Shawn's Reporter Blog

Pumpkin Fest, the Sherburne Inn, and my microwave

Monday, October 15th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

A tip of the hat to organizers of this year’s Pumpkin Festival. Even with the loss of that traditional prelude to Halloween feeling (and the noticeable lack of pumpkins for an event called Pumpkin Fest), the two-day event seemed to go off without a hitch. As many already know, Pumpkin Fest this year was moved in hopes of attracting larger crowds and better weather. I haven’t heard the final tally for attendance yet, but I didn’t need my umbrella or winter coat, so even if the annual spectacle didn’t attract the turnout organizers were hoping for, one out of two ain’t bad.

The battle in Sherburne wages on as residents debate the historical value vs. economic value of keeping the former Sherburne Inn and adjacent Big M building on the main square. Granted, seeing the buildings demolished would be a heart-breaker, but my reasoning argues that their practicality died when the businesses they housed moved out. There’s simply no need for them, particularly if no one’s willing to invest in rehabilitation. And in keeping them there, vacant and worn, the only ones that stand to benefit are the pigeons and the ugly stone lion creatures setting at the end of the parking lot. Like most, I would love to see each building saved but arguably, warding off Stewart’s Shops from building on the corner is just drawing out a slow dying process for both properties. Too bad Stewart’s won’t get into the hotel business.

New political polls released last week indicate that Mitt Romney gained ground and is nearly in a dead heat against President Barack Obama… Finally for once, the rich white man has the upper hand.

On a separate and completely unrelated note, I’ve noticed that when I use the microwave, the plate spins clockwise. When I stop and restart it, the plate, for no apparent reason, spins counter clockwise. It’s a shame that The Evening Sun doesn’t have the in depth investigative reporting resources of the New York Times.

In light of National Newspaper Week

Thursday, October 11th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

This week marks National Newspaper Week, a unique time to acknowledge local publications around the country and reflect on the newspaper as the cornerstone of a community. True, changes in technology and mass media have sent hundreds of newspapers into a tale spin in recent years (many of which are now defunct because of the lethal combination of 24-hour news networks and a rocky economy). But anyone who says print media is dead is lying. As a reporter for the Evening Sun, I hold my head up high in saying that Chenango County still has its home town daily that covers local news, and there’s plenty happening in the area. Sadly, it’s a title so many rural communities can’t claim anymore.

Anyhow, in the spirit of National Newspaper Week, I thought I could share a few points I’ve picked up during my time with The Evening Sun over the year.

• No one knows more about politics and economics than the refined scholars of ’30 seconds’
• People who have no problem being seen in public will still have a huge problem having their picture in a public newspaper
• Chenango County has 21 townships; I’m convinced that at least three of them don’t necessarily have to exist
• Some people will punch their own grandmother if it means reopening a public swimming pool
• News still happens between the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 a.m.
• Good news is good for the community. Bad news is good for news organizations
• If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that everyone else is is always wrong
• Some people will read a headline, look at a photo and really believe they have a full grasp of everything there is to know about a story
• There’s never a convenient time for a vehicle accident or a structure fire
• There’s always more than one side to a story. More often than not, at least one of those sides is crazy

On a separate note, tonight’s the big Vice Presidential debate. Both campaigns are riding on the performance of Paul Ryan and Joe Biden (a truly sad situation for both candidates). I can’t wait to hear what non-story comes of it. If there’s any mention of Big Bird, I’m turning it off.

Make sure your foot’s on the brake

Friday, October 5th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

According to the Washington Post, 67 million people tuned into the first of three presidential debates this week, some I’m sure donning their foam fingers, bowl of Doritos and beer-helmet to cheer on their candidate of choice. In a long list of statistics showing how many people chose to watch the debate on major networks including NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, MSNBC and CNN, the Post shows that roughly 10.4 million people chose to watch the debate on FOX (which just three days prior aired the series premiers of “Family Guy” and “Bob’s Burgers”). That’s more that CNN’s 6.1 million viewers and MSNBC’s 3.9 million. Personally, I find it ironic that a television station that can air two consecutive hours fart joke comedy on Sunday can pull in more viewers for a serious presidential debate than legitimate news channels on Wednesday. It says a lot about cable news networks, doesn’t it?

If the political scene is beginning to bore you as much it is me, there are other things happening besides the presidential race (despite what you see on cable news networks). Here’s a fun story: In Florida, the U.S. Postal Service is taking steps to promote alertness and caution among drivers after a car slammed into the side of a Post Office in Punta Gorda, Fla. It’s the eighth Post Office in the Central Florida region to have a vehicle crash into it just this year. If this story doesn’t seem plausible to you, you might have missed the key word, “Florida.”

To avoid such incidents, the USPS is kindly asking that Florida motorists stop driving into Post Offices with a driver “to do” list before pulling away:

• Avoid distracted driving
• Proceed slowly and carefully when pulling in and backing out of parking spaces:
• Visibly check to see whether your foot is on the gas pedal or the brake pedal
• Visibly check to see if the vehicle is in park, reverse or drive

Some comments just go without saying.

The unfortunate closing of a local landmark

Friday, September 28th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

The Colonia Theatre announced that it’s going to close if nothing can be done (financially) to save it by mid October. The effects of the digital age are rippling across the country and being felt all over the country by theaters in small communities like Norwich. Hollywood’s going all digital, forcing cinemas to purchase new equipment compatible with digital movies and thereby replacing the traditional millimeter films (standard for movie theaters since about 1910). Unfortunately, the cost to upgrade goes way, way beyond the fiscal means of the Colonia.

Like everyone else, I would hate to see the theater close the final curtain, so to speak. But at the same time, I can only wish to say I’m actually surprised. It was only a matter of time before a historic landmark like Colonia succumbed to the age of technology. And who’s to blame for the theatre being unable to pay for these updates? Personally, the last time I remember sitting in front of the silver screen at the Colonia Theater was in 2005, when “War of the Worlds” was released. Ever since, I’ve traveled out of town to see a movie, even when the same movie was playing in Norwich (after all, getting there really is half the fun, right?). In hindsight, I know I could have been more supportive of the Colonia, but then again, I think a lot of people who would say the same. Hindsight’s always 20/20.

On a different note, official referees returned tot the NFL this week, much to the admiration of football fans the country over. The crowd actually cheered for the refs prior to the official coin toss in Baltimore – the first time referees have ever been cheered by a stadium full of people. Be ready for less jeers and referee insults and more thinks like “Hey ref, get some glasses… to protect your eyes from those harmful UV rays.”

Different planet, same problems

Friday, September 21st, 2012
Shawn Magrath

If the recent cooler weather is an indication of how the upcoming winter’s going to be, I need to dig my parka out of the closet and start feeing my sled dogs a little better.

I’m not usually one to complain – at least not publicly – but I’ve some real problems with local drivers lately. I think it’s a correlational trend: As daylight hours become less and less, driver attentiveness gets lower and lower. This week alone, I’ve done four different last-minute “break-checks” because of drivers pulling out directly in front of me (two of which were within a 0.2 mile stretch on Main Street), leaving me to shout words that would make my grandmother cry, and my passenger picking teeth out of the dashboard. To me, it just makes sense: If a driver can make eye contact with the plastic hula girl jigging on the dash of an oncoming car, there’s not enough time to pull out. Add that to my brush with death when I was almost run over in the crosswalk earlier this week – by a driver on a cell phone no less – and you find the root of my latest hatred for other drivers. I almost wish I had an angrier sounding car horn; that would make me better.

On a separate note, billionaire Richard Branson (best known for being the outgoing, adventurous owner of the Virgin Group; and being mistaken for Polish/Lithuanian American actor Charles Bronson) announced that now, a little more than a month after the Mars Rover touched down on the Red Planet, he is optimistic about colonizing there. According to him, it’s plenty possible within his lifetime to begin a community on Mars that’s filled with “fun people, beautiful people, ugly people” – finally, a place for me. And the best part? I would have fewer neighbors (though I’m sure one of them would pull out in front of me. Different planet, same horrible drivers). Cue theme song from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Threat of an illegal soda cartel is on the rise

Thursday, September 13th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

I keep hearing there’s some sort of primary today. Reports indicate that thousands or Republicans across the county flocked to their respective Town Halls to riot and an election broke out early this afternoon. All seems to be under control now and residents are encouraged to get out and vote.

I’m sure it won’t take long for people to catch wind that the worst of the worst has finally happened. New York City passed the infamous soda ban, prohibiting the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 oz in restaurants, sports stadiums, even vending carts along the city streets, thereby officially making the Big-Gulp a black market item on the streets of the Big Apple. Already, gangs are rallying in the streets of New York and the activity of an illegal soda cartel is unsettling city residents who fear onset diabetes for themselves and their children. It all seems a bit extreme, but then again, the proposal seemed extreme from the start.

Apple unveiled its new iPhone 5 this week. Usually, I frown on technology that updates faster than the American consumer can spend but in the case of the iPhone, I can make an exception. Apple even hosted a press conference Thursday to introduce its new gadget. Apparently, the iPhone 5 is perfect for people who like slight upgrades and hate having $600. Among the new features: Peripheral cameras on the phone’s face and backside; a wider, taller screen; night vision; a feature to change the voice of Siri to that of the late Jackie Gleason; an extendable arm that slaps you a high-five every time you go from no service to excellent service all at once; and a smoother texture, allowing it to slip from your pocket to the floor at a much quicker rate than the iPhone 4s every time you sit down.

This Sunday is the annual SPCA dog walk fundraiser at Weiler Park in Norwich from noon to 3 p.m. As an animal lover, I’m looking forward to it – a great opportunity to support a good cause (and out of fear of making people not want to show up, I’ll spare all the dog puns I had in mind. Just know that I had some howling good ones… alright, just one dog pun).

Oh, you hate your job?

Friday, August 31st, 2012
Shawn Magrath

A tip of the hat to fellow reporter Brian Golden who I think spent 37 hours in the newsroom Thursday night to cover the nothing less than terrifying shoot-out in the Town of Pitcher. More importantly, my thanks to all law enforcement involved in the incident. I’m not sure I could be paid enough to do the things they do. It’s so sad that anyone should have to worry about something so deranged, almost unrealistic, as being shot at without reason inside their own home.

I’m so glad the Republican National Convention is over. There wasn’t a minute that wasn’t covered and scrutinized by every televised news organization in the country. That’s not to say it didn’t have it’s perks and wonders; I was mildly surprised by Ann Romney’s speech Tuesday night. It was much better than I thought it would be. Of course, it was followed up by that weenie Paul Ryan’s speech and his assumption that we – republicans, democrats, independents, man, woman, child, dog, goldfish; virtually anyone with a set of ears – should believe everything he says. His speech wasn’t just misleading, it was insulting. How dumb does he think we are? Initial thoughts were it was going to be the highlight of the RNC most blasted by the media… then Clint Eastwood talked to an empty chair Thursday. Your move democratic national convention. Let’s see you top it.

Food for thought: A requirement for teachers to work eight hours a day would be a relief for teachers everywhere.

This week, I overheard a conversation between a woman and her husband while filling up at the gas station. I’d like to say I’m not one to listen into other peoples’ conversations but actually, I do it all the time. It’s what keeps my life interesting (not to mention, it’s hard not to overhear at the gas station where someone’s pumping gas not two feet from me). The woman was saying how much she hates her job, her boss, coworkers, getting out of bed, the morning commute – pretty much anything associated with having a job (then she got Arbor Day mixed up with Labor Day but that’s really beside the point). I know what you’re thinking: “Gasp! Someone who hates her job? Why, that’s the most common thing I’ve every heard!” According to Business Insider, 8 out of 10 people hate their job. Really, try googling “I hate my job” and see if you can keep your computer from smoking. The Price is Right host (and part time philosopher) Drew Cary said it best: “Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.”

Insert blog title here

Friday, August 24th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

And so wraps up another week in the newsroom. It bears mentioning (if you haven’t already seen) that there have been changes in the reporter lineup starting this week. A warm welcome is extended to The Evening Sun’s newest reporter Kevin Doonan, who I understand is assuming the role as mild mannered “small towns” reporter by day and masked crime fighter by night (the role I use to have as the new kid on the block. It feels good to pass along that burden).

Now that the New Berlin Youth Days are here, the end of summer is following close behind. Like anyone, I love the longer days and warmer temperatures but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little relived. Between high school graduations, Gus Macker, the Chenango County Fair, Blues Fest and now, Youth Days, it seems that for the past three months, not a weekend has gone by without something to cover. Idle hands might be the devil’s workshop but busy weekends make for tired reporters.

I usually leave comments regarding posts on the The Evening Sun’s “30 Seconds” to the ever-so insightful Brian Golden to mention on his blog. Unfortunately, I would kick myself if I overlooked an argument about hay bales on the “30 Seconds” webpage that lasted two days. Did you know that most rectangular bales of hay can be found in Pennsylvania. I didn’t. Thanks “30 Seconds” poster.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the “birther” issue reared it’s ugly face again. Mitt Romney cracked a joke poking at President Obama’s origin of birth this week, saying that no one would ever ask him to see his birth certificate because they all know he was born in Michigan. So here we go, another month of making big news out of nothing. Good thing our country doesn’t have any real problems to focus on.

It’s a sad, sad day in New York City. Deepest condolences to all the victims and families involved.

We’ve reached the dog days

Friday, August 17th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

We really are well into the dog days of August. As a reporter, I can say it feels like things are really slowing down, at least for now.

The long-awaited annual Blues Festival is finally here. Kudos to the Chenango Blues Association for keeping this event going for 20 years now. Each year, Norwich hosts some of the best names in the industry; not bad for a place most of New York State can’t point out on a map. I don’t plan to attend this year, but I do live close enough to the fairgrounds to hear the music from my bedroom window (not quite the same, but still fun in that different “I don’t have be around anybody if I don’t want to be” kind of way), so let the good times roll.

On Sunday, the day after Blues Fest, the second annual Chenango Tomato Fight takes to the fairgrounds. It might not be in its twentieth year and can’t quite claim the same success as Blues Fest, but a good tomato fight certainly sounds… interesting. I definately won’t be going, but if throwing squishy fruit is your forte, enjoy. At least it’s for a good cause.

Apparently, there’s still a lot of hope for the railroad that passes through Chenango County, which has been out of commission since 2006. A lot of effort is being made on the part of industrial and economic development agencies to revitalize the railroad and get the local rail system back on track (pun intended). I try to be open minded when it comes to this kind of thing. The railroad revitalization would be a costly venture and I know some groups would much rather see the rails replaced with nature trails instead. Personally, I’m all for restoring the tracks and it’s not so much because I think it would have a positive economic impact on the area. It’s more just because I like trains. And for some reason, I can’t shake the image of Dudley Do-Right from my mind. His job would be a lot less involved if he never had to tour the countryside, worrying about saving defenseless women tied to the railroad tracks. It’s good to know he’s getting plenty of work up in Canada.

The other night, I saw a spotlight circling the sky in Norwich. Out of sheer curiosity and the fear that I might be missing something important, I cruised down main street to find where it was coming from. I wound up in the McDonald’s parking lot. I’m not sure whose idea it was to put a spotlight on the McDonald’s roof and I really don’t care for it, but if the intent was to lead people to the restaurant, I say well played.

August is very low-key

Friday, August 10th, 2012
Shawn Magrath

With all the rain we had last night and early this morning, I’ll admit, I was a little concerned that the fair was going to float away. Much to my relief, everything is still at the fairgrounds, bumper boats included.

Assuming the rain doesn’t carry everything away between now and Sunday, the fair comes to a close Sunday night with a demolition derby – one of two being held that day. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I understand the derby. I get that everyone has their hobby, but to want to sit inside a car while others smash into it? It’s not really my cup of tea (although I can think of few people who I would like to see take up the hobby). In any case, best of luck to all the… well, I would call them drivers but I think people in a demolition derby should be called something else for some reason… good luck to all the smashers, crashers and semi-professional car wallopers.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that both summer interns here at the Evening Sun wrapped up their work this week, and with no major injuries to report. Julia Simcoe and Luke Austin are both moving on to bigger and better things as they pursue their college dreams starting this fall. In the weeks they spent here, neither one tried sneaking out the window of the Evening Sun office, which I’m taking to mean they didn’t mind it here; maybe even liked it (gasp!). While I didn’t really have a chance to get to know Julia too well, she always had a pleasant demeanor in the office. That’s always a nice feature. I worked with Luke more often and only had to pull him out of one street fight… OK, he’s the one that pulled me out of the fight, but in my defense, that nine-year-old girl had a big mouth. I wish the best of luck to both in whatever it is they decide to do.

August is a great month. Sure, the fair is fun and I’m looking forward to Blues Fest next weekend, but that’s not what makes it so special. August is great because it’s the only month of the year when there are no major holidays, no special dates, no birthdays (aside from my own) and more importantly, no anniversaries that I need to remember (and be honest, I’m not the only one who’s come close to forgetting). August is just four and a half weeks of stress-free living, free of the guilt and shame that comes with forgetting to buy a gift or card or flowers (which really takes the pressure off. If I ever forget about my anniversary, you won’t be reading my blog; you would be reading an obituary).