Shawn's Reporter Blog

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 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.

You don’t read the newspaper?

Friday, June 14th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

• I’m a sucker for old buildings, so of course I jumped at a chance Friday morning to get a peek of the inner working of the Chapman and Turner clock that overlooks Broad Street at the main intersection of downtown Norwich. The clock, which has worked on and off since I moved to Norwich four years ago, is on again, thanks to the commitment of a few historians and the financial support of a generous local charity. I suppose for some, it might seem like a trivial matter. But I’d like to think that for most, having a downtown clock that’s right more than twice a day is welcome news.

• Now I don’t usually call out ’30 Seconds’ posters, simply because I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion and the ’30 Seconds’ page on The Evening Sun website is a platform to express it. That said, there have been a few posts and phone calls this week regarding area sex offenders and a need for greater public awareness via the newspaper (i.e. where they live, their age, their offense, and their threat level). I couldn’t agree more. Anyone who regularly reads the paper also sees the number of sex crimes that go before the Chenango County Grand Jury each month, and the countless other sexually based offenses committed in this area. However, I would also like to point out that The Evening Sun is not the only source for such information. If you are a concerned parent or resident, there are resources to turn to (not to mention, if you aren’t being notified that you’re neighbor is a predator when you have kids to worry about, there is an obvious kink in the line of communication between you and local authorities).

• National headlines this week were dominated by stories of Edward Snowden, the man who revealed Monday that he was solely responsible for leaks of secret service operations to news media outlets in May. Feelings of whether this considers Snowden a hero or a traitor aside, what I find most surprising about this story is the surprise surrounding it. That is to say, I wasn’t taken back by information that the NSA was collecting phone records and conducting email surveillance. Like it or not, there’s a lot of information about everybody out there that, thanks to the digital age, has become increasingly easier for government officials to access. Fact is, that’s just the Orwellian age we live in. I’ll even wager that someplace, there’s somebody who know more about me than I do, and that’s a scary thought… though I do have a favorite sweatshirt that’s been MIA for a month. Maybe they know where it is…

• Shifting gears a bit, I stumbled across a somewhat interesting article written in Forbes magazine this week. The topic of the article: “13 Things You Should Never Say at Work.” According to the author, there are just some things that shouldn’t be overheard in the workplace. In order to take leadership in any company, the article says employees should stick to words and phrases that empower others. Included on the list of phrases off limits are: “That’s not my job,” “That’s not fair,” “I’ll try,” and “He’s/She’s a jerk” (admittedly, I’m guilty of saying that last one on more than one occasion; but to be fair, it’s never been about a co-worker). The list got me thinking of things I wish I hadn’t heard in The Evening Sun office, which in my mind are equally valid. Things like: “I don’t read the newspaper. I don’t like the reporters,” or “I’m glad I’m not in a profession that deals with people,” and the classic, “This milk has been in the refrigerator longer than I’ve been working here.” But I’d like to think every workplace has its own disclosed taboos.

76 Trombones…

Friday, May 31st, 2013
Shawn Magrath

• As a former high school band geek, I feel a sense of obligation to take a moment to promote the 64th annual Sherburne Pageant of Bands, which officially got underway with the jazz band competition Thursday evening. The image of a procession leader and lyrics of “76 Trombones” have been looping through my head all day in anticipation of the big parade on Saturday, which will see a total 28 competitors this year (not quite as many than had attended several years ago, but still nothing to sneeze at). Best of luck to all schools involved.

• On a separate but still school-related topic, it seems more and more likely that student loan rates will double beginning July 1. The current proposal, detested by the Obama administration, is that federal student loans that now come with a 3.4 percent interest rate will raise to 6.8 percent just as most college students start submitting financial aid applications for the 2013-2014 school year. While I agree that students who borrow money should pay the interest fee (after all, higher education, like anything else, is an investment), substantially high loan rates will only prove more burdensome college grads who already struggle to pay back student loans (some believe the failure to pay back student loans will even be the cause of the next recession, so I hear).

• News that seven people, including four children, died as the result of a horrific accident in the Town of Truxton was devastating to say the least. Moments like that make me reflect the brevity of life, as it should, and reevaluate where I see myself in ten years. Certainly my thoughts and prayers go out to all those who have been impacted – friends, family and community, and I only hope that pain for those people will subside with time.

You’re welcome, America

Friday, May 10th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

It looks like a busy weekend ahead, with a cruise-in at the Howard Johnson Hotel tonight, the Norwich Merchants Association Spring Crafts Festival on Saturday and of course, Mother’s Day on Sunday (and me without a special Mother’s Day gift idea. I refrain from the customary macaroni necklace and Popsicle stick picture frame).

Kudos to the teachers at the Sherburne-Earlville Central School District for their respectful protest on Tuesday. I’m one who believes testing is a good thing, so long as there’s a clear goal in mind. However, when teachers are testing only to get ambiguous results, not knowing what steps to take next; and not knowing where to go, yet still expected to know when they get there… well to me, it sounds an awful lot like building a plane in the air. I admire any effort to change education for the better, but it’s only appropriate to diligently scrutinize any changes made. Perhaps this new method of statewide assessment isn’t the best alternative. Perhaps it’s time to learn from mistakes, adjust accordingly, and move forward.

Avid readers of The Evening Sun are surely familiar with the weekly “Thumbs” section. Thumbs, for those who don’t know, is a brief opinion piece written by reporters. My “Thumbs Down” this week went to obnoxiously long receipts that have only grown longer in recent years – namely, the 30-foot receipts I get after buying a single pack of gum at the grocery store. When Thumbs was published in today’s paper and I thought I could put it behind me for another week, I received a phone call from a reader who told me receipt paper may also contain trace amounts of the glycogen BPA, which can be absorbed in the skin (a claim backed by a 2011 study reported by the New York Times). I read in the report that BPA can disrupt hormones, cause neurological damage, and even stimulate obesity… and then it clicked. Longer receipts equals fatter, crazier people! I just solved our nation’s most pressing health-related issues and crippling diplomatic affairs: we need shorter receipts! You’re welcome, America.

Beware of half-truths; you might get the wrong half

Friday, April 26th, 2013
Shawn Magrath

I find it funny that so many people complain about the supposedly high number of Chenango County SNAP recipient who take advantage of their benefits, yet so few people – none that I know of – have the numbers to back up that statement. True, I believe there are people who “abuse the system,” as one ’30 Seconds’ caller recently put it, just as I believe there are people who steal, speed, litter, plagiarize, jaywalk, or obscurely break any other number of laws. But how can one possibly say that “most” or “many” (or my favorite, “all”) welfare recipients abuse their privileges without having one bit of empirical data to support that argument? Seams pretty weak to me.

Then again, these types of arguments come from the very same people who believe county government calls all the shots in determining who receives federal supplemental assistance. It’s just further proof that people see what they choose to see. I guess ignorance truly is bliss.

But I digress… and step off my soapbox…

In something completely unrelated, legislators in New York City are considering what to do about the Times Square “entrepreneurs” who dress up as pop-culture characters to make a few bucks by posing for photos with tourists. The considerations come two weeks after a man dressed as Cookie Monster pushed a two-year-old boy because the boy’s parents didn’t foot a $2 tip for the photo op. Who would of thought costumed strangers working the streets of New York would be so unpredictable? Instances like this are exactly why I wouldn’t let Mario use my camera to take a picture of me and my wife during our last visit to the Big Apple. Never in my life do I want to file a police report for a stolen camera with a suspect description: obese Italian plumber, with blue overalls and oversized head — Grew three sizes larger after eating mushroom. Some circumstances are worth the extra effort to avoid.