Friday, December 30, 2011

How a sketchy story can still be news

We ran today a sketchy story about an intrusion into a home on U.S. Route 9W, near Headless Horseman Haunted Hayrides in the town of Esopus. A woman entered her home after dark to find two burglars in the residence. Admittedly, there wasn’t a lot of detail.

So, a reader wrote in a comment on our website:
court on 12/30/2011 09:05:02 said:
"What an interesting news article. Let me see if I got it wright. A lady comes home between Port Ewen and Esopus, finds two men in her home. We dont't know if they broke in, stole anything, if they had a weapon, were tall or short, fat or thin, black, white or brown, facial hair or not,
long or short hair, young or old, type or color of cloths nor what direction they went when they left. All we do know is that the lady wasn't hurt, thank God. THIS IS NEWS????"

Well, yes – yes, it is news. I’m somewhat astonished at the suggestion that it isn’t. It is, to be sure, incomplete news, but sometimes that’s all you have. 

But I would think that if someone in my neighborhood were to experience the same thing, this would be something I’d want to know about as soon as possible. Why? Well, I’d take special care to make sure my doors and windows and cars were locked, make sure my lights were on after dark, would take extra caution leaving and entering my residence, and warn my wife and son to do the same. I’d alert my neighbors so that everyone could watch out for one another. 

Readers are, of course, free to decide for themselves whether this story – or any story, for that matter – really concerns them. But saying it isn’t news to me is not the same as saying it’s not news more generally to others.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Livestreaming democratizes questioning of newsmakers

We received the following Web comment 12/28/2011 from a reader responding to an editorial of that date about the secrecy of a new state panel on public integrity:

ARMY1971 on 12/28/2011 08:58:21 said:
"Wow the Kingston Freekman is worried about transparency in government. These are the same people who last week ran the Q&A on the school district budgets and only invited school district employees to sit on the panel. Has the Freekman ever gone to a school board meeting and watched as the member retread to meet behind closed doors? Happens all the time, just ask the school board member what are the teachers salary demand for the next contract? And they will tell you, well that is confidential, yea we are the ones paying for it, but we can't know the cost until we have purchased it."
The livestreamed Q&A was intended to allow readers to pose questions of their choosing to education administrators about the coming impacts of the property tax cap. As with most of our public policy livestreams, the idea is to involve the public directly in the process of questioning newsmakers. We promoted the event for several days and invited readers to submit questions in advance or to participate by submitting questions during the livestream.

In the recent past, this was generally restricted to reporters and editorial board members without public access, so the new format represents a radical democratization of the process and livestreaming makes the process completely transparent. I don’t see how that can be compared to a public body going completely behind closed doors and shutting out the public.
Tony Adamis
Managing Editor

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reporting the homicide of Anne Gaffney

There is a spirited – perhaps “angry” would be a better characterization – posting of opinions about some of the background material written into our initial and ongoing reporting on the killing of Anne Gaffney.
The substance of the early report was established by me – I was the one who received the state police announcement of the homicide and arrest around 7 a.m. and wrote the early version of the story – so I guess I owe an explanation.
No, our use of background material about Ms. Gaffney was not/is not an attempt to blame the victim. No one deserves to be murdered.
No, this was not/is not an effort to “spice up” the story to increase reader interest or to “sell papers,” as we are forever being accused of doing for every decision with which others disagree. A story about a woman being murdered in a small community needs absolutely no help attracting interest. That story rides its own wave, whatever it is.
As the person who wrote the initial report my thinking was and, as managing editor ultimately responsible for subsequent reporting, remains this:
  • A 54-year-old woman was murdered in the community by a suspect who was described by police simply as “a tenant.” On first blush, it seemed like a random, tragic act. Certainly, that’s the way it seemed to me as I read the state police release. 
  • But a check of the Freeman archives revealed that the victim for at least five years had been running afoul of the law. Recently she was picked up on a bench warrant for failing to appear in court to answer a charge of welfare fraud. In 2006, she was accused of running an illegal boarding house, whose tenants included at least one violent sex offender, according to town authorities. 
  • Again, these matters don’t make Ms. Gaffney responsible for the crime, but they do suggest her life was untidy in ways that may have put her in harm’s way. That’s important because the crime alleged appears less random, though not necessarily any less tragic. It also suggests her boarding operation not only put herself in danger, but also the community around her.
That’s the rationale in its entirety.
Readers are free to accept that background, to shrug their shoulders, or to say they don’t find it at all germane. But I think it would be unjustified for the Freeman to make that judgment for every one of its readers by withholding the information it possesses.
I am sure that there are plenty of readers with first-hand knowledge of the chain of events that led to this tragedy and I’d be happy to hear from them so that we can report more thoroughly on this story.
Please do send your comments to or or post them on this blog.