Saturday, April 30, 2011

NYTimes editorial on legislative redistricting is a good read

Our editorial page consistently has called for redistricting reform in New York state.
Specifically, legislators — state and county — need to get out of the business of picking their constituents, thus guaranteeing their re-election, and return to voters the power of deciding who gets elected. This requires resisting the temptation to control the drawing of legislative districts, which, in turn, requires giving that power to independent commissions.
Today, the New York Times weighs in editorially on how state lawmakers, employing “the usual stupid Legislature tricks … are conspiring to keep their jobs for life.” The editorial, “Dithering on Redistricting,” calls out Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Gov. Andrew Cuomo and challenges them to deliver. It’s a heck of a good read, with nice links to two  gerrymandered districts. One link is to the district of state Sen. James Seward, R-Oneonta, ( whose district stretches all over creation in search of solidly Republican voters — including all of Greene County. Unsurprisingly, Seward was unchallenged in the 2010 election.
We have written on this topic frequently with regard to state legislative districts, most recently in three editorials (“Redistricting stalls,” Feb. 23, 2011,; “No delay on redistricting, March 17, 2011,; and “Politics of distraction,” April 19. 2011,
The March 17 editorial, which keyed on the increasing number of state legislators reneging on campaign promises to support redistricting reform, drew a spirited rejoinder from state Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, who is sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would bring redistricting reform to New York in 2022. (“All I expect is the truth,” March 22, 2011,
We responded that Mr. Bonacic had some good points, but rather vainly — and mistakenly — had concluded he, rather than what the voters need, was the subject of the editorial.
The April 19 editorial noted how former New York City Mayor Ed Koch was naming names of the reneging legislators, including the Hudson Valley’s very own Sen. William Larkin, R-Cornwall. Larkin, who had pledged during his re-election campaign to support redistricting reform, was saying “redistricting is not a priority in this state.”
To read the Times editorial, which concludes that “the practice of allowing legislators to draw their own districts is a basic reason that Albany’s government is a national disgrace,” click here
By the by, Ulster County legislators are now trying to do the same thing to redistricting at the county level (“Proposed Ulster County legislative districts come under fire,” April 29, 2011,


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why we publish addresses of electoral candidates

A reader and at least one school district have questioned the Freeman’s publication of the residential addresses of school board candidates. Following is the question of one Web reader:

" Not sure why they post the addresses of all these people? Probably not a big deal, or maybe it is standard protocol, but I just don't understand the reason... "

We publish the addresses of candidates for a number of reasons.
First, we seek to avoid reader confusion of a candidate with a local resident of the same name. It can happen, of course, that complete strangers share the same name or names that are close enough to cause confusion. More often, a son shares a name with a father and may live within the same township or school district. In these situations, an address may help locals with some knowledge of their community identify the actual candidate; this would be particularly true in summary stories that do not include other information about candidates, such as age, occupation, etc., or photos of the candidates.
Also, when it comes to school districts, it is often of interest to voters whether a potential school board member is from their particular community within the district or, more specifically, within the area from which a district’s elementary school draws. It can matter to voters how closely an individual may identify with specific issues related to geography.
One note of interest, this specificity of identifying candidates publicly by address goes all of the way up the electoral food chain. When the 2012 general election rolls around, sharp-eyed readers will notice that the legal notice for the ballot for the coming election will include the residential addresses of all candidates, including the incumbent president of the United States.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Identifying a juror from a gang murder trial

Some readers have questioned our publication of the identity of a juror for the recent gang murder trial in Kingston (“Murder defendants hurt selves by testifying, juror says,” April 22, The criticisms include that we endangered the safety of the juror by identifying him and, in one instance, that we did so deliberately in the hope of getting him killed so that we could sell more newspapers:

" Im not sure why this jurors name is in print. Seems like a really bad idea and not necessary. You do realize these men are part of a gang dont you? Just because their going to jail, doesnt mean that many of their gang friends arent in the area, angry and looking for revenge. This seems wreckless on the part of the Freeman to post this jurors name. "

" I couldn' agree with you more CHAMP KIND, this is a no brainer, media/editor's doesn't care whose life they put in jeopordy, as long as they get a story. "

" Hey Freeman, next time post a photo of the juror, his home address, where he works, where his kids attend school, and the make and model of his car. That way you ensure 100% that angry gang members can retaliate for sending two of their boys to prison. This is the most wreckless piece of journalism Ive seen in a long time. Are you trying to get this guy killed so we have another trial next year and you can sell more papers? Im pretty sure thats whats goin on. "

The juror, William Olsen, approached us first. He wanted a complete account of our coverage, which he was not allowed to to read while he was on the jury, and also wanted to congratulate the Freeman for the coverage he had since seen. We provided him with a copy of the Twitter stream that reporter Patricia Doxsey had produced live during the trial.
Ms. Doxsey then asked him if she could interview him and he agreed. He put no restrictions on the interview or the story. Had he asked for anonymity I would have had to decide whether it was warranted under the circumstances and, depending on what I decided, we would either have granted him anonymity and published the story or simply dropped the story. But it never came to that because he didn't ask.
Further, Mr. Olsen had already blogged about his experience and all of the jurors had been identified in open court during the selection process.
Media outlets are constantly pounded for not identifying their sources. The Freeman, however, has only rarely granted anonymity to a source, a decision here that can only be made by the managing editor. This policy has served us well.
We treated Mr. Olsen as an adult capable of parsing this matter for himself. He was, after all, entrusted with a decision on the fates of two men under fairly complex standards of evidence and what constitutes "reasonable doubt."
That's the way it was treated here. I respect that some readers may differ, but it's not like we forced his identity into the public eye. Had I been the juror, I might have asked for anonymity before agreeing to an interview; I'm not sure, in all honesty. But I do know that I wouldn't expect someone else to make that decision for me.
Finally, as for the charge that we would put someone in harm’s way to create an outcome that would sell newspapers, well, that’s the type of charge that can be made only by someone who has never spent any time with the people in our newsroom.