Monday, September 20, 2021

Long live newspapers

Last week, one of the newspaper I write for, the Lockport Union Sun & Journal, featured a glossy magazine celebrating 200 years of the newspaper.


200 years!


Two centuries for any business is special.


Two centuries for a print newspaper, given the modern economics of the medium, is extra special.


And, it’s special to me: For most of my 46 years that newspaper has been an important part of my life. Since the fourth grade, I’ve immersed myself in its content. And, since 2005, my column has appeared every week in the US&J.


I regularly let people know my love for that newspaper and newspapers in general. Quite often I speak to large groups at the factory or in the classroom – it could be Leadership Niagara, college students at Brockport, or fifth graders. When discussing some of the more important tools for leading an organization, making themselves career-ready, or being good citizens, I always mention that they need to read a newspaper, or a few of them, every day.

Their eyes always perk up with curiosity when I say that.


It could be because the topic of acquired contemporary knowledge is rarely discussed as a trait of leadership or citizenship. Or, it may be that a good many people have a rather disdainful view of news in general because of the boisterous “Fake News” propaganda spread by former President Trump or the similar yet far more subtle undertones from his predecessor. Or, it may be that my audience doesn’t read the paper once a day, let alone once a month, a behavior that has become the norm in this age of the internet and the accessibility of immediate – albeit abbreviated and suspect – information.

To allay their curiosity and warm them up to the daily read, I always lay out just how crucial a newspaper is for good management and good activism.


Every leader, head of household, and engaged citizen must be a Renaissance (Wo)Man, knowing a little bit (or a lot) about a wide variety of subjects. To effectively do your job and make the appropriate decisions in business (finances, capital investment, product development, and marketing) and in your personal life (savings, investment, buying, and the American concept of self-governance) you have to be aware of what’s happening all around our world, from your neighborhood to some far-flung foreign land.

Why? The global economy and modern technology have made the world a smaller place, a faster place, and we’re all interconnected. What happens here and elsewhere will set off a domino effect that affects you personally and professionally in the short-term or long-term. For example, a flood in Australia can drive up wheat prices, doing the same to prices at the grocery store in Niagara Falls; a deep freeze in Texas can ultimately shut down production lines hundreds of miles away here in the New York, harming your job; and the town council’s vote on infrastructure might make your water bill go up. The list is endless.

By being in the know regarding these matters – the major and the minor - you can adjust your operations and your expenditures accordingly, well in advance of your competitors and neighbors. Knowledge is power.

I always tell my audience that they can’t use television news and the internet as shortcuts or as the sole sources of news.


Broadcast news is flawed in that you spend a half–to-one hour in front of the tube and a good portion of that airtime is commercials, while the national news stations (like CNN and Fox News) are agenda driven and over-kill some of the most unimportant stories while putting issues of actual importance on the back-burner. Likewise, the internet does the same, promoting really inane and false garbage. The problem with the web, too, is that its users use it as a filter and scan the headlines, focusing only on cute, horrific or popularized topics.

A newspaper, on the other hand, is created with standards and in its printed form puts the entire world, from a variety of perspectives, in your hand. Local and world news, business, sports and culture are all right there. In the same amount of time you would might have spent watching the TV you can ingest a whole newspaper (or a few) and know so much more than you would have learned elsewhere.

You don’t need a degree to be educated. You just need a newspaper like this one. Newspapers can literally make you healthy, wealthy and wise.


Chances are that you’re reading this column in ink so you know that mantra quite well. But, you should also share that belief with your friends and coworkers and get your kids started on it at a young age as I did.


We’ll all be better off for it, for an educated people are a strong people and a successful people. 


Long live newspapers!



From the 07 September 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News


Monday, August 30, 2021

When the helpers need helping

It’s been a trying time for first responders in Gasport.


In a matter of days, our local volunteers lost three people with whom they served.


Merle Snell, a founding member of the Hartland fire company who volunteered there for decades, passed on the 21st. Three days later, Linda Drum, who helped with the Ladies Auxiliary at Gasport Chemical Hose where many of her family have been or are firefighters, died in a car accident. Later that day, Judy Spencer, a Hartland volunteer who was consistently a top responder, died in the line of duty while assisting a neighboring fire company.


It’s heartbreaking enough that our local heroes lost their comrades, friends, mentors, and family members. It’s even more heartbreaking to know they responded to the calls for Merle and Linda and, in the case of Judy, were there when it happened. They saw. They felt. They grieved.


My mom is an EMT. One of her fears, one shared by everyone who has ever put a flashing light in their car, is that when she arrives at an accident, fire, or medical event it’s someone she knows.


It’s a real feeling of dread that all volunteers have. Given how small a community like mine is, it’s certain to actually happen in a volunteer’s career.  


But, that can’t prepare them for when that worst nightmare does happen.


Nothing can.


And, even if it is someone unfamiliar, it doesn’t make the anguish any less.


Throughout their volunteerism, they’ve seen people who’ve passed, they’ve tried to help people at their rawest and most vulnerable, and, sometimes, despite their best efforts, they’ve been unable to save a life and are left comforting the injured, holding their hand for their last breath.


Those of us who are helped by the helpers can’t even come close to imagining, to feeling what they’ve experienced.


But, what we can do, is to be there for them following these events.


That has been happening in volume in my community.


You can tell from comments pouring in on social media that those three who were lost meant so much to so many people in Gasport, and beyond; Facebook has been alive with people offering their condolences and memories to the families and the volunteers. The “real world” outside the confines of social media has been equally vibrant, from locals providing food, donations, hugs, and support to neighboring fire districts being on call to cover for the grieving to people far away showing their respects, whether it was a morning run at West Point in Judy’s honor, or a 12 year-old boy in central Florida doing the same.


The support has been powerful and meaningful. I know those families – families by blood or by service – have appreciated it.


What’s been happening here should serve as a model of support for other communities, and all other tragedies. Those who are served should serve the servers. And, it should happen more often than it does now.


First responders experience destruction and death too frequently. It sears into their brain. Many get PTSD, just as a soldier might -- what they’ve seen is best compared to the horror someone would see on the battlefield.  


Following horrific calls, they can get some help from their brotherhood/sisterhood. Their fire halls and county emergency services provide debriefings. Local and state resources are dedicated to getting them the counseling they need.


But, it’s never easy for them to take help.


People, for the most part, feel uncomfortable talking, especially in the open or with complete strangers, about their mental anguish. That’s even more pronounced in fire and EMS circles because volunteers are who they are – they’ve taken it upon themselves to serve others and they believe they shouldn’t show what they perceive to be weakness. They see whole communities counting on them to be strong in the most dire of moments. They don’t want any chinks in their armor.


That’s where we come in, as their trusted friends and family.


Be there to listen.


Be there to provide a shoulder to cry on.


Heck, just be there…in many cases, the power of silence with a companion or the diversion of regular conversation are healing enough.  


Look at it this way: We need to focus on the health of our real heroes as much as we do on the health of assumed heroes. If a player on your favorite football team blows out his knee or tears a shoulder, there’s a lot of handwringing going on – how will our city ever survive? But, when it comes to the heroes who wear a different type of helmet, who are battling an unseen wound, that of trauma witnessed and felt, there’s sometimes not enough attention thrown their way, yet it should be, because, truly, how will our city ever survive?


Know, just as my fellow Gasport residents have shown, that sometimes the helpers need helping.


Be the friend, the confidant, they need to get through their darkest days.  


It’s the least we can do for those who have been and will be there for us when we face our darkest moments.  


From the 30 August 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News


Monday, August 23, 2021

Celebrate Constitution Day this September


There’s a decades-old urban legend in these parts that I always have a copy of the Constitution with me.

It’s not a legend; I really do have a pocket Constitution on me at all times.

That may seem somewhat over-the-top in regard to patriotism and perhaps a little nerdy, but the Constitution is the Bible of Americanism.


That simple yet powerful document is the guiding light to what is the greatest experiment in self-government - and, from that, the greatest society - that Mankind has ever known and will ever know, the United States of America. I strongly believe it’s our founding principles that made our nation great by allowing and inspiring Americans to be the very best that we can be. America is unique in that our natural rights were officially recognized and deemed inalienable by the Constitution, allowing liberty, self-rule, and free markets to flourish.

Over the course of our history, though, the Constitution has seen some rough spots. Presidents such as Lincoln, FDR, the younger Bush, and Obama trampled over our nation’s legal and philosophical foundation with zeal.


Sometimes we need a reminder that the morality and virtuous free environment recognized and provided for by the Constitution is what’s best for whatever ails us.


Can it put an end to what seem like never-ending wars? Yes.


Can it heal our sickened economy? Yes.


Can it kill the numerous and creative ways being used to invade our privacy? Yes.


The Constitution can be - or will lead us to - the answers for all of today’s problems.

Most people have forgotten that. To them the Constitution has become an afterthought, maybe even an antiquity or novelty. Some even forget that it exists.

Enter “Constitution and Citizenship Day”.

Introduced as an amendment to an appropriations bill in 2004, Public Law 108-447 requires that any public school that receives federal funding educate its students on the Constitution on or by September 17 of every year in observance of the Constitution’s signing in 1787. It’s interesting that the law was penned by none other than the now-deceased Democratic Senator Robert Byrd who was never really known to be a Constitution enthusiast and it should also be noted that the Constitution in proper practice should prohibit the federal government from funding and dictating to public schools. Nonetheless, it is the law.

Even without its edict it’s good citizenship to revisit and be reeducated about the document on its birthday. It’s a day just as important to America as July 4.


On the evening of September 17 make it a point to ask your children or grandchildren if they received an education about the Constitution in the days leading up to it. It’s not necessarily guaranteed that they will. An obscure law like this can be easily overlooked and, as history shows, even if it were followed our schools aren’t necessarily the best places for civics (teachers have to be super-focused on other matters while being forced to teach to standardized tests).

Plus -- although many modern parents may not agree with this -- it’s your responsibility to educate your kids as much it is the schools’. Education shouldn’t end when the school bell rings. Take the time to discuss the Constitution with them. It doesn’t have to be a dry subject. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have shown that teaching about government can be exciting, engaging, and character-building. Start young and they’ll better understand their duties as citizens and, as they age, what their government can and cannot do to and for them.

If your understanding of the Constitution is a little limited itself take the time to make it a shared learning experience with your family. There is plenty of great material on the web and among the very best is the “Overview of America” video which can be watched in its entirety on YouTube. You’ll come away enlightened.

Regardless of your knowledge, it’s imperative that you take the time to reacquaint yourself and your children with the Constitution. If more people did, it’s guaranteed that America would be in a better place than it is now during these trying and crazy times.


Sometimes, the old fashioned ways are the best ways. Our Founding Fathers were really onto something.


From the 23 August 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News