Posts Tagged ‘Local Media’

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mark Wilson: The Post-Star’s Public Shaming Policy

New York State keeps detailed motor vehicle accident statistics, compiling them year-to-year and county-by-county. Those data as well as the aggregate state figures compiled since 2001 are available online at safeNY.gov. The standards for data collecting and reporting have remained consistent since 2003, the year New York lowered the blood alcohol content standard for drunk driving, and the year the Glens Falls Post-Star initiated its policy on publishing names of teenagers busted for drinking.

Data in the following comparison are derived from police-reported accidents—collisions resulting in fatalities, personal injury or property damage. These records are more uniform within each region and over time than DWI ticketing, for example (another standard measure), which varies regionally and seasonally, skewed by periodic local crack-downs, check points, etc.

To get a sense of how the Glens Falls region’s statistics for underage drivers involved in alcohol-related accidents stacked up against the average statistics across New York, we set the number of alcohol-related-accident drivers aged twenty and younger both regionally and statewide against the number of alcohol-related-accident drivers from all age groups and compared the resulting percentages. A consistent drop in the regional percentage against the statewide percentage would suggest that the campaign was influencing underage drinking trends favorably.

The Results
While eight years of data form no solid basis for statistical analysis, the regional numbers—despite countervailing swings in the middle years of the range—seem to track overall with the statewide norms (even to the point of convergence with state figures in 2009 and 2010, the most recent years evaluated). While this may not be enough of a statistical sample to determine failure of the Post-Star’s policy and overall campaign, there is nothing here to encourage their advocates, either.

Not surprisingly Post-Star editors have not brought statistical analysis to bear on their policy of shaming teenage drinkers. Nor have they cited the statistics in their periodic recommitment to the campaign. If anything they seem to be spurred onward by their own often overheated editorial rhetoric on the subject: “Underage drinking is dangerous and if you don’t believe me, I will show you the headstones.”

Ken Tingley publicly declared his own immeasurable standard for continuing the crusade:

“If there is one young person who learns the lesson, if there is one young person who gets grounded for life for embarrassing their parents, if there is one young person who pauses to consider whether to accept a beer at the next party because they don’t want to see their name in the newspaper, then it is worth it.”

There is little doubt, given the power and range of the Post-Star’s editorial voice, that the shaming policy and Mr. Tingley’s angry bluster have successfully reached any number of kids (and/or their parents). On the same token, given the contrary nature of so many adolescents, can anyone doubt that as many kids may have reacted (sadly) predictably to Mr. Tingley’s bullying and ignored the grim statistics, or worse, headed defiantly in the opposite direction?

The lack of movement of the underage drunk driving numbers against the backdrop of statewide figures suggests, at the very least, that some neutralizing backlash may be at work here.

The Broader Picture
One of the more troubling aspects of the Post-Star policy is its selective and asymmetric targeting of underage drinkers for the sake of reducing the deaths of young people in motor vehicle accidents.

In 2010 alcohol was the primary cause of 30.5% of all motor vehicle fatalities throughout all upstate counties across all age groups. Speed, by comparison, was the primary cause of 29.2%. The statistics in the three counties served by the Post-Star were quite different: In Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties alcohol was responsible for 20.6% of motor vehicle fatalities, claiming seven lives, while speeding was responsible for 35.3% of motor vehicle fatalities claiming twelve lives. Moreover, in 2010 speed caused 439 injuries across the three counties (31.9%), while alcohol caused only 174 (11.3%).

When you add to that the fact that teenagers are far less likely to drive drunk (accounting for 9.3% of all drivers in alcohol-related accidents statewide) and far more likely to speed (accounting for 22% of all speeding-caused accidents statewide), the math becomes clear: speeding—and not drinking—is by far the deadliest behavior by drivers young and old on our roadways. It comes as no surprise that the Post-Star is devoting none of its diminishing resources to publishing the names of speeders in an effort to embarrass them and their families in a misguided effort—no matter how well-intentioned—to alter their behavior.

Two final thoughts on this subject
This challenge to (and argument against) the Post-Star’s policy of publishing names of teenagers fined for drinking should not be interpreted in any way as condoning the behavior. While it may be a rite of passage—as even Ken Tingley concedes—it remains reckless as it ever was. When combined with driving it has abundant potential to be life-destroying. The sole concern of this post is that the approach undertaken nine years ago by the editor of the Post-Star to combat the issue may simply have made matters worse.

The Post-Star is in many respects a fine newspaper. It is, to be sure, a troubled newspaper belonging to a troubled corporation in a troubled industry in a weak economy. The last thing the editors and publisher of the paper should be doing at this stage is alienating its future readers and subscribers in a way that from any angle looks like a double standard. The Post-Star needs to descend from the bully pulpit and get back to its number one responsibility to the community: reporting news.

Read Part 1: The Post-Star’s War on Underage Drinking


Monday, April 9, 2012

Mark Wilson: The Post-Star’s War on Underage Drinking

Ken Tingley is back in his bully pulpit. Two Sundays ago in his weekly column, the Editor of the Post-Star defended his newspaper’s policy of publishing the names of teenagers ticketed for violating underage drinking laws. In blunt and patronizing language, the crusading editor took on a recent South Glens Falls High graduate who had dared to leave a comment on the Post-Star‘s Facebook page objecting to the policy:

Mr. Mumblo was probably playing video games and reading comics when we reported the death of 17-year-old Jason Daniels in Warrensburg on May 18, 2003, and four months later, the death of 19-year-old Adam Baker, also in Warrensburg.

The policy was best described in a harsh editorial that ran on June 12, 2011, nearly eight years into the campaign:

Underage drinkers get their names in the paper. We publish the names of all kids arrested for consuming alcohol. We hope the embarrassment factor helps serve as a deterrent to parents and their kids. Not only does the kid’s name go in the paper, it goes on our website. And the Internet is permanent. So whatever they get caught doing today will follow them the rest of their lives.

From this it is hard to tell if the editorial board is angrier at the kids or their parents. The editorial proceeds to insult the children it hopes to protect:

Kids fib… Kids are lightweights… Kids are reckless… Kids are terrible drivers.

The final line of the editorial—A dead child is gone forever—reveals that the true target of the editorial (and the policy for that matter) is the parents; the humiliation of the children is merely a baseball bat to the gut to get their parents to pay closer attention.

Some History
On June 15, 2003, as New York State prepared to drop the DWI blood alcohol content standard from .1 to .08 percent, and after a succession of fatal underage drunk driving accidents in the region surrounding Glens Falls, Ken Tingley wrote a column outlining the Post-Star‘s policy on reporting crimes:

Here is what are (sic) policies are now:

• We don’t use the name of the child under age 16 charged with any offense – even if it is a felony – but we include the age, sex and town of residence. One exception: We will publish the name of any minor who is being prosecuted as an adult.

• We don’t use the name of the child age 16, 17 and 18 if they are only charged with misdemeanors or violations, but we include their age, sex and town of residence.

• We do use the name of minors age 16, 17 and 18 if they are charged with felonies.

• We do use the name of anyone 19 or older charged with any offense if the crime is deemed newsworthy because of unusual or interesting circumstances.

• We’ve also left it up to the discretion of the editor to print the name of a minor if major crimes or unusual circumstances are involved.

The column concluded with hints of transition:

With the recent debate over underage drinking in our communities, we debated recently whether it might do some good to start listing the names of teens arrested for underage drinking. We currently do not print those names unless there is a felony charge.One of our editors suggested that we should print the name of all teens arrested, that the embarrassment of arrest might be an appropriate deterrent for a young person, that it might even bring a weightier meaning to some parents who don’t seem to take the issue that seriously.It is something we will probably be looking at in the future.

The future arrived less than five weeks later when the Post-Star published the names and ages of six minors from Corinth who were charged with “the noncriminal violation of possession of alcohol by someone under 21.” The policy has remained in effect ever since.

According to data compiled by New York State, in 2003 the number of underage drivers involved in alcohol-related accidents in Saratoga, Warren and Washington Counties stood at 19. The number rose to 25 the following year and dropped to 17 in 2004. In both 2005 and 2006 the number of underage drunk drivers involved in accidents shot up to 42 and has been declining steadily toward the 2004 level since. 2010 is the latest year for which the state has compiled statistics.

In June 2008 after another cluster of alcohol-related traffic fatalities involving minors, the Post-Star ran an exasperated editorial under the headline “Message is not getting through.” It began:

We give up.

No one seems to be listening anyway.

Sanctimonious and preachy? Out of touch with reality? OK, we concede. You’re right. Underage drinking is a rite of passage. A tradition. We all did it as kids. There’s nothing that can be done to stop it. Kids are gonna do what kids are gonna do.So have it your way.

Naturally, the editorial does not give up and charges once more unto the breach to deliver the message. It ends with a poignant appeal to the reader not to let the newspaper abandon the crusade.

By this point, nearly five years along, the policy of outing teenagers charged with non-criminal alcohol violations —despite the absence of any evidence that it was doing any good— was so conflated with the broader cause of stopping underage DWI as to be inseparable. For all practical purposes, under guard of the sharp hyperbole of the Post-Star’s editorial position, unquestionable.

Next, Part 2: Questioning the Unquestionable


Monday, April 2, 2012

Reports of Hamilton County’s Death Are An Exaggeration

If you live in Hamilton County you better pack your bags. At least that’s the message from the Glens Falls Post-Star. “Hamilton County might not survive the next century,” reporter Jon Alexander opined recently is a story labeled “analysis” that seriously argued that by 2040, only 28 men and 24 women between the ages of 25 and 29 will live in Hamilton County – an 85 percent decline for that age group between 1990 and 2040.

According to Alexander’s unnamed “local officials,” “If things don’t change in Hamilton County, in about 25 years, there won’t be anyone left to respond to fires, drive ambulances or plow the roads.” “It’s scary,” Fred Monroe, executive director of the Adirondack Local Government Review Board, told Alexander. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Will NCPR have its own Congressional District?

Among the standards used by the US Department of Justice in determining the validity of newly redrawn political districts are that district maps be compact and contiguous and respect natural and artificial boundaries. In drawing up the new map for the 21st Congressional District, Special Master Roanne Mann strictly followed county borders (artificial boundaries), with the exceptions of Herkimer and Saratoga Counties whose southern population centers would have thrown off the numbers.

For an equally useful artificial boundary that validates the common interest of the proposed 21st Congressional District, consider the frequency and signal strength map of North Country Public Radio. Broadcasting out of studios at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NCPR operates 13 transmitting towers, all but two—the Bristol Vermont tower reaches west to the NY shore of Lake Champlain, and the Boonville tower—located within the proposed district lines. In fact, the maps are so closely aligned, one would be hard-pressed to find another Congressional district (not counting Vermont and other single district states) where a single broadcaster has such identical and unrivaled coverage.

If nothing else, this convergence of maps raises a clear question to Bill Owens, Matt Doheny and (potentially) Doug Hoffman: Is your membership paid up?

The post was amended to reflect the fact that NCPR’s Boonville transmitter is outside the proposed district line.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Adirondack Explorer, Adirondack Almanack form Partnership

The Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine and the online journal Adirondack Almanack have formed a partnership designed to enhance the online presence of both media outlets.

Tom Woodman, the publisher of the Explorer, and John Warren, the founder of the Almanack, signed an agreement today to integrate their online operations. Warren will continue to run the Almanack, which will now fall under the Explorer rubric.

Both organizations will continue to be hosted on their own domains: www.adirondackalmanack.com and www.adirondackexplorer.org.

Founded in 1998, the Explorer is a nonprofit newsmagazine (with offices in Saranac Lake) that focuses on environmental issues, outdoor recreation, natural history, and general news about the Adirondack Park. Warren, who lives in Chestertown, started the Almanack in 2005 and built it into one of the Adirondack Park’s premier websites. The site features the work of more than 20 contributors who write on a wide range of topics, including the arts, history, outdoor recreation, and the environment. The Almanack also posts a daily list of links to regional news.

The partnership will combine the Almanack’s community journalism with the Explorer’s news coverage. The coming months will see the rollout of new mobile applications, redesigns for the websites of both organizations, and an expanded social media presence.

“This is an outstanding opportunity for two organizations with similar missions to collaborate in a unique way at a time when local media is changing dramatically,” Warren said. “Almanack contributors have engaged regular readers and helped expand the dialogue about Adirondack issues. Now we’ll have the administrative support to broaden their reach.”

“The journalists of the Adirondack Explorer and the community voices of the Adirondack Almanack will join to create an expansive electronic meeting place for news and conversations about the Adirondack Park,” said Explorer Publisher Tom Woodman. “We hope this partnership will help bring people together in a kind of digital town square to learn about and discuss issues that shape the future of the Adirondacks—and to share all the ways to enjoy this unique Park.”

In 2010, Warren received Eleanor Brown Communication Award from the Adirondack Mountain Club. Explorer Editor Phil Brown received the same award in 2008.


Monday, January 9, 2012

A Local Search and Rescue Makes News Photo History

In modern times, photographs accompanying newspaper stories are sent around the world in digital format, utilizing the latest technology. But for half a century, from 1935 to 1989, the Wirephoto Service of the Associated Press was the industry standard. Prior to that time, the text of stories was sent by wire, but photographs for newsprint were shipped the same way mail and other urgent items were: by train or by plane.

Even by the speediest of methods, it could take more than three days for photographs to arrive. When the dramatic advancement came in 1935 to an instant process, the Adirondacks were linked forever with communications’ history. » Continue Reading.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Peter Brinkley: The Adirondack Brand

What follows is a guest essay by Peter Brinkley who lives in Jay and is Senior Partner of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve. This essay was prompted in part by new Almanack contributor Kimberly Rielly’s piece “Understanding the Adirondack Brand“.

We hear of the need for businesses in the Adirondacks to develop a universal brand to attract tourists.

This impulse indeed is strange. The Adirondacks has enjoyed a brand since the second half of the 1800s, one which has broadened and deepened its appeal. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 31, 2011

WAMC, Cary Institute to Debut Earth Wise Radio

On January 2nd, WAMC Northeast Public Radio (which covers the southeast portion of the Adirondack Park) and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies will debut a new radio show called Earth Wise: A look at our changing environment. The collaboration was formed to increase ecological literacy among radio listeners, with a focus on raising awareness about the science that underpins environmental issues according to a press release issued this week.

The two-minute segments will air Monday through Friday at 11:10 AM and 4:04 PM on WAMC. With the Earth as its subject, Earth Wise content is hoped to be globally relevant. New topics are expected to be featured daily, with coverage on climate change, energy, sustainable living, agriculture, and threats to air, water, and wildlife. Each segment will also highlight how individuals can make a difference.

Cary Institute President Dr. Bill Schlesinger will act as the narrator for Earth Wise. The new programming is being designed to be accessible, drawing on commentary from national experts to illuminate the science and policy of leading environmental concerns. “Our goal is to inspire listeners to make informed decisions about environmental issues facing society,” Schlesinger said, adding that “Each listener has the capacity to be a positive change in the world.”

Earth Wise will debut Monday, January 2nd and is available for syndication to other radio stations. In addition to WAMC, Earth Wise can be heard online at earthwiseradio.org, and found on Twitter @earthwiseradio, and on Facebook.com/EarthWiseRadio.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Adirondack Destinations and Social Media

Ah, the transition to a new year. To many, it means participating in the frenzy of shopping and cooking and parties that mark the season. To me, it also means that I’ve got a couple of weeks to finalize plans for 2012, and to reflect on the previous twelve months while “business as usual” takes a break.

That reflection, I should mention, is somewhat involuntary, as I am required to submit final communication department reports. But, like those piano lessons I hated taking as a kid, I’m glad now that I was forced to do it.

The stats and activities that I’ve aggregated are interesting and exciting. But in reviewing them, I realized just how much my role as a communications professional in the tourism industry has changed over the years.

I’ve been fortunate to have had a front row seat as the destination marketing industry has navigated the relatively swift and dramatic evolution of communications technology. In fact, I have worked for the Visitors Bureau for so many years that I remember editing, and in some cases designing, the very first iterations of our Adirondack destination websites – back when websites and the Internet were not yet adopted by general consumer markets.

In the early 1990’s, we were still prioritizing the development, promotion and distribution of printed brochures to reach potential visitors. Marketing efforts concentrated on lead generation by placing TV and magazine ads to solicit contact information from potential visitors, which were fulfilled by sending those printed brochures via snail mail.

In those years, communications and public relations efforts included writing traditional press releases to send by both snail mail and email to local and travel media. Greater priority was given to developing relationships with targeted media with the objective of gaining exposure in appropriate print publications and broadcast outlets. At that time, traditional media, whether it was National Geographic Traveler magazine or the Albany Times Union travel section, wielded great power over destinations who were eager to be featured in their publications, as editorial exposure would garner credibility and third-party validation.

Though I’m sure other industries have seen its benefits (wink), the Internet seems to have been tailor-made for tourism promotion. The first versions of our region websites, including our flagship lakeplacid.com, were launched in 1996. Now, over 90 percent of all travel research is conducted online, and it is incumbent to Destination Marketing Organizations to keep up with the latest online strategies for search engine optimization and other techniques to make sure that our destinations remain competitive.

And then, there was social media. Talk about leveling the playing field; the surge of social media has forever changed the communications landscape, and represents a welcome addition to the destination marketing toolbox.

I began a concerted effort to include social media in our overall communications strategy in late 2008. That’s when I developed our first Facebook page for Lake Placid, and delved into photo contests and the like in order to generate leads and show a return on the investment of my time.

Though it too, has evolved as the world now embraces online news consumption, public relations still holds a place in our day-to-day communications. I still write and distribute news releases – online of course. And I spend a lot of time fielding requests year-round, providing statistics, history, events, story lines, photos and other Adirondack destination resources for general and travel media. Proactively, though, we concentrate our traditional media efforts on a few target markets that represent our feeder markets – within a day’s drive from our rubber tire destinations.

We’re still in transition, but one could argue that in the current marketplace, there is increased value in editorial exposure such as “readers survey results” published in traditional media, versus an article written by a travel writer that is perceived to have been hosted, wined and dined by the resort.

I now allocate most of my department resources to developing descriptive, blog and online news content for our destination websites to gain search engine optimization, lead generation and direct bookings. We then distribute that content via direct emails, online advertising, and social networking mechanisms like Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Perhaps the most important social networking activity for me is not only creating and distributing content, but monitoring and reacting to content posted by visitors, residents and yes, even the media, about our destinations.

This affects tourism-related businesses in a huge way. It’s not just blogs and Tweets; the existence of online rating mechanisms such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, it is absolutely crucial for owners to listen, engage and respond effectively to the conversations about their businesses.

Global publishing power now lies in every person’s pocket. Blogs, comments, videos and Tweets have viral potential, and this content is all available 24-hours a day, and can be accessed anywhere from increasingly prevalent mobile phones and tablets.

The result of this transition is huge: third-party validation doesn’t come from the traditional media, it comes from your customers.

As we enter a new calendar year, I’m looking forward to the unforeseen challenges that will surely appear as we navigate this new communications paradigm. For now though, report complete, I’ll take advantage of this little break. Right after I post this blog and send a few Tweets.

Kimberly Rielly is the director of communications for the Lake Placid CVB/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

John Warren: What the Occupation is All About

Over the past few weeks Adirondackers have gathered to hear about their economic situation and what we can do about it. North Country Public Radio’s Brian Mann has been suggesting that the Adirondack Park Agency shift its focus toward economic development. Clarkson University’s Forever Wild initiative has brought forward plans to expand broadband services and connect local workers to new wired jobs. The Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) provided its own twist on our economic situation, offering a panel that suggested we’re not as bad off as others around the nation.

Missing from these discussions has been the big picture thinking about our economic problems, namely the changes in our economic and democratic system that have endangered the ability of young people to control their economic destinies.

At the ANCA meeting last week Jaison Abel, Senior Economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, reported that “The Upstate economy has generally proven to be more stable than average, and has performed relatively well through the recession and recovery to date” [Emphasis His]. His presentation (available as a pdf here), like most of the economic discussions in the Adirondacks lately, was misleading in its narrow scope.

Taking a wider view are the demonstrators that have been occupying cities and towns across America in recent weeks. The Occupy Wall Street movement began when a large group of people, calling themselves the 99%, established a modern day Hooverville at a privately owned park near Wall Street. Despite claims they are unorganized anarchists, they have met daily in a direct democratic assembly to make decisions and plan and prepare for what has become a nationwide movement to change the fundamental operation of our relatively recently failed economic and democratic systems.

In exchange for exercising their First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble for redress of grievances, they have been maced, beaten, and driven from the places where they have assembled for democratic change. News of police actions in New York City were widely circulated via social media (disturbing video 1, 2, and 3 for example) and served to grow the ranks of protesters exponentially.

In recent days there have been beatings, macings and arrests of many more in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Albuquerque, Portland, San Francisco, and even in Des Moines, Iowa where a former Iowa state representative and a 14-year-old girl were arrested. Many of those arrests have included bystanders, independent media, legal observers, and medics caring for the injured. It appears that more than 2,000 have been arrested so far and with widespread demonstrations planned for Saturday that number is likely to rise. Demonstrations are expected to take place over the next week in Canton, Saranac Lake, Montreal, Plattsburg, Burlington, Glens Falls, Saratoga Springs, Albany, Utica, Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo.

Although the call for an end to corporate control of our economic and political systems is no more vague than the Tea Party’s call for an end to big government, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been characterized as unfocused and lacking concrete goals. Two videos that have gone viral in the movement serve to sum up most of the complaints being voiced, and counter the recent criticisms. The first, which has played frequently on the Occupy Wall Street livestream is an older video from George Carlin (warning: explicit language) who warns: “it’s a big club and you ain’t in it”. The second is the first cohesive response to the movement’s detractors from John Stewart.

It’s no surprise these videos come from comedians, a class of Americans who are often the only people who can be so direct in their critiques. They also reflect the nature of the movement itself, which is forced to use a kind of comic theater of the streets to be heard. There are more serious commentators as well. Bernie Sanders points out why he thinks protests are a necessary part of the process and even traditional conservatives have weighed in at The Atlantic. The Christian Science Monitor reminds us of the long history populists movements occupying Wall Street. The Nation published an Occupy Wall Street FAQ some weeks ago when the movement was small that explains in a serious way what it’s about.

This being a largely social media driven movement, videos and documents from the 1% have been used against them. Take for example this video of a Wall Street trader on BBC who defiantly claims “governments don’t rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world,” or the page from JP Morgan Chase’s website which reminded protesters that they had given $4.6 million to the New York City Police Foundation, a gift they said (even while the NYPD was keeping protesters from protesting in front of their building) that “was the largest in the history of the foundation and will enable the New York City Police Department to strengthen security in the Big Apple.” Both links have gone viral among the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some of most interesting coverage of the movement is being written by a group of reporters with the Village Voice toting cameras and smart phones and posting to the #OccupyWallSt and #OccupyWallStreet hashtags on Twitter. There have been more than sixty 24-hour livestream channels set up from occupations around the world in the last 24 hours.

No doubt there will still be some who say they just don’t understand what it’s all about, so it’s probably fair to say that the movement’s goals are to roll back a number of economic trends which Adirondackers, like nearly all Americans, are experiencing. For those who like charts with facts and figures, Business Insider has a series of charts titled “Here’s What The Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About…“. Here are a few excerpts from the most salient:

Unemployment: Three years after the financial crisis, the unemployment rate is still at the highest level since the Great Depression (except for a brief blip in the early 1980s). A record percentage of unemployed people have been unemployed for longer than 6 months. The average duration of all unemployment remains at a near an all-time high. If people working part-time who want to work full-time and people who have given up finding a job through official means are included, the unemployment rate is at 17%. That is the lowest percentage of Americans with jobs since the early 1980s.

Corporate Profits: Corporate profits are at an all-time high. As a percentage of the economy, corporate profits are near a record all-time high. With the exception of a short period just before the 2007 crash, profits are higher than they’ve been since the 1950s, vastly higher than they’ve been for most of the last half-century.

Worker Pay: CEO pay is now 350 times the average worker’s pay, up from 50 times the average worker’s pay between 1960-1985. Adjusted for inflation, CEO pay has jumped 300% since 1990 alone and corporate profits have doubled. Average “production worker” pay has increased just 4% and the minimum wage has fallen. After adjusting for inflation, average hourly earnings haven’t increased in 50 years. While CEOs and shareholders have been cashing in, wages as a percent of the economy have dropped to an all-time low.

The 1%: The top 1% of American wage earners have the biggest percentage of the country’s total pre-tax income than any time since the late 1920s, almost 2 times the long-term average. Income inequality has gotten so extreme that the US now ranks 93rd in the world in “income equality” behind China, India, and Iran.

Social Mobility Through Hard Work: Social mobility in America is near an all-time low. The top 1% of Americans own 42% of American financial wealth; the top 5% own nearly 70%. 60% of the net worth of the country held by the top 5%. Taxes on the nation’s highest-earners are close to the lowest they’ve ever been. The aggregate tax rate for the top 1% is lower than for the next 9% — and not much higher than it is for almost everyone else.

Bank Theft: Despite bailing out the banks so that they could keep lending to American businesses, bank lending has dropped sharply except to the American Government, which has risen sharply. They’ve also been collecting interest on money they are not lending — the “excess reserves” at the Federal Reserve Bank. At the same time, because the Fed has slashed the prime rate to almost zero, the banks are able to borrow money for essentially free – as a result they have made $211 billion in the first six months of 2011. That’s one reason there is near-record financial sector profits while the rest of Americans have sunk to their economic lowest.

Check the facts for yourself, but one thing is clear – all the hand-wringing about our local economies in the local media has missed the point entirely.

Photo: Above, photo-shopped Occupy Saranac Lake illustration courtesy Aaron Hobson; Middle and below, two viral Occupy Wall Street photographs that have made the rounds in the past few weeks.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rearranging the Local Media Deck Chairs

Nathan Brown, reporter at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (ADE), longtime friend of the Adirondack Almanack, and son of Almanack contributor Phil Brown, is headed to a new job at the Middletown Times-Herald-Record in Orange County. Nathan (shown at left) has been at the ADE just short of four years, most recently covering Lake Placid, Essex County, and politics. The ADE was his first journalism job after graduating form SUNY Albany in 2007.

Taking over Brown’s spot at the ADE will be Chris Morris, who has left his job as WNBZ‘s News Director. Morris will continue to contribute to North Country Public Radio. At the ADE he’ll be covering Lake Placid, North Elba, and Essex County, including the political scene.

Chris Morris was born and raised in Saranac Lake and got his start in journalism as a stringer for the ADE’s sports department. After graduating from St. Lawrence University he covered the Malone beat for the Malone Telegram. Morris later served as editor at the weekly Vermont Times Sentinel (Chittenden County). From there, he went on to take the news editor position at Denton Publications and later joined Chris Knight at Mountain Communications as assistant news director of WNBZ. When Chris Knight left WNBZ to join the ADE in June 2009, Morris took over as news director.

The latest media moves follow other recent local media changes. Also in June of 2009, Andy Flynn left his position as the Senior Public Information Specialist at the NYS Adirondack Park Agency Visitor Interpretive Centers and has since taken the position of Assistant Managing Editor at Denton Publications. Another Denton and WNBZ alumni, Jon Alexander, now covers Northern Warren County for the Glens Falls Post-Star.

WNBZ is in transition according to a statement on their webpage. Bob LaRue, News Director at WMSA in Massena, who provides play by play for WNBZ‘s coverage of Saranac Lake Football, is providing regional news updates and the station is currently looking for a new News Director. Meanwhile, Josh Clement has been manning the studio every morning to keep the news on the air. Freelancer George Earl continues to contribute to WNBZ‘s Adirondack Regional Report.


Monday, August 15, 2011

John Dunlap: Emperor John the First?

In 1870, Watertown’s John L. Dunlap was named as a candidate for Congress, and in 1872 he declared once again for the presidency. When General William Tecumseh Sherman toured the North Country, Dunlap met with him and suggested they become running mates. Included in his proposed platform was a single term of only four years for any president, and the elimination of electors in favor of counting the peoples’ votes.

An Ogdensburg newspaper supported his candidacy with these words: “Dr. Dunlap is a staid and conservative old gentleman. If elected, he would lend honor, virtue, dignity, and character to the party.” The Watertown Re-Union added, “Whatever may be said of the other candidates, Doctor Dunlap is a genuine Jackson Democrat, one of the real old stock.”

Of eight candidates, the Ogdensburg Journal said Dunlap was “the most consistent, if not the ablest, of all named. … If the people should be so fortunate as to elect him as their President, they will find him a true man.”

In Albany, the doctor’s old haunts prior to 1850, a Dunlap Club of 6,000 members was organized, and in Vermont, adjacent to his longtime home in Washington County, N.Y., he enjoyed strong support. For a campaign with meager resources, things were going quite well.

But then, as if to legitimize his candidacy, the unthinkable happened: an assassination attempt. The Troy Weekly Times reported that an effort to shoot Dr. Dunlap had failed, and that he had also been offered money in exchange for withdrawing his candidacy. Other newspapers denied the bribe story.

Meanwhile, the good doctor continued giving speeches in major cities (including his old July 4th oration from two decades earlier, which was ever popular) and continued selling his medicines. He sought the nomination at several different party conventions, but was unsuccessful. Just weeks after the 1872 election, Dunlap was off to Europe.

It was at this point in his life that certain events occurred, events that would somewhat cloud his career and paint him as truly eccentric—and for good reason. Through his decades as a Washington County physician, his years of selling medicines to anyone that he met, and a lifetime of politics, Dunlap had always been a vigorous self-promoter.

He loved the limelight, and it seemed to love him as well. The media was more than happy to offer the latest news on Dunlap’s unusual life. Yes, he was different, but he was clearly an intelligent man who enjoyed living life to the fullest.

Out of Europe came a cable from the doctor, informing his hometown friends that Louis Thiers, president of France, had welcomed and befriended the North Country’s most prominent physician and statesman. So impressed was Thiers with Dunlap’s support of the common man that, according to the doctor’s telegram, a statue was to be erected in his honor.

A detailed description of the sculpture was provided, to be done in the finest Carrara marble and placed in the Capitoline Museum in Paris or “beside that of the Apollo of the Belvidere in the Vatican at Rome.” In keeping with Dunlap’s politics, the sculpture’s inscription was to read, “The will of the people is the supreme law.”

The cost of commissioning Cordier was placed at nearly $70,000 for the five-year job, and the unveiling was scheduled for March 4, 1877—the day John Dunlap planned to be sworn in as America’s 19th president. Now that’s advertising.

Yes, it was all starting to sound a bit bizarre. On the other hand, it may have been a clear-minded effort aimed at self-promotion, truly the doctor’s forte.

Raising the bar a bit, Dunlap had begun claiming that he was engaged to Queen Victoria. In July 1873 was held the grand opening of the Thousand Island House, a spectacular hotel at Alexandria Bay. Since it was the social highlight of the summer season, Dunlap informed the media that he would be in attendance—and planned to meet Queen Victoria there.

The event was huge, with an estimated 10,000 visitors. Dignitaries from across New York State and Quebec were invited to the gala, and some did attend. Newspaper coverage humored readers with a report on Dr. Dunlap’s appearance.

“The doctor came down from the city for the purpose of meeting Queen Victoria, who, from some unexplained cause, did not arrive. Several scions of English nobility were introduced to the Doctor, and were much pleased with his scholarly attainments, his commanding figure, and splendid personal appearance, as well as the extempore remarks made by him on that occasion. The Doctor wears next to his heart a beautiful likeness of the Queen, presented by her at the time of their betrothal.”

Did this behavior suggest a mental problem, as some have claimed, or was this just an old man (he was 74) having a lot of fun and enjoying the attention?

In early 1874, Dunlap was taken ill, but managed to recover and mount another run for governor. The Watertown Times offered its support, noting that “The Doctor was swindled out of his matrimonial engagement with the British Queen and cheated out of the Presidency, and yet it is said he will accept the office of Governor of the Empire State.”

At the July 4 celebration at Sackets Harbor, General Grant was expected to speak (he had served two stints there). Dr. Dunlap was invited to give another of his stirring talks, this time on Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s famous debate opponent.

In August of that year, the newspapers had more fun with this report: “We are informed that Alexander, Emperor of Russia, has abdicated in favor of Hon. John L. Dunlap of this city, who will henceforth be known as Emperor John the First.”

At the time, it may have been all in good fun. Dunlap was a likable guy and unabashedly open, providing great copy for newspapermen. After all, his medicinal claims, political forays, decades of seeking the presidency, and supposed connections to foreign leaders were very entertaining.

Viewed 150 years later, they suggest an oddball character, and maybe someone not playing with a full deck. But perhaps the truth lay in his love of attention, his devotion to politics, and his great talent for promotion. What seemed eccentric or erratic may well have been a carefully contrived personal marketing plan.

Whatever the case, it worked. Throughout his life, John Dunlap was prominent in the media, a successful physician, and financially well-off from the sale of his medicines. In December 1875, he died at the home of his son and daughter in Parish (Oswego County). His estate was valued at about $30,000, equal to approximately a half million dollars today. He apparently was doing something right all those years.

Four days after his death, the Jefferson County vote totals from the most recent elections were published. True to form right to the end, Dunlap had received a single vote for Poorhouse Physician, tied for last with “Blank” (representing a blank ballot) behind four other doctors.

There’s no doubt that John Dunlap was an unusual man. His contemporaries referred to his “harmless idiosyncrasy” and his fervent love for and involvement in politics. They smiled at his loquaciousness, his many love letters to the queen, and his insistence that the people truly wanted him as president, but that political parties had constantly foiled his efforts.

But even at his death, there were those who suspected he was perhaps “crazy like a fox,” as indicated in one writer’s eulogy. “And yet, despite these singular mental aberrations, the doctor was a moneymaker. He would never pay anything to advance his political or marital schemes. Herein was ground for the belief of many that the doctor only feigned his peculiarities, the better to be able to sell his medicines, for no matter with whom he talked on the subject of politics or the like, he was sure before the end of the conversation to pull out a bottle of his medicine, urge its efficacy, and try to make a sale.”

John L. Dunlap—tireless salesman, dyed-in-the-wool patriot, presidential aspirant, and Watertown legend—truly a man of the people.

Photo: Advertisement for one of Dunlap’s syrups (1863).

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Major Grant Hoped to Improve NCPR

The Adirondack Community Trust (ACT) in partnership with North Country Public Radio (NCPR) has received a $300,000 challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to invest in the future of NCPR’s ability to expand regional broadcast and digital news and information services with a special emphasis on creating the next generation of public media professionals according to a statement issued to the press. With the required match, the project is expected to bring $650,000 to $700,000 into the work of these organizations over the next three years.



“The objective of the project, 21st Century Public Media on a Rural Map, is to make all NCPR platforms part of a single, integrated resource for the people of the Adirondack region – a resource that they can increasingly play a part in imagining and shaping. As part of the challenge, this grant has to be matched with local dollars from local residents,” the press statement said.

The funding is part of the Knight Community Information Challenge, which encourages community and place-based foundations to support news and information projects that inform and engage residents.

“The Adirondack Community Trust and others like it are part of a growing number of community foundations working to ensure residents have the information they need to make important decisions about their communities,” said Trabian Shorters, Knight Foundation’s vice president for engaging communities. “Ultimately, our democracy will thrive only if we have informed and engaged communities.”

The new funding is hoped to raise the level of NCPR services, by “expanding its work on existing and emerging platforms and by deepening the integration of community participation in public media.” “More residents will have access to information on a variety of platforms; they will participate in creating content and sharing information,” the statement said, “young people will have an opportunity to work under the guidance of proven professionals to learn the skills of public media; and more people will connect with other residents of the region.”

Ellen Rocco, Station Manager for NCPR said, “With this Knight Foundation grant, ACT is making it possible for NCPR to do leading-edge work for our community. And, as an active collaborator on the project, ACT brings expertise, access to and input from people across the region, and a great reputation—contributions that are essential to the project’s success.”


Monday, August 8, 2011

Adirondack Park Population Growing Faster Than NYS

In the many discussions concerning the present and future of the Adirondacks, one of the foundational assumptions is that the region is being held back by the controversial Adirondack Park Agency (APA). An analysis of population data shows something quite different: the Park’s population is growing at a significantly faster rate than the rest of New York since the creation of the APA.

At the suggestion of The Post-Star‘s Will Doolittle, a harsh critic of the APA, I analyzed population data from the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages (AATV)*, whose most recent numbers are from 2006. Mr. Doolittle also criticized previous analyses that he considered distorted by relatively populous towns like Queensbury and Plattsburgh that had land both inside and outside the Park, so I looked at numbers of municipalities that were entirely inside the Blue Line. I compared those figures to 1970 numbers, the last census before the establishment of the APA. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 25, 2011

John Warren: The Art of Making Enemies

A small group of the usual opponents of smart development have raised another ruckus with the help of some local media. It was reported in the local daily press (“APA hears citizens’ rage“, “APA critics blast board“), and followed up by Denton Publications, (including video!). It was one of a regular stream of media campaigns orchestrated and carried out by some of the same folks who have opposed smart development planning for the Adirondack Park since it began 40 years ago.

As if on cue, the Glens Falls Post-Star then launched another of its – this time particularly vicious – attacks on the Adirondack Park’s regional planning board, the Adirondack park Agency (APA). That nasty editorial ran on the same day some 120 people from all perspectives and sectors of the Adirondacks were meeting in Long Lake to find ways to set aside their differences and work together for a better Adirondacks.

It started July 15th with what appears to have been an organized protest at an APA business meeting, and may have been result of leaked information that APA Chairman Curt Stiles would step down the next day. The usual suspects were on hand, including Salim “Sandy” Lewis, Carol LaGrasse, Frank Casier, Mike Vilegi, Howard Aubin, and Bob Schulz. Insults were hurled at the “un-American”; cries for “liberty” and an end to “tyranny” and “repression and fear” were heard – Lewis and his entourage stormed out. Here’s a quick look at those who were there:

Salim “Sandy” Lewis is the former Wall Street trader who recently won a $71,600 settlement from state taxpayers after arguing that the APA had no jurisdiction over farms (he had sought close to a quarter million). “You are hated by a significant portion of this community,” he told the APA’s commissioners. Lewis believes the APA restricts local farming operations, despite the fact that local farming is up considerably amid a national decline (1, 2). [He believes there are two kind of farmers: “real farmers” who have capital to invest in their farms, and “phony farmers” who don’t]. Apparently, Lewis’s Wall Street experience has led him to believe that no none should have a say in the impacts large businesses have in the Adirondack Park. During a litany of threats against a variety of enemies, Lewis claimed he was asked to attend the APA meeting by the Governor’s Office. “I’ve been asked to name five new board members to this group by the Governor’s office,” he said.

Carol LaGrasse is the leader of the one-woman Property Rights Foundation who has called the APA “anti-family”. Among her more ridiculous assertions was the prediction that massive forest fires would follow the blowdown of 1995 if the state didn’t allow logging on Forest Preserve land (1). She was wrong then, but continues to appear regularly in local media reports whenever they need to trot out a rabid anti-environmentalist, Adirondack Park or Forest Preserve opponent.

Frank Casier is a former real estate developer. Now 92, Casier was a co-founder of Tony D’Elia’s Adirondack Defense League, described by Kim Smith Dedam as “an early order of resistance to the institution of the APA Act in 1973.” Casier, who said “The APA destroyed three of my housing projects,” was on hand with a 12-page pamphlet entitled The Theft of the Adirondacks. According to LaGrasse, Casier hasn’t been to an APA meeting in decades, but he said he has a new anti-APA book forthcoming. Casier was once the publisher of the anti-APA Adirondack Defender, funded by Alpo Dog Foods founder and Lake Placid summer resident (now deceased) Robert F. Hunsicker. The first Adirondack Defender was published as an supplement insert in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise (then led by Will Doolittle‘s dad), and subsequently run in the Tupper Lake Free Press, Ticonderoga Sentinel, and Malone Telegram. The Denton newspapers, then numbering ten weeklies and owned by William Denton, refused to run the Defender.

Mike Vilegi was a passenger in the truck James McCulley drove down Old Mountain Road in an effort to have the long-abandoned wilderness road reopened to motorized vehicles. Vilegi is a Lake Placid builder who was leader of the “Adirondack Porn Agency” effort to taint the reputations of APA staff and commissioners. According to the Press-Republican, Vilegi once attended an APA meeting “wearing a T-shirt with the words ‘Adirondack Porn Agency’ written across the chest and a less polite phrase written on the back”. Vilegi has a flair for the dramatic; he’s a producer of YouTube videos showing how damaging hikers are.

Howard Aubin is a businessman who found his way to the Big Tupper Resort hearings to proclaim that 100 percent of Tupper Lakers support building the Adirondack Club and Resort, the largest residential development ever proposed in the Adirondacks. In an affidavit in support of the Lewis case, Aubin claimed “There is a general fear among the Bar in the North Country that participation in a dispute against the Agency will harm their practices.” Twenty years ago Aubin helped organize the Adirondack Solidarity Alliance, the folks who brought us the 1990 “freedom drive” which attempted to block Northway traffic between exits 20 and 28.

Bob Schulz, now in his 70s, is the Queensbury founder of We the People Foundation who launched the “Revolution Project” in 2008. Schulz is a longstanding proponent of the idea that Barack Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Before that, he was the subject of several federal investigations, including his alleged failure to file Federal income tax returns for years 2001 through 2004. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice successfully sued Schulz to stop the sale “of an alleged tax fraud scheme reported to have cost the U.S. Treasury more than 21 million dollars.” Last year the Internal Revenue Service revoked We the People’s tax exempt status.

Trying to force logging of the Forest Preserve, subverting the APA Act for financial gain, blocking traffic, wearing obscene t-shirts to public meetings, promoting the refusal to pay taxes – these are the folks who enjoy standing with the local media.

Meanwhile, 120 private citizens, business, education, and nonprofit leaders, environmentalists, state and local economic development professionals and government leaders, and anti-APA property rights advocates were joining together in Long Lake to try and foster a sense that we’re all in this together. What coverage did that get? None that I can find.

Instead, we’re treated to a malicious anti-APA diatribe by the Glens Falls Post-Star that includes a number of personal attacks on APA staff and commissioners, all civil servants doing their job to help protect the Adirondack Park, a park for all the people of the state.

Unfortunately we need to constantly rehash the wrong-headed arguments expressed by the Post-Star‘s editorial board, even though they’ve been shown time and again to have no basis in fact. They claim, for example, “In its zeal to crack down on every potential encroachment of civilization, real or imagined, the agency has tipped the balance against the interests of individual rights and against economic development.” How any reasonable person can make that claim is beyond me – but they repeat it again and again.

First, the APA regulates about 40% of new buildings and 20% of total development activities. Second, the APA has declined just .8% of the projects that have been brought before it since 1973. And while we’re at it, there is also no basis whatsoever for the argument that the APA somehow coerces people to withdraw their applications – there simply aren’t that many withdrawn applications. There is no need to withdraw an application because the APA approves nearly all of them. This is what the Post-Star calls a “zeal to crack down on every potential encroachment of civilization”.

It is simply ludicrous to continue to argue that an agency that has power over just 20% of development activities and only 40% of new buildings, and has blocked only the tiniest fraction of those, is responsible for “overzealous enforcement of state regulations and an unwavering support of restrictive environmentalist policies over reasonable economic growth and development in the Adirondacks.”

The Post-Star‘s editorial board, which includes Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney and citizen representative Carol Merchant, should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to divide Adirondackers, especially on the same day those of us with an actual stake here were trying to make efforts to come together.

One final issue which really gets to the heart of the Post-Star‘s project to discredit reasonable environmental protections and smart growth planning in the Adirondack Park. The entire tone of their editorial is couched in terms of government openness, yet they don’t expect the same from the Local Government Review Board (LGRB). To my knowledge the paper has never once investigated the LGRB despite the fact that the APA-funded body is headed by Fred Monroe (and its one employee, his wife), who until very recently collected a paycheck from New York State, Warren County, and the Town of Chester (more than $100,000 in taxpayer-funded salary).

The LGRB, which frequently meets at private restaurants on the public’s dime, issues no notices that a meeting is being held, no agendas before the meeting, no meeting minutes, and no online audio or video recordings of meetings. I signed up for the LGRB’s e-mail newsletter several years ago, I’m still on the list, but I’ve never received any information from them whatsoever. By the way, the APA does all these things and more.

When was the last time anyone had a say in who is on the LGRB? They are county backroom appointments, not elected, and there is no public discussion whatsoever. At a meeting I attended recently it was not even clear who was on the board and who wasn’t. They have never held a public forum or public hearing that I’m aware of. And despite the LGRB’s budget of over $110,000, it appears they haven’t produced anything in a full year.

It’s time these folks stop constantly disrupting our mutual progress for their own personal gain. As Adirondack Daily Enterprise Publisher Catherine Moore and Managing Editor Peter Crowley wrote this week in an editorial about their community’s recent division over the Adirondack Club and Resort:

“We all love nature and people, and we all want a balance between economic viability and environmental protection. It shouldn’t be shocking that people differ on where the balance point should be. Be realistic and grounded, be respectful, and don’t go looking for enemies – that’s our advice.”

And mine too.


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