions on both counts.

The Albany Times Union focuses on a feature of New York’s campaign finance laws that allows candidates to hold onto their funds after the election they ran for is over and use the money for almost any purpose. The most eggregious example is that the campaign funds of deceased State Senator Ronald Stafford are being dispersed by his wife who is a registered lobbyist and thus has an opportunity to use the funds to better her business.

The question is whether these and other flaws to our political infrastructure require a constitional convention (con con)? Alan Chartock speaks out this week against the idea. “When the last gavel has been banged, the same folks who were on top before such a convention will be running things when the smoke clears,” Chartock writes, while admitting that the state’s constitution is in need of change.

Assembly minority leader Brian Kolb is in favor of a con con. He’s started a petition drive on the website — www.reformny.org.

Chartock is correct that there is a danger in calling a con con, but he doesn’t tell us how the flaws in the current system that plague us today can be corrected.

I believe we have to ask ourselves whether we have any faith in the concept of democracy? If not, then the Legislature should appoint a panel of “experts” — made up of judges and Ph.D.’s balanced correctly by race, gender and sexual preference — to do the job for us. I predict that such a group would disguise their preferences (nice word for biases) behind big words and arcane theories and we’d end up with a disfunctional government that works to no one’s benefit.

Alternatively we can take the same risk the Founding Fathers took. We can allow the people, the public, the masses to have a go at picking the people to send to Albany to write a constitution that is better than the current document. Certainly special interests such as the Democratic and Republican parties would gain seats at the table. They are citizens too.

But here’s the key point: a constitutional convention would invite those chosen to represent their fellow citizens an opportunity to rise above self interest and create a document for the good of the state as a whole. It would be an opportunity for each individual to decide whether s/he wants to go down in history in the same league as James Madison or side with the Pedro Espada’s of the world!

Plus, keep in mind that the document is put before the voters before it can go into effect. So, if the con con creates a monstrousity, Prof. Chartock and others will point out the flaws and it can be defeated.

Prof. Chartock worries about the cost involved. However, compare the cost of what we’re dealing with today versus whatever it would cost the taxpayers to hold the convention and then put up the document for a vote. As a taxpayer I for one am willing to pay that price in the belief that we can do better!

Poll Question of the Week

This week we asked our readers if the media has been unfair to Gov. David Paterson as he alleged in a radio interview a couple of weeks ago. Seventy four (74) percent of those who voted this week said “Not at all” versus ten (10) percent who said “Definitely” and fourteen (14) percent who said “A Little”.

The media reported this week that the Legislature passed fewer bills this year than in the past. What we’d like to know is whether you think this is a good thing — reflecting the idea that the less the Legislature does the better — or whether it’s a bad thing, reflecting the notion that fewer bills means they’re not doing their jobs? Click here to go to the Empire Page and vote.


Poll Question of the Week

August 25, 2009

We’re a few days late updating our poll question of the week, but we think we’ve got a good one going.

First to wrap up the question raised by Senate member Jose M. Serrano (D-Bronx) as to whether NYS needs an independent office to monitor stimulus spending, the majority of voters said yes. 55 percent are in favor of the concept; 40 percent however oppose it while 5 % are neutral. Serrano argued in a piece published by the Albany Times Union on June 18 that the Legislature has “an obligation to the taxpayer to keep an eye on every last dollar.”

This week’s poll asks you to judge whether the news media has been unfavor to Gov. Paterson as he alleged in a radio interview with Errol Louis on WWRL (click here to listen to the interview)?


The Weekend’s Best (& Worst) from the Empire Page News Links Service

August 2, 2009

Subscribers to the Empire Page this weekend were treated to excellent reportage as well as insightful analysis and opinion. One must be impressed by the quality of journalism coming out of New York’s newspapers in spite of layoffs and hard economic times. Note that most of the breaking stories are first generated by the state’s smaller papers and only later picked up by the wire services and the state’s larger dailies.

This weekend’s prize for the highest quality coverage is a tie between the Plattsburgh Press Republican and the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

On Sunday the Press Republican hit journalism paydirt on two energy stories. The most significant is the news that talks are underway between the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and Canadian energy producers to import “up to 2,000 megawatts of power from multiple sources, including hydropower from Canada.” Cheap power would be a boon to northern New York’s economy. The second energy piece covered the St. Regis Mohawk’s desire for cheap power to help run its casino and bingo hall.

The D&C had the best state news coverage this weekend with an assist from Gannett’s Albany bureau. While Gannett provided an overview piece on the potential for incumbents losing their seats in the next election, the D&C attended a meeting where a local legislator got an earful from voters who are angry are about high taxes and what’s been going on in Albany.

Top Editorials

The Poughkeepsie Journal on Sunday hammered the Legislature on two points – disclosure of pork spending and allocation of internal resources. Their mild conclusion: “A level playing field would be best for all New Yorkers.”

The Glens Falls Post Star takes the state to task for failing to pay its taxes to the city and county of Saratoga. I like their suggestion that those entities seize the track and put it up for sale. The taxpayers of New York would surely make out much better from a privately held track operation in Saratoga than what we get from NYRA.

The Kingston Freeman editorial board recaps the sorry story of what went on in the State Senate in June with the added footnote that individual legislators in their coverage area don’t seem to have learned any lessons from the fiasco. “All of which leads to the conclusion that no reform of Albany worthy of the name will come from within,” writes the Freeman. “Only the voters can clean these houses.”

Best (& Worst) Columns

Tom Carroll, long-time charter school champion and activist, has six suggestions for incoming State Education Commissioner David Steiner in a piece published Sunday in the Albany Times Union. Let’s hope Steiner incorporates Carroll’s ideas into a plan to shake up the bureaucracy in Albany. No part of our government gets less value for the cost or is as critical for New York’s future than our educational system.

Casey Seiler, also writing in the Times Union, interjects a bit of humor into the down on Albany theme, suggesting that Steve Wynn be required to purchase the Empire State Plaza and the Capitol building (which he could then lease back to the state) in order to get the lucrative VLT contract at Aqueduct that he desires.

The Prize for the worst column of the weekend goes to Michael Marinaccio, supervisor of the Town of Dickinson and president of the Broome County Association of Towns and Villages. Marinaccio’s column in the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin, which I am not criticizing for publishing it, is called “Consolidations gone wild”. Marinaccio is critical of the newly passed legislation introduced at the behest of the state’s attorney general and signed into law by Gov. Paterson is designed to make it easier for the public to bring local government consolidation to the voters.

Marinaccio fails to state that the reason the law change was needed was that the prior requirements were so onerous that incumbent politicians could easily prevent consolidations no matter how much desired by the majority of the residents of the affected jurisdictions.

Further Marinaccio’s criticisms fail on two grounds. First, no consolidations will go through without voter approvals. Second, although Marinaccio dislikes some of the procedural rules he had a chance to fix them up front by participating in drawing up the legislation! He had to know that reform was on the table and because of his position had multiple channels to provide input – through the state associations that he is a member of and through his local legislators.

While the title Marinaccio’s piece is designed to cast fear in the minds of the public, the problem with consolidations is that they are not happening fast enough. Case in point: a study reported today in the Jamestown Post-Journal and other papers points out that school consolidations in eight counties in Western New York would result in a savings of $133 million a year!

Of course many incumbent politicians are not in favor of consolidation. The choice is simple: continue to pay high property taxes to support the salaries, pensions, cars, offices, computers and other equipment for supervisors and other local officials or consolidate.

Footnote on Newspaper Websites: Why are they Sooo Slow?

Have you noticed how long it takes newspaper websites — even including the Empire Page — to load these days? That’s because we are jamming our home pages with videos and all kinds of multi-media ads.

The Value Click ad server network is most often the primary culprit in slowing down the loading of the Empire Page. I’m considering kicking them off the home page. Let me know if you think I should.

Newspapers however don’t have the luxury of demanding faster load times from those ad networks. It’s one of the consequences of the changes taking place in the economies of print journalism. At the very time when newspapers need to generate more traffic on their websites, they are dependent on ad networks whose primary client is the advertiser.

Links to all of the above items PLUS 400 news stories, editorials and columns drawn from dozens of news websites this past weekend are available to subscribers of The Empire Page for less than a quarter a day. Click here to subscribe.