Shawn's Reporter Blog

Bring on the spring cleaning

Friday, March 29th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

They say when it rains, it pours. Same holds true for the newsroom, I guess. After what felt like a relatively slow news week, Friday morning exploded with stories of drug busts, bomb scares and school board shake-ups (oh, my). Nothing quite as exhilarating as hitting the ground running early on a Friday morning.

Hats off to Village of Greene Mayer Marcia Miller, who announced her retirement after 24 years of community service, six of which were as Village Mayer. The vacancy is sure to make for an exciting mayoral election in the Village of Greene in the not so distant future (good from the newspaper standpoint). In the meantime, the torch has been passed to Village Trustee Phillip Brown, who clearly has some big shoes to fill. Best of luck to all in their future endeavors.

A week into spring and I’ve yet to begin the ritual of spring cleaning. I guess it’s the procrastinator in me. Not to mention, I have a lot of crap. Not useful crap; just crap crap – the kinds of things no one should hang on to, ever. The storage space of my one bedroom apartment is filled with old birthday cards I don’t have the heart to throw out; worn-out running shoes not fit to give the homeless; several shoe boxes, one filled with electronic accessories (chargers, adapters, USB cables, etc.) but the other two, well… your guess is as good as mine. I don’t even remember putting them there, let alone what I filled them with. The element of surprise, I think, keeps the aspect of spring cleaning more exciting.

For the last three days, there’s been what I can only describe as a Holy War on the Evening Sun online ’30 Seconds’ page. People are quoting Bible verses, saying who is and isn’t Christian, and declaring that, given our current state, we’re in the end days before the Second Coming. I’m not really arguing for or against anyone’s post (who am I to say one way or another. After all, I’m not the final authority… I don’t think). But I am relieved the ’30 Seconds’ conversation has moved away from the two-day-long snow tire argument. Religious debates are far more interesting than how many snow tires can be counted in the WalMart parking lot.

Bid farewell

Friday, March 15th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

Now it’s time to say goodby to all our company. E-V-E (see you real soon) N-I-N-G (why? Because we like you) S-U-N…

Okay, so it doesn’t carry the same ring and flow as M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E, but the sentiment’s sort of the same. Not to mention, Micky Mouse is much easier to rhyme than “The Evening Sun” (We’re having fun? A grieving nun? Your amusing pun?).

By now, it’s no secret that our longtime editor here at The Evening Sun is moving on to greener pastures after more than 20 years sitting in the boss’s seat. It was made Facebook official a week ago, reaffirmed by a more formal announcement from The Evening Sun publisher Dick Snyder in Wednesday’s paper. Funny that even in the digital age, nothing is validated until it’s in the newspaper.

Under Jeff’s wing in the year and a half that I’ve been a reporter, I was introduced to a brave new world of professionalism, skepticism, cynicism and profound sarcasm… and I couldn’t be more grateful for it. And apparently, neither can the community at whole. All week, he’s been taking phone phone calls in his office, which I’ve overheard in my cubicle outside his door – each conversation seemingly the same: “Yeah, it’s true… the 15th… Chobani, actually… It’s a good opportunity… It’s going to be hard to say goodbye… I’ll miss Shawn the most” (paraphrased, of course, as per my one-sided understanding of the two-way conversation).

As hard as it is to bid farewell, our loss is indubitably Chobani’s gain. It’s been a great company for the community, so to add one more great employee of the community to their ranks can only mean better things, right?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also take an opportunity to congratulate Brian Golden, who’s stepping up to the plate as editor in Jeff’s departure. In all, he’s deserving of the job and I can’t think of a better personality to call “boss.” Though, it’s going to take getting use to…

The end of face-to-face classrooms?

Friday, March 8th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

Kudos to the volunteers and organizers of this year’s Dr. Seuss Family Fun Night at Stanford Gibson Primary. The annual jamboree brought out hundreds of kids, parents and grandparents Thursday night in a worthy effort to encourage kids and families in family involvement, literacy, and community engagement – three incredibly important aspects of childhood development, in my opinion. Not to mention, I’m a huge fan of Dr. Seuss myself. In retrospect, I guess I’m lucky to be a reporter, otherwise roaming the halls of an elementary school when I don’t have a child of my own – and taking pictures no less – might have looked a bit on the creepy side (I assume it’s hard to blog from a jail cell).

Also on the subject of schools and education, Bill Gates said in an interview this week that he believes technology (online classes and mentoring) will be the main source of higher education within the next ten years. Computers, he says, will slowly phase out working instructors, professors and the traditional face-to-face lectures, and the money saved by using online resources could instead be invested in research facilities and study groups. While I agree, there’s certainly potential that this could be the classroom of the future, I don’t really count on it. In the 60′s, it was widely believed that television would eventually replace teachers… five decades later, all we have to show for it Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

And while on the subject of technology … (pause for self pat on the back for a smooth transition) … did you know Facebook is losing its cool? An article published in Time this week unveiled “an unscientific survey” of 40 Alabama high school students, only eight of which said Facebook was their most commonly used social networking site. It’s disappointing news for the millions of Facebook users who like to take photos of themselves at a 45 degree downward angle. I knew it was only a matter of time before people like myself could ruin the coolness of Facebook.

Small talk and retirement dreams

Friday, February 22nd, 2013
Shawn Magrath

I’ve had enough winter. In a more perfect world, winter wouldn’t even exist after Christmas – just sunny 75 degree days from January through November. Then again, if not for changing weather, I wouldn’t have small talk.

It’s always a shame to see funding and participation stand in the way of a good community program. Unfortunately, that’s what happened with the Chenango County Big Brothers / Big Sisters program. Facing low participation and falling just short of requirements set by the national organization which can’t be met by the local Big Brothers / Big Sisters, The Place is closing the program after this week. For those who were actively involved with the program, I say kudos. I hope to see good work continue with the new mentoring service offered by the Liberty Partnership Program.

There’s a lot of back and forth lately about gun laws, but I think one of the most overlooked concerns has been the recent allegations of computer hacking. Over the last two decades, we’ve become a society dependent on online information, so it doesn’t take much imagination to consider the catastrophic possibilities of US business and military information being hacked. I myself have a lot (a lot) of personal information out there in cyber space. It’s time to go back to balancing the checkbook the old way, I guess, since the only safe computer anymore is one that’s turned off, unplugged and setting in the trunk of the car.

During the pope’s last week in his position, I can’t help but wonder what someone does when they’re no longer pope. I mean, it hasn’t happened in 600 years… I can’t imagine a pope’s retirement being the same as anyone else, with days spent playing golf, gardening, sorting junk mail from AARP, traveling in an RV or opening up his own small business. But as an employee of God, I can’t imagine the pension being too shabby.

You would think the difference was clear

Friday, February 8th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

I’ve heard five different weather reports today, each one saying how much snow will be dumped on us tonight – and funny enough, not one of them agree on the numbers. But if what’s been reported on the Weather Channel all day is any indication of what we’re in for, get your sled dogs and parkas ready for tomorrow, it’s going to be the storm of the century… again. Seems like we’ve been getting a lot those lately, huh?

Weather aside, if there’s just one thing I like about my job, it’s that I’m never quite sure what I’ll be doing or we’re I’ll end up on any given day. Today, I found myself on two ambulance calls with the EMS crew at the Norwich Fire Department while shadowing them for next week’s “Punching the Clock” series. Of course, there’s a lot that can be said of what those guys do day in and day out, but I won’t go into it just yet. I will say, however, I’m not cut out for the job – at least not after one day.

Lately, it has come to my attention that people – a lot of people – don’t quite understand the difference between an opinion piece and a news article. So to make it as simple as possible, if the piece ever has the word “I,” “me,” or “my” in it, there’s a really, really good chance that it’s opinion, nothing more (you might also look for the word “Viewpoints” printed in large type at the top of the page should you actually be holding the newspaper, or “Opinion” if you’re on the website. It’s also helpful to scan the written piece for what could possibly be (gasp) opinions). I know it sounds too straight forward, that the difference is clear and that no one could possibly get the two confused – news story vs. opinion piece – but you would be surprised.

Hey, this is worth sharing. A family in California has filed a lawsuit against Disneyland because they say the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland demonstrated racist behavior toward their children. A father claims his two kids were ignored, even shaken away by the person in the rabbit suit when they tried to grab the rabbits hand and hug it. No word yet from the rabbit, but he looked awfully happy about it.
What is the world coming to when we sue for our kids not being touched by strangers?

Cold weather makes for good small talk

Friday, January 25th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

It’s funny how much easier small talk is when it’s unbearably cold outside. Almost every conversation I’ve had this week began with the same question: “Staying warm?” That gets the ball rolling, then those conversations run full circle. I’ll talk about the weather, my wife, the dog, my job, etc., and every small talk conversation ends with the same good advice: Stay warm.

The Norwich Diner officially opened… well, two weeks ago, but it’s great news for downtown Norwich. If you haven’t already been by the new eatery on East Main, it’s worth checking out. Good food. Good company. It may not quite the old Blue Bird (and it lacks the same diner charm as the Monk’s Cafe in Seinfeld) but who’s to complain about more variety downtown? Frankly, I’m relieved it’s not another pizza place.

Lately, it seems like the only news making the national spotlight has to do with gun policies, cold weather, and Beyonce’s lip-sinking (or not?) at the presidential inauguration. But I stumbled across another more interesting story this week. Researches at New York University are saying there are a great many number of myths about what – if anything – can be done in the first five years of a child’s life to make them more intelligent. Commonly, it’s believed that music, multi vitamins, and having books available for children boosts IQ. Not so, according to these researchers. While the study is open for debate, my general feeling is: if it doesn’t hurt, why not try it? Even if it doesn’t invoke brilliance, is there any harm in exposing a child to classical music, or good health?

With each new highly contested political debate, be it about health care, immigration reform, or the popular gun debate, I change my own thinking about the two party political system and this thinking seems to change on a weekly basis. Some days, I lean more liberal while other days, I’m more conservative. It all depends on the issue, I guess. This week, I’ve come to the unofficial conclusion that the difference between liberals and conservatives is simple. Conservatives are biased and don’t care that they’re biased. Liberals, on the other hand, are biased but don’t know they’re biased. It’s a philosophy I’m happy with this week. We’ll see how I feel next week.

Please send money

Friday, January 11th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

So I opened an email yesterday, enticed to do so because for first off, it’s part of the job. And second, the title read “HORRIBLE TRIP TO LONDON. PLEASE HELP.” You can’t not read something like that.

Sure. I’ll read it. I apparently have nothing better to do with my time than read a blatant scheme for easy money.

Here’s the first few sentences of the email, copied and pasted as per your enjoyment:

“I am sorry for reaching you rather too late due to the situation of things right now. My family and I had a trip visiting London (England), everything was going on fine until last night when we got attacked by some unknown gunmen. All our money, phones and credit cards was stolen away including some valuable items, It was a terrible experience but the good thing is they didn’t hurt anyone or made away with our passports.”

The letter went on asking if I could send along $1,550 (or whatever I could give) so these distraught travelers can catch their flight home. My money would be reimbursed when they returned, of course.

Overall, a good effort but not the most creative scheme I’ve ever heard. I’m a fan of the more imaginative ones: “Your internet license has expired. Your annual renewal payment of $100 is due to the FCC by tomorrow.” Sorry, my internet license? One of my favorites is “You’ve won the grand prize raffle but need to submit a $500 down payment now to redeem your $1 million prize.” I won a raffle I didn’t enter… must be luck.

To make an already poorly thought out scheme even worse, I got practically the same email last month. The difference? The traveler (of the same name and same email address, mind you) was “attacked” at a resort in the Cayman Islands. Either this is a hoax, or God clearly doesn’t want this person to vacation.

On a different note, the reporting crew is well into Progress Chenango, the annual undertaking of The Evening Sun that’s traditionally known to suck life and spirit from reporters. Personally, I haven’t thought Progress was that bad in the two years I’ve done it. I’m still learning a lot about Chenango County’s leading industries and non-profit organizations, even the ones I seem to write about on a regular basis. Not to mention, a slowly improving economy is making for much more positive stories for this year’s edition. Who says money can’t provide happiness?

There’s no crying in politics!

Friday, January 4th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

Did you know that people are 15 times more likely to die of a falling coconut than picking the winning Powerball numbers? Did you know that architectural plans are in the works to build a bridge from California to the outermost Hawaiian peninsula? Or that climate change has landed the northwestern tree octopus on the endangered species list? If not, don’t feel too left out. I only know because I Googled it. Everyone knows, if it’s on the internet, it must be true.

With each reporter’s story that appears on the Evening Sun website, there’s a chance for readers to chime in with a comment section at the bottom. I usually refrain from responding to negative comments – or any comments for that matter – but when my credibility is challenged, I can’t help myself (understandable, right?). Of course, I’ll spare the details of the all but flattering comments posted to one of my stories earlier this week, but I will say if you don’t subscribe to the Evening Sun, you don’t see the entire story online (and the second half of a story is just as pertinent as the first half. I don’t keep writing them just because I have nothing better to do). “You can please some of the people some of the time…” You know the rest.

Congratulations are in order for the newly assembled 113th Congress. Here’s to hoping it’s a more productive body than the 112th Congress (God knows, they can’t do much worse. My dog could have done a better job). It’s also noteworthy that Speaker John Boehner began to cry after being elected House Speaker for a second term, though it’s still not clear on whether he was crying because he won the job or because he’s stuck with it. Either way, seeing a politician cry for a change makes me feel a little better inside.

A not so complicated solution to a very complicated problem

Friday, December 21st, 2012
Shawn Magrath

The NRA waited a week to respond to the tragedy in Sandy Creek. Their solution: have an armed guard in every school. An entire week and that’s what they came up with; fight gun violence in schools by putting guns in schools. What can go wrong with that?

This is not a rant for stricter gun regulations, nor an attempt to feed the ill-educated conspiracy theory that the US government is enacting a total gun ban. This is a plea to keep guns out of schools – all guns out of all schools.

I’m a firm believer that our culture, our general way of life, has played a huge role in the acts of senseless shootings in recent years. Early pregnancies, broken families, conflicting work schedules, television, video games, toys, books, magazines, everything that makes us… well, us: it can all cumulate into one incredibly troubled individual if poorly handled. Given, there are some things that are beyond our control. But for the things within our control, it’s time to be proactive.

More gun regulations just opens the door for an incredibly dangerous and incredibly costly black market; and the advice of the NRA turns schools into nothing better than a prison, minus the orange jumpsuits. I think the solution is not to restrict guns. It’s certainly not to add guns. You want to help combat the growing epidemic of shootings and ungodly devastation? Hug your kid!

On a separate note, today, of course, is the end of the world. I just want to say, this has been the worst apocalypse ever.

Inflatable junk

Friday, December 14th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

Don’t you think there’s a select few homes that have… well, gone just a little overboard on the inflatable Christmas decorations (little meaning a lot)? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the lights, wreaths, decorated trees and shrubs, and almost anything else that screams Christmas. It’s one of the perks of the season. But curse the day someone decided to put an inflatable Santa on their front lawn. Inflatable decorations seem to grow in numbers and in size from year to year, which makes me question: Doesn’t a two-story inflatable snowman violate some type of codes ordinance? Adding salt to injury, so many of these already ugly decorations don’t make any sense – from the trailer park Santa (because we all remember how Santa lives in a magical trailer park in the North Pole) to the cowboy penguin (that is, a penguin dressed up like a cowboy). Worse still, no one replaces their old inflatable decorations; they just add to it. So the collection grows until inflatable crap overtakes every vacant spot on their yard, like a glowing deflatable Woodstock (or a Christmas time grand opening of a used car dealership).

On a much more somber and serious note, my deepest condolences and heart-felt prayers for the families and victims of the school shootings in Newton Connecticut. It’s a horrific, awful thing and I have only best wishes for the community now dealing with the unthinkable.