In July 2005 I reached out to Tim Marren, editor of the Lockport Union Sun and Journal at the time, and asked him if he needed a columnist. Lockport native and WNY media icon Clip Smith passed away 11 months earlier and without his contributions there were no local columnists. I told Tim I would follow in Clip’s shoes and write the column for free.
So, here I am 15 years – and over 750 columns – later, still writing for the Lockport paper and its sister publication, the Niagara Gazette. A few years ago, then-editor of the Daily News John Anderson invited me to share my contributions with the readers in Batavia, too.
Did I ever think I’d make it this far?
I’d like to think so.
It was always my goal to write as long as newspapers existed. Yes, there may have been a few times where I wondered if the well would go dry and I would have nothing to opine upon, but that never happened and never will: We live and work in New York…Albany will always serve up something for me.
And, you never know what will happen in this world. When I signed on did anyone think I’d be writing about something called the Great Recession and, then, not too many years later a global pandemic?
The world is a fluid place. It’s always changing. We’re always changing.
The newspaper industry is changing, too.
Over the past 15 years, the online presence of newspapers has in many communities across the country grown to be their bread-and-butter. That has become an economic model difficult to manage and sustain as consumers who abandoned subscriptions to print editions think they should have unfettered access to online content, never mind what it takes to keep the reporters covering everything from local sports to municipal corruption to neighborhood business to the accomplishments of high schoolers.
Because of those trends, two newspapers the column ran in -- the Medina Journal-Register and Tonawanda News – both folded.
Communities need newspapers.
Our constitutional republic – or as some people call it our “democracy” – needs newspapers.
I can attest to their value in that regard. Not every one of my columns has been a victory (some actually stunk), but there have been enough to have a measurable impact and reinforce the importance of the press. For example…
In 2011, a column about the Obama Administration’s plan to exclude almost all minors from most agricultural work and all animal husbandry -- which would have destroyed farming’s future as well as 4-H and the FFA – went absolutely viral and became a critical cog in the machine that brought down the rules in the public comment period.
That same year, the federal government proposed that all farm workers get a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in order to drive farm equipment. This column brought that to light and we managed to beat that, too.
Last year, the state legislature passed a bill that would have prevented Boy Scouts from using the shooting ranges at summer camps. The sponsor of the bill admitted to the New York Times that my column changed her mind. She brought an amendment to the floor that passed.
Then, during this COVID event I’ve scored two wins – the first being the suspension of unemployment’s waiting week during the crisis and the second being the development of COVID-19 Administrators for public schools.
Mixed among those columns and more were less traceable wins – those you can’t see in the legislative chambers but those that hopefully encouraged people to rethink the way they view the world and the people in it.
Through the years, this column has received responses and exposure from all over the world, and it’s exciting to wonder whose attention I might attract next. Rebuttals from Charles Schumer and Louise Slaughter have appeared in the paper. Staffers from the Reagan Administration spoke out about a column. I’ve appeared on radio shows across the country. Supermodel-turned-super-businesswoman Kathy Ireland and I shared a nice dialogue after she read one of my articles. The largest newspapers in Germany and China have quoted me. And, what really makes me proud, schools, colleges, and departments of education across the US and Canada have included my essays or quotes in their textbooks and curriculum.
I thank you, the reader, for being there, week in and week out. Over the years I’ve heard from hundreds, maybe thousands, of you. Some write me in agreement. Others respectfully disagree. And, a few have disrespectfully disagreed to the point of anonymously mailing me my column with expletives written all over it. Be it to the positive or negative, I love your feedback.
I’d also like to thank all the editors and publishers of these newspapers for allowing me to pursue my dream and share my ideas. Your support – and the weekly designation of space on the opinion page -- means a lot to me.
15 years is a long time.
But, it’s not the end.
I’ll be here as long as you can all put up with me.
From the 27 July 2020 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News