Friday, May 25, 2018

A struggling press is nothing to celebrate

Over the past two weeks the Buffalo News shrunk dramatically. The Monday to Saturday editions dropped from 4 sections to 3 while the Sunday paper saw the Niagara Sunday section eliminated entirely. Within days of that change we learned that numerous reporters there were offered or took buy outs – 9 writers in all were shown the door.

If, as this was happening, you looked through Twitter or Facebook you would have found hordes of people reveling in this. It was the usual schlock – the News is too liberal; it’s only fit to line bird cages; no one reads newspapers anymore.  

It was disheartening, and aggravating, to see such behavior. If you’re celebrating the end of the press, you’re celebrating the end of America.

Our country cannot survive without newspapers, whether in the print version or in their modern online style.

The strength and character of our constitutional republic is contingent upon an informed citizenry, which is why the forefathers found it necessary to recognize the value of the press in the First Amendment. News agencies -- large and small, national and local -- keep all levels of government in check by investigating improprieties, shining light on policy both active and proposed, and sharing the socioeconomic issues that force government and civic action. A good newspaper will educate, and hopefully inspire, the electors and the elected alike.

Take that away and what are you left with? Mostly incredibly-questionable social media accounts and websites, many of which are created by political parties and biased sources that have their own special interests and not the interests of the masses at heart.

Look at the “news” that drove both sides in the past election; it didn’t matter if it was pro-Trump Russian websites or domestically-made Democratic initiatives masquerading as news entities…that was what dictated much of what was shared online and around the water cooler. A discerning eye knew that most of those sources couldn’t be trusted but many Americans ate it up, especially if it played to their biases. If newspapers disappear, will such free-wheeling disinformation become the norm?

Newspapers, on the other hand, utilize reporters and editors who were trained in (and accountable to) integrity and how to get to the bottom of a story, and those newsrooms have the resources, employees, time and public trust to expose and/or expound upon the issues.

It doesn’t end there. The micro is just as important as the macro with the press. Your neighborhood news outlets do things at the most local level that you cannot get from Facebook – they provide a single source that offers in-depth coverage of events and people in your community; promotion of the academic and athletic endeavors of your children; attendance at common council and school board meetings and public hearings that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to fit into your schedule; and populkar updates like police reports and obituaries.

In the absence of a newspaper in your town, who has the time or ability to fill that void? The answer is simple: no one.

Don’t think that what is happening to the Buffalo News and other major metropolitan newspapers isn’t and can’t happen to those smaller papers. It’s like a plague that has taken over the country.

Case in point, the Lockport Union Sun and Journal and Niagara Gazette don’t print one day out of every week and just a few years ago their sister papers – the Tonawanda News and Medina Journal-Register – had to close due to the economics of the industry. People genuinely miss those newspapers – I hear from local residents all of the time. They feel like they are totally out of the loop without them.  

Or, how about my beloved Wellsville Daily Reporter? It was announced 2 weeks ago that the Reporter, the history of which dates back to 1880, was merging with Hornell’s Evening Tribune. That’s an absolute necessity in a changing news marketplace and a depressed Southern Tier economy.

To keep the news alive, publishers have to be creative and, unfortunately, they have to break from tradition and/or write pink slips. Smaller papers, consolidations, and not-so-daily newspapers are becoming standard practice.

The fight for the press shouldn’t begin and end in their offices. We all have a say in it.

Businesses need to buy advertisements.

Consumers need to purchase print or electronic subscriptions.

And, above all, we need to stop cheering the decline in newspapers’ sizes, profitability, and employment rolls.

It’s ignorant to do that, and an ignorant people we all will become without the press behind and before us.

No news is bad news.

From the 28 May 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Stop overscheduling your kids

Talk to many of today’s parents and they’ll seem pretty harried by adulthood. They’re at their wits end and they say they don’t have the time to cook dinner, volunteer or even have time for themselves.

How can that be? It’s not as if the workweek has grown this generation; as a matter of fact, it’s decreased. In 1995, the average American worked 39.2 hours. Today, it’s 34.4 hours.

This perceived loss of time is because they overscheduled themselves by overscheduling their children.

That plight was highlighted in an op-ed that ran in metropolitan newspapers across the country on Mother’s Day. The authors, two folks from George Mason’s Technology Policy Program, said the average parent spends more than 5 hours a week driving children to and from activities and more than 1 in 10 spend more than 10 hours a week on the road with them. Their report did not touch on the many more hours that parents sit in the stands or in the back of a classroom watching practice, a sporting event, or a performance.

Those writers used that data to segue into a discussion about what they viewed as the perfect Mother’s Day gift: Autonomous cars. In their view, driverless vehicles will allow mom and child more time together as passengers.

I have an even better invention than a driverless car to address these woes. It’s called an autonomous family – one that isn’t driven by schedule.

Parents need to stop signing-up their kids for every event, sport and club imaginable and live. Sitting in a car is not quality family time. Neither is sitting in the stands killing time all year long. It’s not good for you. It’s not good for your kids. You need time to do things together and on your own, free of burden. Life is too short; we need to let our kids live their childhoods free of full calendars and adults need time to enjoy parenting, adulthood, and the companionship of their mate.

I’ve been volunteering for youth causes for years. For a quarter century now I’ve been leading Boy Scouts in some capacity. I’ve run career shadowing programs. I’ve helped out at local schools. So, I’ve seen how kids and their parents are impacted by the drive to busy. As a youth leader -- and as a parent -- I offer these thoughts on how to make your family time less stressful and more enjoyable:   

Stick to one sport, one season. Too many moms and dads think they are doing well by their kids signing them up for a sport for every season or jumping into a more developed version of their favorite that might see year-round skills development. Please, stop. It becomes work. Just ask your kid. Too many practices, too many games can cause sports to lose their luster to your child (and you). Get them to pick a sport and tackle it in its primary season. Think about that – for three-quarters of the year you will have your evenings and weekends back with your kids!    

Join a more versatile organization. Sports isn’t for every kid but some still want to do things, have a sense of belonging, and feed their insatiable sense of wonder. You don’t want to saddle them with a handful of clubs to figure out which one tickles their fancy. Instead, pick one that covers a whole gamut of activities from leadership to arts to the outdoors to sports to technology. You get that from the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts as well as 4-H and FFA. That’s one meeting a week, maybe one event a month with considerable payoff – they become Renaissance Men and Women.   

Develop free-range children. You’ve likely heard horror stories of Child Protective Services busting parents for (gasp!) unsupervised kids at playgrounds. But, that’s the way we all grew up. We played pick-up sports with our pals. We made things. We went fishing. We hung with our friends. All without parents in tow. Giving children freedom allows them to find the things they like, develop a little independence, and inspire creativity via free play. Let kids be kids. They’ll keep themselves busy. It’s easy. And, they’ll love it.   

Encourage traditions. Children and pre-teens dig tradition. There’s comfort and excitement to be had in regularly revisiting destinations and restaurants they really like. If you find that they enjoy the local park, a campground, or diner, and you can see the joy on their faces and you feel the warmth within you, take advantage of that. That’s how memories are made. That’s how family bonds are made. Once-in-a-while activities carry more meaning than relentless ones.    

Get outdoors. The great outdoors is the great equalizer. Parents and their children are there, together, in a timeless place where we are all one with nature. There’s no office politics, no schoolroom pressure, no computers, and no schedule. There’s no better time spent wading in a stream with a little one, kayaking a river with a teen, or camping with them in the forest at any age. Being away from the hustle and bustle and enjoying each other’s company when no one else is around.

So, I encourage moms and dads to take a step back and look at your calendars. Is all that chaos worth it? Clean off that calendar and simplify your life. Make time….family time.

From the 21 May 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, May 11, 2018

Politicians have to own their economic policies

A good politician (well, a bad one in my eyes) is someone skilled at being a snake oil salesmen. He or she will maintain their control by successfully selling constituents on ideas that are absolutely disjointed from reality. For a perfect example, look at the shameful grandstanding taken by Democrats last week in regard to the Dresser-Rand closing.

First, let’s set the table for those unfamiliar with what’s happening with D-R. The Dresser-Rand factory is in the village of Wellsville in Allegany County.  The village’s well-being is tied to the successes of the factory and its long -- and impactful -- history. It has been in operation for more than 100 years, starting off as the Moose Steam Turbine Company. Dresser bought them in 1985 then, a year later, Ingersoll-Rand bought Dresser. In 2015, Siemens purchased the company.

This past February, Siemens made the shocking announcement that they are closing the Wellsville facility by 2020 and moving the operations to North Carolina and other domestic plants. This will not only devastate the 250 families working there, but also the entire Wellsville community which has benefited from the incredible economic domino effect, taxes, and charity.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer and Republican Congressman Tom Reed as well as local elected officials have undertaken a bipartisan effort to communicate and work with Siemen’s managers in an order to stave off the closure. They have been professional in their behavior, outreach and efforts.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for other politicians from Schumer’s side of the aisle.

Early last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an aggressive letter to the head of Dresser-Rand, indicating closing the Wellsville plant was “reckless”. It was a “look at what I’m doing for you” statement (albeit a meaningless one) to the citizens of the village, when it really should have been a “look at what I did to you” moment (more on that in a bit).

Days later, Congressman Brian Higgins (who doesn’t have Wellsville in his district) and his associate Nancy Pelosi staged a press conference in Washington with the machinists union affected by the closure. They used it to rail against President Donald Trump’s tax cut package, calling it a corporate scam that’s not keeping jobs in America.

That is where they’re dead wrong. The closure of the Wellsville plant is not a federal issue -- it’s a state issue. The jobs are not disappearing nor are they going overseas. They are moving to other states, places where it is far more attractive to do business thanks to lower taxes, fewer regulations, and cheaper energy costs. You know, places where you can actually make money.

I’ve seen it firsthand. I run a factory in New York and I know how difficult it is. Readers of this column and anyone who’s been on a plant tour know that my company throws away three-quarters of a million dollars every year just for the privilege of doing business in the Empire State. That value is based on higher costs, controlled by government, that our competitors from other states don’t pay.

The biggest portion of my competitive disadvantage is the high price of electricity, so it’s no wonder that Dresser-Rand cited that as one of the primary reasons for the move. As they put it:  “Siemens has been making structural adjustments to manufacturing…to offset…price erosion caused by broad energy market changes.”

So, the blame should not be put on Trump. It should be put on Cuomo. He has taken a tanking upstate economy and made it worse for existing and start-up businesses by introducing, among other things, expensive green energy mandates, higher minimum wages, paid leave, countless fees and taxes, higher health insurance costs and new worker scheduling rules while growing an entitlement system that doesn’t value work (for example, last September there were 1,000 job openings in Orleans County…and 1,000 county residents collecting unemployment). All of this only adds to and does not reduce the burden placed on businesses. 

Cuomo shouldn’t be writing letters accusing corporations of “reckless” actions. Instead, he should look at the reckless actions he has taken that have driven away entrepreneurs, jobs, and residents. Similarly, Higgins and Pelosi should not divert the focus away from the real issue, that a Democratic governor’s economic policies have added uncertainty to a state’s already-uncertain climate.

I guess the moral to the story is this: Always look at what a state or federal politician is trying to sell you or rail against with a discerning eye – Republicans or, in this case, Democrats will all bend the truth or make a narrative that fits their quest for control.

It’s too bad that the losers – or those being used -- in such situations always end up being hardworking souls like those in Wellsville who face the hard reality of what bad public policy has wrought.

From the 14 May 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News