Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In NYS, Irony Equals Hypocrisy — But We Don't Like to Talk About It Much

From the April 17, 2012, Norwich (NY) Evening Sun, whose generally pro-drilling coverage has long been invisible outside the region, behind a paywall.  For more on this incident, see Exhibit B below.
[Original post April 12, 2012.  Some updates internally, and to adjust for the clipping above.]

It's right under everybody's nose.  But you sure don't hear much about it.  Must be too dangerous. 

Ordinarily, irony — especially cheap irony — is something with great appeal for media people.  But apparently not in New York.  Reportorial senses seem to be dulled by youth, overwork, underpay, and relentless furrowed brows from Sixties Generation editors.

Some things are just too impolite to point out, evidently.

So, here, let me do the honors.

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Exhibit A — Ithaca, NY:  Progressive entrepreneurs organized as Energized Ithaca recently announced a plan to install a co-generation facility somewhere in that city's Nifty Downtown Area — in order to efficiently generate both electricity for the grid, and heat for nearby buildings.

I endorse this.  I'm all for electricity, heat, and efficiency.

This co-gen plan is still in its infant stages, and it doesn't look like any particular site has been picked yet.  But the apparently unprincipled Ithaca City Council was asked to back it in principle, and did so, unanimously, April 4, 2012.  Their symbolic act was greatly simplified by the fact that taxpayers aren't expected to be asked for any funds or tax breaks.

I endorse this.  I'm all for unsubsidized private sector development.

The entrepreneurs were apparently just looking to get some sign of Advance Public Consensus — and thus to fend off any possible Developmental Train Wreck, down the line.  That can happen.  In fact, energy infrastructure projects tend to often derail in that way, especially in highly educated, highly touchy, full-of-themselves, prone-to-protest regions— where it's practically a matter of Social Custom to challenge pretty much everything.

An area like Ithaca.

So what's the fuel source?  (Good question!  Excellent friggin' question!)

In its next-day coverage, generally describing how co-gen works, the Ithaca Journal made a trepidacious, passing reference to "gas turbines."  But nowhere did the reporter come out and openly report that this thing is gonna be powered by natural gas.  (That's inevitably the case, unless, I suppose, the developers were to later reveal they're actually thinking about wood chips, coal, sewage sludge, or garbage — and something tells me those ain't gonna fly, next door to The Commons, the pita man, the tapas bars, and the head shops.)

Now, if you've seen the news lately, you know that natural gas is the same stuff they're fracking the hell out of Pennsylvania in order to supply, among other places, still-frackless New York, including Ithaca — which ranks as The Northeastern U.S. Left Wing's HQ for the War Against Fracking.

It's heavy metal irony, dude.  It's radioactive hypocrisy.  It's everything you ever wanted in a local news story, but were simply too afraid to publish.
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Exhibit B — Town of Plymouth, Chenango County, NY:  As can be divined by a close reading of the online conversations hosted by the CNY Landowners' Coalition, a local anti-frack activist (and recently unsuccessful candidate for a seat on the town board), Peter Hudiburg, of South Plymouth, was exposed at an April 9 public meeting as somebody who — gasp! — signed, and then later extended, a gas lease!

(Not only that, but these were low-paying boilerplate lease documents, drafted by lawyers working for Norse Energy, the dominant operator in that locality.  And, not only that, but the time frame for at least one of Hudiburg's fully compensated signatures laps well into the period after shale gas became Public Enemy Number One for at least a certain class of Righteous Upstater.)

It would be one thing if Hudiburg had already voluntarily gone public with his past indiscretions, possibly somewhere within one of his lengthy letters to the editor published by the Norwich Evening Sun.  Or before he got rolling, during one of his prior, long-winded appearances before the Plymouth Town Board — seeking to add another locality to New York State's Symbolic Frack Ban Scoreboard.  (That's what the group Fleased stands for — upstate landowners who acknowledge they signed oil and gas leases in the past, before the enterprise became so controversial that they have now gotten pretty well freaked out about it.  Which is fair enough by me, for as long as they feel the need to be that way, concerning their own land.)

But that was never part of Hudiburg's schtick.

Instead, here's how it all went down, according to fastbasser, giving his review later the same night as a Plymouth Town Board meeting:
"When it was brought up, poor old Pete freaked...  He started yelling and would not let the 'presenter' finish what he was saying!  He was so belligerent, the Supervisor was forced to suspend the meeting, call the Sheriff's Department and have his sorry butt escorted out!"

"It was so entertaining!  A copy of his gas contract was then given to the board for their records."

"I wonder how he is gonna 'spin' this to all the sheep he has been lying to.  What a piece of work!!!!"
I suppose it's too much to hope that smartphone video cameras might have been ready and rolling.  If it helped the technologically blessed anti's, I'm sure it would have been posted by now.
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Exhibit C — Hamilton, NY:  This is the home of Colgate University, and — like most upstate college towns — even the graying members of the local population are generally Youthfully Outraged at the Threat Fracking Obviously Poses to Upstate.

Meanwhile, however, elected village elders — starting nearly three years ago — have been slowly shepherding through a plan for a non-profit, municipally owned utility to bring natural gas to the college, the hospital, the schools, and, later on, businesses and residents.

Two different supply pipelines could be tapped into, only eight miles away.  And, for the bigger institutions, the savings in heating costs alone are currently forecast to be 50% or more.  Which is kind of hard to argue against, unless you happen to be the sort of villager who takes seriously his or her philosophical consistencies. 

Media coverage on this one has, on at least one occasion, had the good, dutiful sense to call passing attention to the Psychological Stress such a money-saving innovation is triggering among the Anti-Frack Faithful.  Here's how a March 21, 2012, story in the Utica Observer-Dispatch handled it, down at the tail end
"[Mayor Margaret Miller] said the other topic that drew the most interest at the public hearing was how the gas utility would relate to hydraulic fracturing."
“'There is obvious concern, not only in Hamilton, but statewide and nationally, about the process of fracking in mining for natural gas.  Hamilton will not be mining for gas.  Our proposed municipal gas utility will be structured to buy gas from existing third-party sources and distribute it to users in the village,' explained Miller. 'Our plan is to provide access to an energy source that is cleaner and more economical than some of the other fuels currently available in the village. We respect the concern, and expect to explain the distinction again during the public meeting.'”
Isn't that special?

The latest report on Hamilton's utility plan indicates there's a referendum coming right up — open to registered village voters, April 17, noon to 9 p.m., at the Hamilton Public Library.  If I were running that vote, I would just love to slip in a second question, asking Hamiltonians how they feel about their own fellow Upstate New Yorkers someday being finally allowed to help supply the village — by making business arrangements to develop their subterranean resource.

[Update April 18:  Hamilton villagers proved themselves Wildly Gung Ho on the natgas question — at least as measured on the End Consumer side.  Reports today have the tally as 240-56 in favor, or better than 4-to-1 (Utica paper), or 240-86, or just less than 3-to-1 (Syracuse paper).  Now if we could just see about renting a table at their summertime farmer's market, and setting up a "Buy Local" shale gas promotion.]
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Exhibit D — Binghamton, NY:  The Gannett chain's Press and Sun-Bulletin — the merged successor to the newspaper I grew up delivering, reading, and at one time respecting — on April 10, 2012, announced it could no longer afford to give away its coverage for free online.  A pay wall is coming, which will slam shut before non-subscribing readers, after a limited number of teasy reads. 

I don't begrudge them this.  In fact, I don't begrudge anyone the need to make a living, certainly not around these parts.

But I do begrudge them the outrageous hypocrisy of working aggressively for years against the economic interests of their own readership, and then — way, way, way late in the game — complaining about the area's economic decay, and vowing to finally maybe do something about it.

Here's the part that just kills me:
"Starting in May, we will expand the way we deliver information to our readers and focus our reporting on the topics you have told us are most important...  We will be focusing more on topics you've told us you're passionate about: revitalization of the Triple Cities area, economic development and new opportunities for better jobs...  We believe that, as a business, we can no longer give away our unique and valuable content on the Web. The business model is changing, but we will continue our mission: serving the greater good of our community for many, many more years to come."
Isn't that choice?

This is the same paper that's systematically led the transformation of Upstate's Shale Gas Opportunity — and there's no place richer in natural gas from Marcellus shale than virtually every single acre traipsed by the God-forsaken carriers delivering that publication — into some kind of Freaky Cataclysmic Demon.

I don't know what, in particular, has finally triggered this avowed journalistic turn-around (nor will I believe it, until I see it).  Could be the well-publicized stumblings of the parent corporation, or the now-obvious poverty of its readership area, once called the Valley of Opportunity, an epithet that's now wholly sarcastic.

If it were up to me, though, heads would be positively rolling at that publication!

It is not enough to give readers a non-apology for years of ignoring their complaints of outrageous bias — and then to vow to finally cover what the people really care about, in a tolerable style of wide-angled perspective, and even-handed professionalism.

I don't care what kind of Woodward and Bernstein Dream World you live in.  But you don't earn a living, or win prizes, economically hurting your own people.  And that's exactly what the Binghamton Press has done for too long.

For that, I hope future readers — even if they have to pay for the privilege — never forget, and never forgive.


Tracy m. said...

Gannett Galactic HQ dictated the boilerplate that you excerpted in Exhibit D, since virtually the same thing appeared in the Ithaca Journal--which has been an empty shell of a newspaper for some time now.

Yes, it's certainly difficult to feel any sympathy.

Anonymous said...

This is not a question; but rather an opinion. Why would anyone pay to read a biased re-write of news that the Press first reads from multiple news sources such as the The Washington Post, The NY Times or The Wall Street Journal.(?) Any well informed citizen knows that the number of times a story is re-phrased, the greater the chances of its meaning being altered and the truth obscured. ..... Press ... 'Rest In Peace'