All the news that's fit to keep printing…

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Advertise In The Long Island Press (Subliminal Caption)

As a fortunate son born into a family broadcast business, I did what any good Gen-X media executive would do with the advent of the internet: I started a newspaper. Pretty cutting edge, no? Currently I’m working on a patent for a new, sleek horse-drawn carriage. Stay tuned. It should be big.

Being acknowledged as such a new-media pioneer has afforded me the opportunity to speak on a few panels lately with discussion topics such as “The Dying Newspaper Industry” and “How to Keep Your Newspaper Alive in a Depression.” Good times. Good times.

 

 

My own experiences and my colleagues on Long Island have taught me, however, that newspapers aren’t dying. In fact Long Islanders are consuming more news than ever—yes, including print. Long Islanders and all Americans can’t get enough news and information it seems. The difference is that they demand it constantly and in multiple forms. This has confounded the news gatherers who struggle to maintain the integrity of the written word and stressed the news gathering process given our voracious appetite for it.

This is a good news/ bad news scenario for news organizations whether they be community focused, national outlets, broadcasters or this alternative newsweekly. The good news is that our product is being consumed with greater frequency and interest. The bad news is that there are more ways of receiving information and they are mostly free. The real bad news isn’t increased competition from talking heads and bloggers or the commoditization of information by search engines. Rather, the information glut has diminished the perceived value of advertising dollars businesses are willing to commit.

The prospect of search in an Orwellian sense is that all information is and will be available to everyone immediately. While the portal to this information is narrowing to the point where we will all someday reside somewhere inside the googleplex, the sources of information have become increasingly fragmented. The present danger in the googleplex is the blogger being seen as an equal to the newspaper reporter who must report stories that are vetted through time-tested systems. The long-term danger (which is like dog years in the googleplex) is that traditional reporting that is right and trustworthy will not receive enough advertising support to exist for much longer.

With several daily newspapers on the brink and a few already beginning to fall, Eric Schmidt of Google has already peered into his crystal ball and is afraid of what he sees. He doesn’t want to be responsible for killing the journalism trade. Besides, as Tim Knight, Publisher of Newsday, astutely pointed out on a panel this week – if the newspaper are gone, what will we google? Imagine a giant information vacuum that consists of bloggers critiquing other blogs and talking heads on television covering their critiques while politicians succumb to viral conspiracy theories left unchecked.

In a “Gladwellian” sense (I hope that term make it on Wikipedia!) newspapers have always played the roles of both maven and connector. As mavens we generate the news stories that serve as connectors around the water cooler and dinner table. While still playing the role of maven, we are no longer the connectors. When society reaches a point where our children text message each other while in the same room and our Facebook updates take the place of a phone call, we have officially surrendered the connector role.

Therefore, newspapers must seemingly leave the connector role behind and continue the work of mavens. But it is exactly our roles as connectors that advertisers pay for. And there’s the rub.

The salvation of newspapers will be in the people and businesses that value the credibility of information and the quality of the people who are reading them. The smart business owner will realize that in the information age, newspapers are still one of the best places to advertise because we offer a wealth of original and creative information that still matters to the interested and engaged public. The businesses that will miss the boat, particularly during a recession, will believe the hype that no one is reading newspapers any longer. After all, if you’re reading these words and have made it all the way through this diatribe, you’re one of them. And I bet there are businesses out there that are wishing they knew how to find you. If only I could introduce you to them…

What I Meant Was…

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Tom DiNapoli The Last Honest Man In Albany

Last week I took certain members of Congress who voted for a pay raise to task for rewarding themselves during the steepest economic decline in decades. What I found insulting was that our local Congressional members, such as Representative Gary Ackerman and Senator Charles Schumer, were simultaneously raking the auto manufacturers over the coals and suggesting they work for $1 per year while voting to accept a raise themselves. Because the United States is hemorrhaging money at a far greater pace than the big three auto manufacturers, it just seemed disingenuous.

I then went on to extol the virtues of public servants such as Michael Balboni who gave up a critical Republican seat in the New York State Senate—taking a pay cut in the process—in order to serve as New York’s Homeland Security czar. The article was published in last week’s edition of the Long Island Press on exactly the day Balboni gave notice to the state and announced he is heading to the private sector.

 

Yep. I was that guy. The point of the article, though slightly diminished under the circumstances, remains the same. But I spent a great deal of time thinking about the best way to recover from this and came up with the following scenarios.

Grief. I wrote the article because I feared that he would leave. It was a last ditch effort to try and convince an incredible public official to remain in office and defend our great state against invisible enemies and unforeseen tragedies. Please Mr. Balboni, reconsider for our sake! Pleeeeaaaase!

Incredulity. How could he? Who does he think he is? Shame on Mr. Balboni for forsaking the good people of New York State and leaving us behind for selfish pursuits.

Narcissism. Clearly Mr. Balboni saw something in my article that touched a nerve deep inside of him. He surely misinterpreted my intention to shower him with accolades and decided based upon MY words and insight that he must move on from this post.

B.S. I knew it all along. In fact, he consulted me on the move, which is why I put this article in on the exact date that only Mr. Balboni and his family knew that he was leaving office.

Mea Culpa. My bad.

Denial. Did I say Michael Balboni? I meant Tom DiNapoli. The M-I-C-H-A-E-L-B-O-N keys on my keyboard often times stick together and instead show up as T-O-M-D-I-N-P-L. I sincerely apologize for the confusion. I have since swapped out my keyboard with Jamie from accounting.  

Instead, I’ll call it what it is. Unbelievable (and if you work at the Press – ridicule worthy) timing. The bright side is that I am able to dedicate space again to honor a man I admire greatly and consider a friend. Michael Balboni is the type of person that makes those around him better and it’s hard not to be caught up in his enthusiasm whether he’s speaking about his family, boxing, surfing, or homeland security.

If you have ever spent time in the company of Michael Balboni you know that he is remarkably self effacing and down to earth considering the gravity of the subject matter he studies and represents. His enthusiasm for the simple pleasures, such as his continual pursuit of the perfect wave, is contagious and his dedication to New York has been unwavering for twenty four years. I’m thrilled for his family and thankful that he is continuing in the field of homeland security, albeit in the private sector. And I still think that our local officials would be well-advised to take a page out of his book.

Now, as I was saying about that great Long Island public servant Tom DiNapoli…

Balboni Rising

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Mike Balboni. Politician. Badass.

 

Personally I have never really given much thought to the pay of elected officials because we have the ability to fire them.  But a few weeks ago Congress actually gave itself a raise shortly after its public repudiation of Wall Street and the auto industry. Local Congressman Gary Ackerman even went so far as to say that he considers public servants to be “greatly underpaid”. This is the same Congressman who now pulls in $174,000 per year in active income and reports anywhere between $15,000 and $50,000 in passive income as an owner of the Queens Tribune. Senator and Mrs. Schumer pulled in more than $370,000 from their government jobs and last year received another $94,000 in royalties from the Senator’s book about, well, being a Senator.

 

Ackerman’s grandstanding successfully grabbed headlines when he chastised the auto executives for flying privately to the bailout hearings. He joined a chorus of other lawmakers who recommended that the executives work for $1 per year just as Lee Iacocca famously did when he turned Chrysler around. To be fair, the auto executives deserved to be admonished for being so crass and out of touch as to charter private jets to defend why they should receive billions of taxpayer dollars to save their companies.

 

 

While the auto manufacturers looked remarkably out of touch with consumer demand and market realities, they hardly acted alone in killing consumer confidence and creating upheaval in the credit markets. If we’re going to get technical for a moment, it was the Senate banking committee (which Schumer is likely to head soon), The Federal Reserve, Washington lobbyists and investment banks that deregulated and dismantled our economy and contributed to the collapse of the markets. So under this logic shouldn’t we be asking the banking committee, investment bankers and all of Congress to work for $1 per year?

 

Quite the opposite, actually. Bank CEO’s were given billions of dollars and didn’t have to explain where it went, the Senate banking committee is still in power and Congress got a raise. What a country!

 

Today the hopes of a nation now squarely rest on the broad shoulders of a man who redefines American politics but our troubles at home are ever-present and frighteningly real. That’s why the differences and parallels between the leader of New York State and these United States are so interesting. The nation has its first black President by choice; New York has its first black Governor by happenstance. Both are competent, respected and affable and neither man shrinks from a challenge. Both have warned us of the perils that lay ahead.

 

A few weeks ago in this column I lauded then President-elect Obama to reappoint Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense to ensure a smooth transition in the most sensitive area of government. The same is actually true of David Paterson. He put aside politics in the case of homeland security and retained the services of Michael Balboni as Deputy Secretary for Public Safety.

  

On the surface, this doesn’t appear to be such a bold move since Balboni was already in the position under Spitzer. Yet some viewed Balboni’s original appointment as a political decision as much as a good policy choice. At the time, removing Republican Balboni from his Senate seat brought the New York Democrats one seat closer to a majority. But that was yesterday. Today the seat is in the hands of popular democrat Craig Johnson and the Senate is now under democrat control. Essentially Paterson could have taken the opportunity to fill Balboni’s department with patronage and party loyalists.

 

Instead, Paterson made the right decision for New Yorkers and continued his relationship with Balboni and his staff. It wasn’t long ago that Balboni himself was a high ranking Republican being considered for the State Attorney General’s position or possibly Governor. But a profound knowledge of Homeland Security forged early in his career—when it wasn’t the least bit fashionable—damned him to a position that, believe me, I’m thankful he’s in. When asked to serve New York in this capacity Balboni not only took a pay cut, he essentially sealed his fate with the Republican Party in New York and cast aside years of hard work climbing the political ladder.

 

Hmm. A public servant who serves the public to his financial and political detriment. Obama hasn’t cornered the market on nobility in public office after all. Examples of heroism through service are all around us; sometimes you just need to know where to look. If only Ackerman, Schumer and their colleagues took note. 

Inspired Journalism

When seeking inspiration I often meander down the aisles of local bookstores and invariably spend a great deal of time in the magazine section. I’m a Gen Xer who cannot seem to get enough of the printed word and there’s a level of satisfaction I receive when reading newspapers and magazines. I trust the printed word.

More than that, print vehicles inspire feelings in me that other mediums rarely convey. They beautifully blend art and commerce in neatly prepackaged and visually appealing masterpieces that are at times too important to let go of. My home office is packed with a wide range of specialty and general interest publications from Vanity Fair and Gentlemen’s Quarterly to Foreign Policy and Ring Magazine. Investigative pieces from alternative weeklies are mixed in among this disparate collection of personally idiosyncratic interests.

More than bookmarking a page on the internet, the dog eared pages of these papers and magazines take me back to where I was when I first read them; like a familiar smell from childhood has the ability to instantly transport you to a faraway time and place. They chronicle the jagged path of personal growth in a way other media outlets simply cannot do.

Recently I uncovered articles I had written for my college newspaper. It’s where I caught the bug that would fuel my desire to launch the Long Island Press. While my style is somewhat recognizable, I barely know the person who authored the pieces. Back then it seems I was somewhere lightly to the right of Stalin – no doubt a youthful attempt to swim against the stream of liberal ideology I was surrounded by on campus. There is a famous saying (erroneously linked to Winston Churchill) that says “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart.  If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” My personal evolution has been the antithesis of this to say the very least.

There’s something comforting about reading about past events in an article that begins with something other than “wiki”. You get a sense of where the writer really was both physically and emotionally. A newspaper article may collect dust on my shelf for years before I revisit it, but I almost always get more out of it with new and older eyes. Context is essential in understanding the information from articles and stories from yesteryear. Looking at advertisements on adjacent pages, columns from the talking heads of the day and the look and feel of the product speak volumes about the era the words were originally authored in and tell us something that an archived blog post can never fully offer.

So here I am – a member of generation X already reminiscing about a near-forgotten era of yellowed newspaper pages and dog eared magazines. I am self aware enough to recognize that this feeling comes from a place tinged with sadness. The industry I love is dying – or should I say changing forever. Most of the changes are important, necessary and irrevocable and we are working to be a positive force in this change as are many of my colleagues. But any catharsis is not without casualties. Great newspapermen and women, revered journalists and important social commentators are being cast aside, retired early or marginalized. I suppose this is my way of saluting every one of them whose service to our nation is no less important than our armed forces because the journalist-as-truth-seeker is part of the fabric of our democracy our soldiers defend.

I will continue to pay tribute to these great heroes of democracy long after they lay down their pens as their words will live forever on my bookshelves and the archive of my mind.  

Unintended Consequence

The leader of the free world is a black man. Yes, thank you, I do enjoy playing the role of Captain Obvious. So much has been said and written about the meaning of this and how far America has come in making this choice. But there is a sinister side to the top job being filled by an African American that has surfaced recently in discussions among white Americans that is endangering the progress we have made.

Increasingly there are email threads and discussions being held about how this is obviously the end of racism because a black man now occupies the highest office in the land. As though somehow this is the capstone moment to the civil rights movement that indicates some kind of closure—that the struggle has come to an end. I imagine black Americans taking issue with this notion, and rightfully so, but what I’m referring to is an attitude displayed at the water cooler that must be acknowledged and talked about.

There have always been black leaders in this country that transcended politics and represented the race struggle in our society. Throughout this national blemish, and after the time of Frederick Douglas, there was usually more than one leader who represented black America. Booker T. Washington’s influence in American black history is undeniable but even in his time his methods were challenged by fellow black leaders, most notably W.E.B DuBois. Decades later the civil rights movement would also have leaders such as Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr. who carried the civil rights issue forward into American consciousness but from different perspectives.

Boxing is my favorite sport as much for how closely it parallels American politics. The civil rights movement evolved through larger-than-life figures who galvanized not only the black population but all of America. The Jack Johnson era gave way to the Joe Louis era. Both men were leapfrogged in our consciousness by a man who would electrify the world. Muhammad Ali did more to raise the profile of African Americans all over the world than perhaps any other figure until Barack Obama.

So what happens when the man who captured the imagination of black America captures the imaginations of us all? Barack Obama no longer uniquely belongs to the African American race like the leaders who paved the way before him. Barack Obama belongs to the world. The man, his family and everything he stands for now screams “America” and it is how the world will identify with us for at least the next four years. If we were all cowboys with a swagger and a ‘shoot first ask questions later’ attitude for the past eight years, we are now part of the Obama movement.

White America was prepared to accept this reality by participating in this choice but it is already coming at a price. I have received email threads about white pride from very normal and respectable people and had conversations with people who now assume that the civil rights struggle has come to an end. But the way in which we speak about race in this country is a strange dance with very particular rules of engagement, though  they may be unwritten.  Jokes about African Americans told by white people are still told with a sly glance over the shoulder or allowed to be only spoken loudly by black comedians. What I have heard more than anything are comments like, “affirmative action is obviously over” and “no more favoritism, we’re all on equal footing.”

America, we need to talk about this… Openly. Your thoughts?

Auto-Neurotic Asphyxiation

I should have turned the radio off.

But the ongoing train wreck that is the Senate Banking Committee held yet another hearing from on high, and it proved too tempting turn away from. This auditory rubbernecking has caused me much consternation this year as I listen to the mightiest public servants in the land plod through testimony attempting to outdo one another with the toughest question or most intelligent preamble to a rhetorical question.

The latest subjects paraded in front of the Kangaroo Court were the chief executive officers from GM, Ford and Chrysler. The committee wasted no time trying to impress them with their vast knowledge of the auto industry and ability to ask long-winded, self- aggrandizing questions. I could hear their fingers wagging through my car radio and hear their aides actually speaking in muffled tones while they ignored the executives who were answering their insipid questions.

My road rage became palpable when one committee member suggested they each take $1 salaries, like Lee Iacocca famously did, until their companies became profitable again. I have a better idea. Since the Banking Committee systematically and autonomously dismantled the regulations put in place after the Great Depression to avoid another economic collapse, why don’t they work for $1 per year?

It’s hard to swallow the committee’s self-righteous indignation when these are the same bastards who tore down the financial markets and have been shifting the blame ever since. It was, after all, the Banking Committee that repealed acts such as Glass Steagall, which efficiently regulated the banking industry since the 1930s.

One of my favorite criticisms by the committee is how U.S. auto manufacturers didn’t respond quickly enough to rising fuel prices by rolling out more fuel efficient cars. Yet it was the same committee that deregulated the commodities market allowing rampant speculation to artificially drive up fuel prices to record highs rendering their product lines virtually obsolete overnight. These same senators are the ones who haven’t been able to rally the United States government to adopt emission standards and follow stricter efficiency protocols that have been seamlessly implemented by foreign nations that are now more competitive in auto manufacturing than we are.

I wonder how many of the Senate Banking Committee members drove away from the hearing in their standard government-issue black SUVs?

I’m no apologist for SUVs and overcompensated executives but it’s time to cut out the negative discourse surrounding the bailout. For that matter, stop referring to it as a bailout and consider it an investment into the workers who carried the nation on their backs and ushered in an era of unmatched American productivity. Besides executive compensation being out of control, another critical problem is that auto manufacturers have essentially become, as I heard described by one pundit, giant healthcare and pension companies that happen to make automobiles on the side. That’s why many claim that bankruptcy is the only solution to lawfully reorganize these companies and allow them to press the reset button. Unfortunately, no one is going to purchase an automobile from a bankrupt car company, which would force the manufacturers to slide from chapter 11 to chapter 7 faster than the attorneys could draw up the paperwork.

Instead, the government must use its power to intervene with the unions and mediate a settlement instead of forcing the automakers into bankruptcy to reorganize. Government should be working alongside automakers to meet more aggressive corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards and provide incentives for American workers to get hybrid and electric vehicles on the road.

As a nation we can decide to view the challenges that lie ahead as problems or opportunities. Let’s get past the blame game with executives pointing the finger at the unions, unions pointing the finger at management and government pointing the finger at Wall Street. There’s no question that executive compensation should be curtailed and bonuses should be forfeited. Once that’s established, let’s get past the punitive portion of the hearings and begin a partnership where we can collectively challenge one another to adapt and improve.

Butt Out

New York digs a hole for itself and looks for the little guy to fill it

buttKing Michael Bloomberg from the neighboring fiefdom of New York City is running out of cash. Well, not him per se but his empire. Having run high on the hog collecting tax bounty from the robber barons on Wall Street lo these many years, his treasury is dwindling. So King Mike is doing what any good monarch would do—get it from the poor. More specifically, the poorest people in the nation.

King Mike believes that New York State is losing millions of potential tax dollars from the illegal sale of cigarettes from New York tribes such as Shinnecock Reservation and Poospatuck to non-native reservation dwelling residents.  He likens the governor’s avoidance of cracking down on Native Americans to him letting murderers go free in the city. Ah. I can see the correlation. 

Here we are hundreds of years removed from the beginnings of the Native American genocide and American politicians are trying to finish the job. Not satisfied with banishing the remaining native people to the farthest reaches of their homeland, our elected officials are still seeking ways to humiliate an entire race of people.

Is it illegal for Native Americans to sell cigarettes without collecting sales tax? I don’t know. Was it legal to purposely spread chicken pox during peace time to systematically eradicate a native population? Was it legal to exile a people to the most resource-poor areas of their homeland and then kill their game and pollute their water supply? Is it legal that one in three Native American women living on reservations today will be the victim of rape during her lifetime and that it will be ignored by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs? Is it legal that the Bureau of Indian Affairs arbitrarily refuses to “recognize” tribes such as the Shinnecock Nation?

To fully understand the Native American paradox of living autonomously within the borders of its conquering nation you must first walk a mile in their moccasins. Native Americans living on reservation land cannot obtain a mortgage since the land beneath their homes cannot be repossessed. As we have learned all too painfully from the current mortgage crisis our economy hinges on the consumer’s ability to create value and equity in his or her home. Absent this single piece, Native Americans are forced to live outside reservation land to achieve the so-called American dream of home ownership. For those who choose to stay on reservation land, options are dramatically reduced.

So are they selling contraband? Maybe. Does the humiliation visited upon them for the past two hundred years justify allowing them to continue the practice regardless of the findings in the court? I think so.

Bloomberg’s castigation of these tribes is a cheap tactic that makes the victim out to be the perpetrator. It reflects a remarkably shallow understanding of the relationship between tribal people in New York and the local government and highlights his total lack of historical perspective. His precious Manhattan was swindled from under the bare feet of Native Americans and still he wants more.

I like this King Michael. I think he’s an intellectual, a visionary and nonconformist. Therefore, I expect more of him.