You Like Us… You Really Like Us!

Courage, discipline and time. These are the ingredients that comprise great reporting. These are the characteristics that allow our writers to author pieces that challenge conventional wisdom, spark investigations and inspire legislation. It’s heady stuff.

My arm hurts. A job-related injury, no less. Who knew stretching before repeatedly patting oneself on the back was so important? This past weekend I accompanied a small group of Long Island Press staffers to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to attend the New York Press Association’s annual convention and awards ceremony. Not only was it an exceptional weekend in one of my favorite towns in America, but the Press did exceedingly well in the competition. In fact, we crushed it. 
In addition to winning 23 awards, 13 taking top honors, the Press received the Stuart C. Dorman Award for Editorial Excellence. Or, if you prefer: Newspaper of the Year. When we returned home, we were also notified that Chris Twarowski’s investigative series on the Cedar Creek sewage treatment facility was a finalist for the coveted Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) Awards. 
Remarkably, I have yet to partake in the Dionysian revelry—feasting upon grapes and red wine whilst paraded through the office by strapping young men carrying me in a sedan chair—that typically accompanies such an impressive honor. 
The business of journalism has changed, but the journalism we value as a culture has not. Unfortunately, the reality of the former has impacted the sheer volume of the latter, which has led to a dearth of quality, long-form investigative journalism. This was evidenced by the fact that we swept both the in-depth reporting and the feature story categories. This is not to say our victories were preordained by the process of elimination; rather, it is because we determined as an organization that this would be the area of our field in which we excel. And we do. 
This isn’t all about the reporting and editing. It takes discipline to shelve a story that hits a dead end, no matter how long a story has been pursued. It takes courage to run with a story that has the potential to spurn advertisers or invite personal harm. It takes time for writers to hone their craft and develop their intuition. 
Courage, discipline and time. These are the ingredients that comprise great reporting. These are the characteristics that allow our writers to author pieces that challenge conventional wisdom, spark investigations and inspire legislation. It’s heady stuff. But they do not perform in a vacuum. This is a contract between writer and reader, one that is based upon trust. So, although the accolades and awards from our peers offer validation of our principles, our exuberance stems more from the fact that our product and presence have grown on Long Island more in the past two years than at any time during our nine-year journey. 
We have grown in the financial sense, yes, though it would be difficult to imagine performing worse given the economic tsunami in 2008 that accompanied an already declining ad-revenue market, paired with the great migration from print to online. More importantly, our print readership and circulation has remained stable while our online readership has grown more than 400 percent. I offer this not as a self-indulgent note (a continuation of the self-congratulatory diatribe above) but as an affirmation that journalism on Long Island is thriving in both our print and online manifestations; a clear benefit to you, the reader, and to our social, economic and political systems as a whole. 
At a time when the public is decrying the lack of transparency in government, the news media are still the primary sources for the antidote. And while many in our industry are bemoaning the continuing decline in advertising revenue and the direct impact it has on our collective ability to challenge the establishment and demand greater probity from power brokers and public officials, we could not be more excited to meet the challenge. In fact, I firmly believe there has never been a more exciting, necessary and interesting time to be in the field of journalism. 
The Long Island Press is entirely advertiser supported; therefore, our contract extends to our clients as well. Because we hold doggedly to our integrity and refrain from breaching the sacred wall between advertising and editorial, we have also managed over the past nine years to assemble a discerning clientele who recognize the value of our honesty, even when they may vehemently disagree with something we have written. 
Our success this week is a powerful reminder that we serve two masters: advertisers and readers. The unwritten contractual common ground is a bond that is enduring and growing ever stronger. The timing of it all gave me pause and a reason to take a break from my normal harangue to acknowledge the role we all play in disseminating the truth. This collaboration means the world to us, which is why we proudly accept the honors bestowed upon us this week, and the ones in years past, on behalf of the companies that support us and the readers who hold us accountable and rightfully demand more of their local newspaper.

Nuclear Fallout

Today, twenty-two years after the death of our nuclear power potential, those opposed to the plant may have their final moment of vindication as we witness the horrors unfolding in Japan as a result of the earthquake and tsunami.

The Cover Image of the Press story on Shoreham, twenty years later.

Growing up on Long Island, Shoreham was always more of a word than a place. It meant “nuclear”. Not a coastal town above scenic 25A on my beloved Long Island. Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. As a child of the 80’s that was the extent of my understanding of this thing called Shoreham. Most people remember Shoreham as the focal point of a historic clash between anti-nuclear advocates and the embattled Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) that ended in the decommissioning of both the plant and the commission itself. Long Island was left with a structural eyesore, $6billion in debt, a new authority called LIPA and the highest electric rates in the country.

Today, twenty-two years after the death of our nuclear power potential, those opposed to the plant may have their final moment of vindication as we witness the horrors unfolding in Japan as a result of the earthquake and tsunami.

Japan is in the middle of a natural disaster biblical in scale. Mother Nature unleashed a furor that leveled coastal areas and infrastructure as though they were architectural renderings and not the real thing. Home to some of the greatest engineers and most innovative structures ever conceived in the modern era, Japan is struggling to contain the very worst of all human fears: nuclear fallout. On the other side of the world it has Long Islanders whispering, “there but for the grace of God…”

Two years ago the Long Island Press news team visited the decommissioned plant and walked with the ghosts of our past through the core of the power plant. (Click here to view the cover story) It was part of a twenty-year anniversary retrospective on the closing of the plant. As a young, eager staff we walked wide-eyed through the cavernous structure in disbelief. It was something out of an old sci-fi movie. It didn’t seem real. The officials from LIPA responsible for upkeep on the property guided us through the maze of concrete tunnels, into the control room and even into the core of what was once the reactor. By this time we were all uncharacteristically silent and in awe.

In a post 9-11 world, our guides took great pains to explain how the plant was engineered to withstand the impact of a fully-fueled 747, the largest passenger plane ever constructed at the time. We didn’t think to ask what might happen if as storm the size of the “Long Island Express” hurricane in 1938 blew through again or, God forbid, an earthquake followed by a tsunami. There are, after all, limits to the human imagination. Mother Nature’s imagination, on the other hand, seems to know no bounds.

As we struggle with our energy past and future and mine the resources of the planet to feed our insatiable desire for economic and human population expansion, we are witnessing yet another reminder that the eyes of the world may be bigger than our collective stomach. Tonight I’ll be raising a glass to Richie Kessel and those who had the foresight to know that just because you can build something it doesn’t always mean you should. Six billion dollars and high electric rates now seem like a small price to pay. Then I will say a quiet prayer, alongside six billion others, for those who lost their lives at the hands of a fate they couldn’t control. May this disaster be over and forever be categorized as “natural” and not be prolonged by something manmade.