Shawn's Reporter Blog

On the verge of “Progress”

Friday, January 24th, 2014
Shawn Magrath

• If ever there’s a time of year when The Evening Sun staff has little on their plate, January more than makes up for it. As I’m sure most readers are well aware, it’s “Progress Chenango” time at the newsroom, a time when staffers drink unsafe amounts of coffee and forget what fresh air smells like. Fortunate for me, my share of Progress work is done for another year. But it’s just getting started for our Editor in Chief, who faces the weekend task of putting the behemoth of a project together. The rest of us will be taking turns Saturday to prod her awake by poking her with a stick, and occasionally wiping the drool off her keyboard.

• On Thursday, “Taking Back Chenango County” met at the Sheriff’s Office for the second time sine the group formed in December. First off, I have to say I admire this group because they’ve shown that they love the area – love it – and are eager to make a positive change. I think their efforts were clearly born of good intent and I wish every one involved the very best of luck in what they’re trying to accomplish.

That said (and at the risk of sounding like a downer) it will be interesting to see if anything comes of it. Admittedly, I didn’t attend either of the past two meetings; but I get the impression that many who did are people who genuinely want change but aren’t too eager to rise to the challenge (I have my own term for these types of people, but I’ll refrain for the sake of my “virgin ear” readers). I don’t think it’s fair that anyone show up to these meetings just to delegate their ideas to someone else. My feeling is if you really want to see something good happen, then get involved. If you have an idea, follow through. Be productive. Be hands on. Attending a an occasional meeting to pat yourself on the back is not “hands on” work, but merely cheering from the sidelines.

Regardless, good luck, Taking Back Chenango. If there’s one thing this area needs, it’s proactive measures.

• On an off topic, my job requires that I take photos for front page stories as often as possible. Unfortunately, because my primary beat is city and county governments, I don’t spend too much time with a camera in hand. On the rare occasions I do, I wonder if a monkey could snap a better picture. So what’s a reporter to do but learn more about the photography trade? I recently watched an online video from New York Times Magazine that featured tips and tricks from from a 60-plus year veteran cat photographer. What I learned – other than the profession of “cat photographer” is a thing – is it’s best to be eye-level with the subject, then grunt, bark, moan or groan to get a reaction… I’ll let you know how it works for me.

• Fellow reporter Matt White recently told me that white noise often helps with concentration and focus in the office. I’ve heard this before, so I decided to try it out today. I started with a 10-hour soundbite of a vacuum cleaner. That got old fast, so I switched to “noisy cafe,” then to the sound of rain. Then I started listening to Eric Clapton’s “Let it Rain.” Then the Beatles’ “Here comes the sun.” Before I knew it, things got out of hand and I was listening to the Black Eyed Peas, which I assure does not bolster concentration nor creativity. Maybe I’ll try the whole “white noise” thing again another day.

Columbo was never on Facebook

Friday, January 10th, 2014
Shawn Magrath

Time to make good a new year’s resolution – blog more.

Despite my prolonged hiatus from the blogoshpere, let it be known it wasn’t for lack of trying to post something. Progress. It seems, however, that every time I tried to blog over the last two weeks, something else took priority. Progress. And that something consumed a lot of my time and attention. Progress. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get away from it. Progress.

For those who can’t quite crack the subliminal code ever so cleverly and discretely woven in, “Progress Chenango” is underway. My own griping aside, the 10-section behemoth that is Progress Chenango serves you – the reader – as an in depth snapshot of various Chenango County businesses, local governments and non profits, the ground they’ve made in the last year and the goals they’ve set for the year to come. From a reporter’s perspective, all those extra stories equate to late nights at the office, living off burnt coffee and whatever we find in the community refrigerator, and trying to make sense of the night time conversations overheard on Lackawanna Ave. (things that can’t be unheard, unfortunately). As our editor put it: wake, write, sleep, repeat. Sound about right.

I feel I wouldn’t be doing justice to my job as a reporter without recapping a tragic series of events that occurred over the last week. On Monday night and Tuesday morning, Mayhood’s Sporting Goods was burglarized not once, but twice. Stolen merchandise included 22 handguns, several long guns and ammunition. On Wednesday, police released the name of Christopher Gonzalez as a suspect wanted for questioning in relation to the burglaries. And for reasons and causes unbeknownst to the public, Gonzalez was found dead on County Road 36 on Friday – the same day police announced they had also arrested Gonzalez’s girlfriend, Brandy Bousson, as an accomplice in the burglaries just two days prior.

All that said, I encourage everyone to let investigators do their job. Of course, nothing can stop the rumor mill once it’s started. But for the sake of the family and respect for the deceased, I say let the issue be until further information is disclosed.

It just occurred to me, Columbo was never on Facebook. “Just one more thing…”

Lastly, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a reporter if I didn’t also bring notice to the heavy traffic at the intersection of South Broad and the Price Chopper Plaza in Norwich. I was stopped at a red light three times before I made it through. I suspect the Norwich mayor has something to do with it. Scandal? Maybe. Minor inconvenience? You know it.

Fire, festivities, and flying deliveries

Friday, December 6th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

• Last Friday, fire struck The Storage Center in the Town of Norwich, destroying 40 units and wiping out the belongings of hundreds of people. Among the lost items was nearly $8,000 worth of merchandise for the Chenango County Toys for Tots program. Ironically enough, the support given to Toys for Tots since then has put the organization on the fast track to having the best year its ever had. At the risk of sounding like a jerk (and please don’t misconstrue this as not being happy Toys for Tots has pulled through this challenge), maybe that fire is one of the best things that’s ever happened for the local Toys for Tots. It’s funny the way those kinds of things work out.

• Fantastic job to all the kiddos involved in the tree lighting ceremony in the parks in downtown Norwich on Thursday. It baffles me that there are so few events that mix school and community; so whenever the two come together, I’m there. Additional kudos to the volunteers that decorated the park. It’s not quite Rockefeller Center, but it could very well be the next best thing.

• This week, Amazon, the online retail giant, announced hopes of having packages delivered via drone within the next five years. According to the company, a customer could place and order and have it land in their front yard in as few as 30 minutes. For me, it’s concerning as no one knows exactly who will collect customers’ signatures (my solution is to have another drone fly out with a little clipboard, but we’ll see what Amazon comes up with). There are a lot of mixed feelings about use of drones, but if the technology exists, I say why not use it? As I read in one article, having my package shot out of the sky is a whole lot cooler than having it stolen from my front porch.

• The Christmas season is here which means gift shopping, that holly-jolly sense of the seasonal spirit and a barrage of inflatable stuff on peoples’ front yards. All over, homeowners are tapping into their inner Clark Griswold – some hanging enough lights to land a small aircraft. Personally, while I’m not a fan of any decoration that has be deflated when the wind blows too hard, I look forward to lights hanging from rooftops (even though some have been hanging year round and December just means it’s time to plug them in again). It’s the one thing I’ll miss when the holidays have come and gone.

They have the right to know

Friday, November 15th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

In spite of the surprise speed bump that slowed us down the last couple months, we are steadily restoring order in The Evening Sun newsroom. After losing two reporter positions and an editor in September, I think we’re close to getting all four wheels back on the ground. Our two newest reporters, Matt White and Brittany Grove, have adjusted their chair to the way they like it and are still learning rules of the reporting gig. Meanwhile, I’m settling back into my old beat: county government, Norwich City government, the Norwich City School District and a few not for profits in the area. It’s a slow return to normalcy after having covered everything – or at least, desperately trying to cover everything – during that month long stint when I was the only reporter on staff. As for Ashley, she’s growing the thick skin needed to take the public ridicule that comes with the ever so coveted job of newspaper editor. It’s amazing what she’s put up with so far, even though she is getting $90 an hour and a company car to do it…

Admittedly, our hometown daily has taken a hit in recent weeks. News stories have been slow to get out and there’s been more than few errors made along the way. Readers are becoming frustrated as are some local voices who feel their newsworthy tips are being underplayed or simply ignored altogether. In the broad scheme of things, it’s a feeling that’s warranted. After all, the bulk of our readership pays for local news and it’s certainly not unreasonable to want what’s paid for. County residents have a right to know how their taxes are being spent. They have a right to know how, or even if, elected officials are working in the best interest of the community. They have a right to know what’s happening in their hometown, the positive and the negative that can effect them both directly and indirectly. They have the right to know how their own decisions might themselves and others. They have the right to know and we here at The Evening Sun are obligated to serve as a viable source of information.

But at the same time (and at the risk of sounding cliché) Rome wasn’t built in a day. We are in the rebuilding process at The Evening Sun. I believe we finally have a good team of reporters on board, one that’s up to the challenge of learning the intricate details of every story from every approachable angle. We each carry with us a unique perspective while at the same time, doing our best to view each story objectively. And if there’s something we have missed, I believe we each share the same commitment to make it right because like I said, readers have the right to know.

The only thing I ask in return is a little bit of indulgence. We may be up to full staff but that’s a far cry from making us perfect. We will continue to improve but in the meantime, I’m asking for just the slightest conveyance of patience and understanding for me, for our new editor, and for our two new reporters. We’ll get there.

TV grids are useless

Friday, October 25th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

It amazes me that people still use the TV grid in the newspaper. Given our Jetsons-like era of instant information, you would think a TV grid in a small town newspaper would be as useless as an ejector seat in a helicopter. Just an observation…

After three weeks of being the sole reporter for The Evening Sun, this week I relinquished my title as senior/seasoned/and cub reporter all rolled into one. Welcome to the newest Evening Sun employee, Matthew White – reporter, columnist and, I think, a black belt in taijutsu. Though Matt comes from a background in construction, he’s fitting nicely at Chenango County’s hometown daily and with a few stories already under his belt, he’s off to a terrific start. Of course, we are still hiring one more reporter in the near future. Changes are forthcoming (fingers crossed, knock on wood, find a four leaf clover, sneeze three times before breakfast for good luck).

On a separate note, it’s been more than three weeks since the federal government rolled out the new Healthcare.gov website to encourage people to enroll in a healthcare plan to satisfy the individual mandate of the Affordable Healthcare Act. Supposing you don’t already know, the website has more than few glitches. In the past weeks, it’s become a scapegoat for Republicans to further criticize the new Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare.” To me, it seems like a petit argument, using a bugged website to criticize an impending law we’ve known about for months. I admit, I have my own qualms with Obamacare (specifically my belief that it’s a train wreck in the making). Nevertheless, I know it’s right around the corner. The fact that a website has some issues to work out doesn’t reverse months and month (and months) of news coverage leading up to the Jan. 1 deadline that starts the individual mandate. But despite my reservations, I don’t blame a website. I’m smart enough to know Obamacare is the new law of the land… website or not.

Also noteworthy, this is my 100th blog. Release the balloons and confetti. Parade will commence in ten minutes…

Congrats to our new editor

Friday, October 4th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

It looks like a busy weekend ahead in the City of Norwich. The Chenango SPCA is holding its annual “Did Somebody Say Walk” fundraiser in Weiler Park, the Norwich Merchants Association is sponsoring the second Fall Crafts Festival, and the 15th Annual Pumpkin Festival kicks off in East and West parks. If ever there was a good weekend to get out and take some photos for the Evening Sun Facebook page, this is it.

My congratulations to Evening Sun Sun Interim Editor Ashley Biviano for making it through her first week in the captain’s seat without breaking a sweat (at least not to my knowledge). They say the hardest part of change is starting over, which is what Ashley has shown to do in her new position. The amount of time it takes to build one paper is extraordinary and Ashley has certainly served her time, as evidenced by the new tally marks scratched on the wall behind the editor’s desk. She’s in the office when I arrive in the morning and she stays there long after I leave in the afternoon. Quite honestly, I’m convinced there’s a tether connecting her ankle to her her desk; when she gets too far out, it snaps her right back. I’m thinking of getting her a cot and portable stove – and maybe a goldfish just to keep her company.

On that note, we are down to one reporter now – a role filled yours truly. I ask for your patience as we try to fill the two open reporter positions as quickly as possible. If you know someone, or know someone who knows someone who can write, feel free to mention to them that there are openings at Chenango’s hometown daily. Once you get past the past all the Clark Kent/Superman “mild mannered reporter” jokes and the occasional “Hey, Scoop!” it’s really not a bad gig.

And on a different note, I don’t often claim myself to be a fan of a particular television show but I’ll make an exception for “Breaking Bad.” The show ended last weekend to the tune of 10.3 million viewers. I haven’t watched it yet, but I’m finding it harder to browse the web (or even be in the office) without coming across a spoiler alert or two. This must have been what it was like for Star Wars fans when “The Empire Strikes Back” was released. Imagine going a week without knowing Darth Vader was Luke’s father…

A universe governed by irony

Friday, September 13th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

• In an unexpected twist of fate mixed with a dash of irony, fire ripped through parts of the newly rebuilt Jersey Boardwalk on Thursday. Of course, the New Jersey landmark made national headlines when most of it was swept away by Superstorm Sandy last October. Most of us, I’m sure, can recall the image of the mangled roller coaster that became a symbol of the damage Sandy left behind. Although no reports of injury have yet been reported as a result of the fire, my thoughts are with those who are dealing with the this second hard-hitting punch in less than a year. In the midst of the devastation, one thing is clear: God must have a grudge against the Jersey shore.

In Boulder Colorado, a place that was battling severe wildfires just a few short years ago, residents are taking on enormous amounts of flooding. Fire where there was flooding and flooding where there was fire… The universe really is governed by irony, isn’t it?

• It turns out Apple’s new iPhone is a disappointment. Apple makes a good product, but the company’s real success over the last two decades is attributed to its ability to innovate and introduce the world to cutting-edge concepts – features that I think that are lacking in Apple’s “latest and greatest.” Perhaps if the new iPhone made breakfast once in awhile, or slapped a hearty high-five every time I sent a text, I would have more faith that Apple will continue its success for another decade. But until then, my feelings are… complicated.

• In events closer to home, the Chenango County Board of Supervisors approved entering a 30-year lease agreement with the Eaton Center for rented space for the the county courts and court staff. Admittedly, I don’t have the fiscal sense to say this is a good or bad deal for the county, though I’ve gotten an ear full from both sides of the debate since a resolution to enter a lease was passed on Monday. Unfortunately, some of the finer details of the agreement took place behind the closed doors of executive session (a reporter’s enemy). I do, however, feel comfortable saying 30 years is an awfully long time. Just something to consider…

• Friday marks Kevin Doonan’s final day as an Evening Sun reporter. He’s devastated. But like a trooper, he’s working his way through this dark hour by cleaning out his desk and listening to R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” over and over and over and over. And just as former ES reporter Melissa DeCordova did when she left, he’s pawing through drawers of old, useless hard copy to leave behind with anyone who’s willing to take it. It’s the reporter equivalent of saying, “I never used this. Here, you throw it out for me.”

Dust off the keyboard, it’s time to blog

Friday, August 16th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

I’ll admit, I’ve been pretty lazy about this blogging gig lately. Let’s see if I remember how to do this…

Chenango County Blues Fest begins Friday night at the county fairgrounds. Even if blues isn’t really your thing, the annual music festival – with a total nine performance and more than 30 vendors this year – promises to be a great way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon. A fun day at Blues Fest… sounds like an oxymoron.

There’s been a lot of hubbub from Oxford residents regarding the recent events that transpired at a Village Board meeting. Irrespective of the issue on the table, I think it’s really a shame when composure is trumped by emotion. But then again, I’ve attended enough public meetings to understand how these things go. My friend’s mother use to say “You can dress him up, but you can’t take him out.” Same applies, I guess.

I saw on the evening news this week the story of a boy named Caine who, using empty boxes in his dad’s auto parts store, built games for his own arcade. Though Caine’s arcade got off to a slow start – much like the lemonade stands and snow-shoveling businesses of so many kids – it picked up steam when a blogger wrote about the his imaginative use for empty boxes. Since then, the 11-year-old entrepreneur has lectured at the University of Southern California Business School, traveled the world, and been hailed a child prodigy of sorts by Forbes Magazine which predicted Caine will be a billionaire in 30 years. His arcade has gained worldwide recognition, with a devoted customer base that’s earned him over $235,000… to use for college, of course. My take? Well, not to sound like a scrooge of all things innovative, but all this because the kid has an imagination? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a proponent of creativity and thrilled that Caine has done so well; but I find that the irony here is almost too much to bear. My Grandmother’s generation made toys from paper clips and bottle caps (like little MacGyvers of the Fisher-Price world). Nowadays, the cardboard games and toys created of a boy’s own cognition are worth $235,000. Who knew.

Macker weekend and… ice cream wars?

Friday, July 12th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

It’s Gus Macker time in Norwich again, which for the killjoys out there only means East Main Street will be inconveniently blocked off for the weekend. But for the rest of us, I’d like to think Macker weekend is a welcomed event every year. A tournament that promotes health, sportsmanship, community, and brings a boost to the local economy… Who could complain about something like that?

On a separate and unfortunate (but still oddly funny) note, every so often I come across a news story that makes me think, “There’s no way that can be true.” Yesterday, that news story was led with the headline, “Mr. Ding-A-Ling driver put on ice after DWI arrest while driving ice cream truck.”

The story, posted by CNY Central, reads that the driver of a Mr. Ding-A-Ling ice cream truck in Fulton County swerved in front of an oncoming sheriff’s patrol car around 12:10 a.m. Saturday morning – while driving his ice cream truck – and ran the car off the road. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing funny about drunk driving, even if the offender does wear a red and white striped button down shirt and paper hat, and cruises to the jammin’ tune of “Do Your Ears Hang Low.” But the incident also comes only months after the driver of the truck was involved in a public confrontation with two drivers of a “Sno Cone Joe” ice cream truck. According to the story, police said the two Sno Cone Joe operates allegedly harassed and stalked the Mr. Ding-A-Ling man, yelling “this is my town.”

Alright, now it’s somehow funny. I never imagined that the world of ice cream distribution operated like a drug cartel, with turf wars, threats, and I’m sure the occasional brick thrown through a window. Picture “The Godfather” but with ice cream truck drivers; and instead of a horse head, it’s the megaphone from the top of the the ice cream truck that’s tucked in the bed sheets… Suddenly, the world seems like a much more dangerous place.

No cash, no problems

Friday, June 21st, 2013
Shawn Magrath

It’s no secret that welfare abuse is a problem that exists in (and well beyond) the parameters of Chenango County. So any effort of local, state, and federal legislators to mitigate the threat of welfare abuse is something I would usually stand and applaud. However, a bill passed in the State Senate this week that would prohibit welfare recipients from using cash assistance to gamble, or buy tobacco products and alcohol, I think deserves a little criticism, not because I disagree with the intent to cut down on welfare fraud, but because I think the bill, in reality, is meaningless since it’s almost impossible to enforce.

Making it illegal to use public assistance for anything other than basic essentials, while good in theory, falls way short of solving the actual problem at hand. The problem, as identified by the Public Assistance Integrity Act, is that individuals receiving welfare are using cash assistance (which is not currently regulated) for anything and everything other than its intended use. But in my opinion, labeling such action “illegal” isn’t going to stop violators (an argument I’m sure pro-gunners are all too familiar with). Not to mention, how could anyone prove cash spent at the strip club is that of public assistance? And will the impending investigations of cash assistance misuse cost tax payers just as much, if not more, than what it’s currently costing without tougher restrictions in place (and please note, I’m not implying anything here… I really don’t have an answer)?

The bill would also prevent individuals who receive welfare from using their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to make ATM withdrawals from certain places, including liquor stores, casinos and strip clubs. My theory? It’s much better to find a way to ditch cash assistance altogether. So what if ATM withdrawals can only be made at the bank across the street from the liquor store? I’m sure the money withdrawn will spend the same. Perhaps – if it’s possible – we should broaden the Food Stamps program to include other essentials like toiletries, toothpaste, hygiene products and the like, and eliminate cash assistance altogether. No cash, no problems. It seems so simple.

I can’t help but think the Senate’s decision to pass this legislation was anything more than an impulsive reaction to the recent threat of losing $120 million in federal funds for cash assistance (a good reaction, maybe, but a quick and non-specific one no less). That is to say, the issue of welfare fraud certainly didn’t grow overnight. Legislators have had time – years, even – to give the issue more thought and develop a better solution. In my opinion, the Senate’s bill is too little an effort to control what has become a frustrating issue for the millions who genuinely need public assistance and use it responsibly.