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POST-JOURNAL; LOCAL NEWS
June 14, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
At a time when news and what passes for news on the Internet and entertaining cable news floods us with useless information newspapers are more important than ever. Major newspapers are dying or struggling to survive like the New York Times that carries a balance sheet weighted down by millions of dollars in red ink.
To compete with the tabloids broadsheets like the Times have admitted to serious lapses like the Judith Miller debacle about Ahmad Chalabi’s imaginary weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Her front page stories boosted sales for the Times and lent credibility for the Bush war effort despite Ahmad Chalabi’s well known reputation for being a liar and a con artist. That demonstrates that information is not always knowledge. That is why our local paper, The Post-Journal should be applauded; even appreciated.
Take one issue, Sunday, June 14, 2009. Robert Rizzuto had a front page story, the second of a series, about the possible legalization of marijuana in New York. Rizzuto’s account removes hysteria from the discussion and provides the framework for a reasoned debate about the use of medical marijuana. In the same issue Kristen Johnson examined overtime pay for local fire fighters and police in a comprehensive piece of reporting that allows the reader to have a clear and compelling look at how the two departments use overtime.
Both stories are jammed packed with useful information. Rizzuto’s story was balanced by thought provoking remarks by Dan Bernath with the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington. The article examined health hazards associated with smoking marijuana and cited Bernath’s example of improved, clean delivery systems like vaporization. Whether for or against the use of medial marijuana the reader can conclude that law enforcement objections, however legitimate, no longer drives the debate; medical science will be the ultimate arbiter.
I learned from Kristen Johnson’s reporting that not only did firefighters earn a half-million dollars in overtime but nearly an equal amount in ‘other’ pay such as shift differentials, vacation pay and sick time sell backs. The majority of the JFD overtime last year was spread out among 22 employees with two of the employees earning more than $20,000 each and four officers in the JPD received the heft of overtime in that department.
Johnson reports that leaders in both departments cite compelling reasons for overtime; shift maintenance and off duty calls ins in the fire department and court appearances, call ins, holidays and special events in the police department. Overtime, however, seems to be driven in both departments by a lack of personnel; new employees entering the workforce. City leaders, from an employer viewpoint, must weigh the cost of paying overtime on a regular basis to the costs associated with new, full time employees and sometimes that can be a difficult balance.
It remains obvious that neither story was put together impulsively and neither draws specific conclusions but equips the reader with useful and insightful information of a sort that is uncharacteristic of other media. The Journal, however, is not without its critics; readers are often harsh judges.
However, and as far as I can discern, few complain about content but gripe about the editorial page. I do not always agree with the editorials and rarely agree with conservative contributors, some I will not read, but that’s okay; I’m certain the feeling is mutual. If all politics is local and all news is local, and always allowing room for improvement, the Journal is hard to beat. In my opinion, the Journal is a much better paper than it was just a few years ago and has made a smooth transition into the age of the Internet with solid local reporting. Keep in mind; readers are free to skip the editorial page.
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