Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why public pensions can be news

Why do we publish stories detailing the pensions of recently retired public employees? 

The Freeman has, in relatively short order, published stories about the pensions of former Kingston Police Lt. Timothy Matthews, former Kingston schools Superintendent Gerard Gretzinger, and, today, former Kingston Police Chief Gerald Keller.

Some readers question whether this is news. 

buff351 wrote on Feb 25, 2012 5:08 AM:
" With all the crap going on it is easy to start picking on numbers.... I am not a cop, this man did what he could. Every city in the United States wishes it was better. For the Freeman to start throwing salaries around for the soul purpose of winding the community up is wreckless. Do not get me wrong the stuff with the PD and FD is horrible. But not everybody was involved. This man ran that dept to the best of his ability, hes not under investigation.... and for those of you PRIVATE citizens that think his job was easy you lost your mind,he should be getting twice as much....... "

Mypov wrote on Feb 25, 2012 7:28 AM:
" Why have you linked Keller in with a convicted fellon and an inepted school official that has ties to the corruption of that felon. He also has no ties to the FD scandal going on. If he has been instrumental in helping to lower the crime rate in the city, then let his merrits stand by them selves to show that he deserves his pension. That's my POV! "

Veteran wrote on Feb 25, 2012 7:50 AM:
" buff351 - you got it right! Another low for the Freeman. What are they suggesting? Should the Chief who worked 40 plus years have his pension reduced because of a bad cop? Newspapers like this one make me sick in their reporting. "

We think it is news for a variety of reasons.

First, there are the obvious facts that public pensions are 
a) largely funded with public tax money and 
b) markedly more generous than pensions in the private sector. 
It’s one thing to say that, it’s another to spell it out in particulars with the cases of retired local officials. The issue of pensions is currently front-and-center in state politics, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo supporting reform that would reduce the current and future obligations of taxpayers and public unions and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who manages the state pensions fund, adamantly opposing such change.

Further, one might make the case that it’s the generosity of the pension system that can lead to quick retirements when the going gets rough, as it did with Gretzinger and Keller, each implicated in some way with the Matthews case. Neither has been charged with any criminal or civil wrongdoing, but Gretzinger was in charge while Matthews double-dipped as a school security guard and Keller was Matthews’ superior while the lieutenant was stealing money out of a department safe. Their job performance was roundly criticized in the wake of the Matthews scandal prior to their respective announcements of plans to retire. Why stay in a job that’s become aggravating when a comfortable retirement is available?

Also, in the case of Matthews, state law entitles Matthews to a pension for public service, despite felony conviction for stealing public money while on the job. That’s newsworthy. The plea agreement fashioned by Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright provides for Matthews to make restitution for what he stole directly from that pension. And that's newsworthy.

Finally, we do write stories about how much top officials will be paid when they are hired and when their contracts are renewed. It only makes sense to close the circle and tell readers what they will be paid in retirement from the public pension fund.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why there can't be just one version of a story, one set of comments

A reader asks in a comment posted to one of our stories today:

Just wondering why the Freeman often reposts pretty much the same story from a previous day as a new story?

It's like a kid rewriting anothers work for a book report.

Can't an existing story on the topic simply be updated if necessary and moved back to near the top of the "new" news? Why a whole new post/"story"?

Reader comments are often inciteful, enjoyable, and/or infuriating - which is why I like to read them! Having to wade through several of the same stories seems kind of rediculous.

If at all possible, Webmaster, get the reporters to update and repost the EXISTING story! "

Here is how I responded:

If we were to roll an existing story through our daily 3 a.m., top-to-bottom refresh of our website, a story that was published on, say, Tuesday would not appear in the archive for that date. It would only appear on the date the story was allowed to expire. There is no practical way to replicate a story that would move an existing set of comments forward while preserving the previous version for archiving.
As for why a story that appeared on Tuesday appears Wednesday morning in substantially the same form, our metrics show that a considerable part of our readership does not catch up to a local story of substantial interest that was posted in mid-day until the next day. (Local stories have a longer shelf life than national and state wire stories, which are allowed simply to expire at 3 a.m.)
We appreciate the value of reader comments. Quite logically, we think, the comments of readers are attached to the version of the story that was appearing when the comments were posted. This makes sense because sometime the particulars of stories are changed as a story develops and the coherence of a line of commentary can be jumbled if the story to which the comments were originally posted has been replaced by a newer version.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

On a 'disappearing' national story and its attached comments

A reader comments this morning on the "disappearance" of a national story from our website, inferring that editors are trying to quash criticism of President Barack Obama.

freecitrizen on 02/11/2012 08:02:46 said:
"Isn’t it interesting that the FREEMAN puts a national story on its web page late at night, to which many readers respond, but in the morning it has disappeared because the FREEMAN doesn’t want readers to see challenges to its far left presentation of the news about the current Administration? And yet the publisher claims to provide a more balanced presentation of the news and wonders why readership has declined."

This explanation/interpretation is wrong. Following is the comment I posted on the Freeman website after his comment:

Re comment of freecitizen:
The absence of a story may be "interesting" in the way you mean if you make up an explanation, as you have. The truth, however, is less fascinating.
First, the story to which you must be referring -- Obama's revision of policy on contraceptive coverage, since it's the only one that fits the comment -- wasn't put on the website "late at night." It was posted in midafternoon, after the president's press conference. It was on the site for most of the balance of the day, about 12 hours.
Further, the story did not disappear for any reason other than that which explains why most national stories that happen early in the news cycle are allowed to expire when our entire website is refreshed at 3a. Namely, the news will be old by Web standards by the time most people start logging onto the site after 8a. (Local news has a longer shelf life since many of the stories we originate can only be found here.)
All of yesterday's stories remain available on the site under yesterday's date, as do the comments of readers.
Finally, since the comment is about our website, it's also only fair to point out that the writer is mistaken about our readership -- our Web readership is strong and growing steadily. Taking print and Web together, there are more people now reading the Freeman than ever before in its history.
We really do invite your comments on all news stories and couldn't care less about the slant you take as long as comments are not libelous, profane or unduly harsh about other readers. The more community discussion of the stories we post, the better we like it. We see this as an important part of our role.