Tag Archives: Buffalo Rising

The Morning Grumpy – 6/8/12

8 Jun

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

Hey, what’s up, lame pun raccoon? Got a good one for us?

1. This Saturday, June 9th, come to Riverside to participate in the 3rd Annual Ride Along the Waterfront at Black Rock Canal Park.  This year’s event includes the popular 3 mile kayak/canoe paddle, 14 mile non-competitive bike ride, and a wellness fair.  New this year, Petworks will be on hand with their agility dogs and Buster Bison will be in appearance to entertain the kids.

Ride Along the Waterfront begins at 9:00am with the kayak/canoe paddle from the boat launch at Black Rock Canal Park to the foot of Sheridan Drive and back along the curve of the Niagara River.  The bike ride begins at 11:00am and will include a “poker run” and the best hands will win prizes.  The bike ride follows the Riverwalk from Black Rock Canal Park to Lasalle Park and back.  The wellness fair will take place from 9:00 – 1:00, so stop by at any time before, during, or after any of the events.

Those interested in participating can do so for both events, an individual event, or can just stop by and check out the wellness fair.  Ride Along the Waterfront is a free event, open to all.  Participants can register day of the event.

Ride Along the Waterfront is a yearly event based out of Black Rock Canal Park.  It exists to encourage Buffalonians to get out and experience all that our waterfront has to offer and to bring awareness to Black Rock Canal Park and the improvements to the park that will begin later this summer.

2. Dan Rather reports on a new book that claims we no longer operate in a functional democracy.

Today, they say, instead of a Congress created by the people, for the people, we now have a GOP that is so adversarial that there is no room for compromise. This inability to negotiate makes it virtually impossible for new policies and laws to be created, which in turn frustrates many Americans, who ideologically fall in between the two political extremes. In the end, they say, it creates an anti-politician sentiment of “throw the bums out” and provides a toehold for non-politicians to be elected, who then become even more ineffective and obstructive than their predecessors.

The book also points the finger at the press. They say, in order to appear objective and balanced, and to please the corporate bosses and sponsors, news operations are engulfed in attempting to appear unbiased. It’s become a televised see-saw of sorts. One side pitted against the other, going up and down or back and forth, but not really telling the audience what’s actually going on.

When government in our republic morphs from one of ongoing legislative compromise to Democrats negotiating with ideological terrorists, progress comes to a halt.  Historic use of the filibuster, daily threats of filibuster, refusal of the minority to allow cloture votes in the Senate, and levels of legislative obstructionism not seen since the Civil War have led us to the point where gridlock just cannot be overcome and brinksmanship is now valued over governance. GOP 2012!

3. Yesterday, Buffalo Rising posted an article from a guy who is looking to “crowdsource” ideas for a better Buffalo using a Google document.

Quite often we read blog posts and their associated comment sections about how Buffalo could be a better place if (insert logical to fantastical remark). There are so many ideas out there, but the common problem I see is that there isn’t a place to truly share it with the community.
 
With this in mind, a question arose. Why not ask people for all of their ideas, and categorize them?
 
The question asked is simply, “How can Buffalo be a more livable city for its residents, workers, and visitors?”
 
Actually, the question is, “who is this guy and what credibility does he have?” I’m sure the author is well-intentioned, earnest, and just trying out a concept. But, to me, this kind of effort is a major problem with Buffalo.
 
We have hundreds of (mostly non-profit) organizations in the city working to “make Buffalo a better place”. They also compete with each other for attention and funding. We even have dozens of organizations working on answering this guy’s very specific question of how to make Buffalo a more livable place.
 
We also have thousands of people who are independently trying to solve problems by creating “”one-stop shop” websites, forums, and networks for these various organizations to collaborate. The weird “we’ve got to get everyone to collaborate” sub-genre of community activism is particularly tiresome to me.  Why? Because I’m usually asked to participate in those efforts due to my history of working with lots of different groups on community projects.
 
A better idea would be for this guy to approach one of the already established organizations in town, join, and work with them on their projects. Once ingratiated into the group, he can propose the organization work on his idea. The best kind of leaders know how to follow. Buffalo is filled with people who are dissatisfied with the pace of progress and want to start their own thing. Don’t. Unless you have some revolutionary concept (doubtful), join something and make it better.

4. Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons had another of their long-form email conversations and posted the product to Grantland. In it, there was one nugget of commentary that really stuck out, the absurdity of sports coverage in America.

Do we really need 25 people crammed in baseball locker rooms fighting for the same mundane quotes? What’s our game plan for the fact that — thanks to the Internet and 24-hour sports stations — a city like Boston suddenly has four times as many sports media members as it once had? Why are we covering teams the same way we covered them in 1981, just with more people and better equipment? If I could watch any Celtics game and press conference from my house (already possible), and there was a handpicked pool of reporters (maybe three per game, with the people changing every game) responsible for pooling pregame/postgame quotes and mailing them out immediately, could I write the same story (or pretty close)? If we reduced the locker room clutter, would players relax a little more? Would their quotes improve? Would they trust the media more? Why haven’t we experimented at all? Any “improvements” in our access have been forgettable. Seriously, what pearls of wisdom are we expecting from NBA coaches during those ridiculous in-game interviews, or from athletes sitting on a podium with dozens of media members firing monotone questions at them? It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet of forgettable quotes, like the $7.99 prime rib extravaganzas at a Vegas casino or something. There’s Russell Westbrook at the podium for $7.99! Feast away! We laugh every time Gregg Popovich curmudgeonly swats Craig Sager away with four-word answers, but really, he’s performing a public service. He’s one of the few people in sports who has the balls to say, “This couldn’t be a dumber relationship right now.”

Bringing this down to a local level, there are dozens of bloggers writing about their immediate reactions to sporting events, providing mildly informed game analysis, and covering the Sabres and Bills with a breathless anticipation unseen since PANDAWATCH.

Certainly, there are fan blogs where people post their thoughts to generate discussion with like-minded friends, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m referring to amateur sports blogs that feature regular content, publishing schedules, and dedicated features about our local teams. I’m not sure what they’re all trying to accomplish. Is there some kind of coverage these people aren’t getting from established beat reporters and experienced analysts? What am I learning from Die By The Blade, BuffaloWins, or Two In The Box that I’m not already getting from seasoned professionals with access like Paul Hamilton and Mike Harrington? What fresh opinions am I not getting from the likes of Jeremy White, Mike Schopp or Chris Parker that would force me to look elsewhere? When do we reach a saturation point with “sports takes”?

As I get older, I find our obsession with sports to be a harmful distraction from the serious issues in our lives, especially when people take it so fucking seriously. This 24/7 sports coverage from establishment outlets, blogs, gossip sites, Twitter, and Facebook has created a local and national media crucible in which we ask our athletes to operate. They handle it poorly (because they’re usually meatheads) and we slam them for it. I just don’t get it.

Proceed with your allegations of hypocritical irony as I’m a news blogger. However, I think there’s nuance here and we can hash it out in the comments if you so desire.

5. Speaking of Gladwell, he claimed in a recent interview that in fifty years, the world will have forgotten Steve Jobs, but will honor the legacy of his contemporary, Bill Gates.

Still, Gladwell is fascinated that today we seem to revere certain corporate figures. He describes them as “our new prophets.” Yet, for him, these great business people are, in essence slightly inhuman. They shutter any humanity they might have in favor of the pursuit of profit.

Something, though, happened to Gates. “(He) is the most ruthless capitalist, and then he wakes up one morning and he says, ‘enough.’ And he steps down, he takes his money, he takes it off the table,” said Gladwell.

“There’s a reasonable shot that, because of his money, we will cure malaria,” he added.

He contrasted this with his now well-known view of Steve Jobs as a tinkerer, rather than a great creator. “Every idea he had came from somebody else — and, by the way, he would be the first to say this,” he said. (The second, surely.) “He was quite happy ripping people off,” is Gladwell’s view.

He went on to call Jobs “shameless” and “a self-promoter on a level that we have rarely seen.”

This reminded me of something Anil Dash once wrote about how Bill Gates performed the greatest tech hack ever.

Bill Gates has pulled off one of the greatest hacks in technology and business history, by turning Microsoft’s success into a force for social responsibility. Imagine imposing a tax on every corporation in the developed world, collecting $100 per white-collar worker per year, and then directing one third of the proceeds to curing AIDS and malaria. That, effectively, is what Bill Gates has done.

For more information about the incredible impact Bill Gates is having on our world, click here for an awesome infographic.

Fact Of The Day: On June 9th, 1978, After 148 years, the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints finally allowed black men to become priests.

Quote Of The Day: “We are not a household. We are an economy. Your spending is my income, and my spending is your income.” – Paul Krugman

Video Of The Day: “Garden Of Your Mind” – Mister Rogers remixed by Symphony of Science

Song Of The Day: “Old Habits Die Hard” – Mick Jagger

Follow me on Twitter for the “incremental grumpy” @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com

Where I (Kinda) Get in a #Twitter Fight With BRO and then Write About it Here

7 Jul

Author’s Note: I’m not changing up my writing schedule – this one just kinda bugged me and I couldn’t let it go.

Buffalo Rising is one of the reasons I moved back to Buffalo. There, I said it. Not the new, blue Buffalo Rising. The old brown Buffalo Rising, that covered nearly exactly the same topics: waterfront hopes, loft living deliverance, and new restaurants in old buildings (just a couple generations back of the continuous restaurant turnover). Those us of that have been reading Buffalo Rising for a while (5 years for me) often refer to it as BRO, to differentiate the Online version from the flimsy print mag that used to sit in a pile next to Artvoice in coffee shops. But more on that in a moment.

Buffalo Rising drew me back home because the Buffalo I left in 1995 would never have had such a thing. A young, fresh spirit of optimism, Buffalo Rising was proof Buffalo had changed. It was more than the tired pining for the past, and there was a new energy to tap into. I read BRO from Las Vegas for months before I returned, and read it daily for the first couple of years here. To my still-expat friends, I touted it as proof of Buffalo’s (soon-to-be, it’s really coming) rebirth.

“Look at all the new things happening here,” I said. “You don’t have something like Buffalo Rising where you live.”

“Buffalo Rising?” one said. “Sounds like an Eastern Block work program. No, we don’t have Denver Rising. We just go do stuff.”

For a time I remained upbeat in my renewed hometown and followed the website that promoted it, but as high profile projects stagnated and rusted, tired petty politics endured, and the old Buffalo I left was revealed as still lurking below the surface, Buffalo Rising’s inability to cover this new reality took the sheen off the city and website both. How could they cover with a straight face the opening of a new venture in the same Elmwood building over and over again? How could they simply ignore large stories in Buffalo that happened to be negative? The tone of the site didn’t match what I saw with my own eyes (see: Shack, Snack).

Enter mutual friend of both BRO and WNYMedia, RaChaCha, with the following innocuous tweet:

RaChaCha wanted to talk about new media. But based on the over-large intro above, I didn’t:

I wasn’t looking for a fight, and that probably came out snarkier than I meant it. Oh well. I don’t know who guards BRO’s twitter feed at nine o’clock on a Wednesday evening, but they jumped in quick:

Well now. That fascinating cherry picking of economic (!) facts from BRO to define “rising” intrigued me, as well as the choice to lay out a Buffalo/Rochester competition.

If we’re going to contrast the two cities, I can think of a lot more relevant facts than per capita GDP growth over the last decade. The fact that Rochester (51st largest metro) is growing and Buffalo (50th) is not seems important, as it now appears Rochester may (eventually) end up as the second largest city in New York. Chris Smith in his Twitter feed has noted other more obscure data that point to the rate of small business growth and entrepreneurship. In any case, why are we talking about GDP? My point was, Buffalo clearly needs a self-appointed promoter, but perhaps Rochester is doing fine without one.

BRO didn’t get it, but I’ll attribute that to my continued challenge with clarity in 140 characters. But obviously I wasn’t talking about the need for “new media” in Rochester, but Rochester Rising.

Then I got snarky again.

WNYMedia is criticized for always being negative (we’re not, we call it as we see it – sorry if in Buffalo that makes many of our grapes sour), so I can imagine BRO is prickly about the positive label. But do they have a point? Is Buffalo Rising just our Gothamist? The Google blurb for Buffalo Rising is:

Buffalo Rising has been one of the region’s most dynamic websites since the site launched in 2004. We cover the positive and interesting people and places that make our city unique.

Gothamist’s is :

A daily weblog covering New York city’s personalities, news stories, and media with humorous photos and running commentary.

If BRO thinks the positive label is old, they should take it off their site. And I think the choice to be positive as an editorial decision is important, and I said so:

I went to bed after that. Sorry – I’ve got four kids and the spawn get up at the crack of dawn. So I missed this answer until this morning.

But is not the choice to cover the one bad story really the point? Covering that would make all the difference – it would indicate a true editorial change, and evolve BRO from a glorified Gusto and architectural blog. What defines Buffalo Rising in my mind, and I don’t think I am alone in this, is not its food and festival coverage (which mirrors the -ist series of sites), but its choice of what NOT to cover. (BTW, it takes one big topic – like Paladino horse porn – to get millions of hits, but I digress.)

Truth is, my issue is with a city that needs a cheerleader like BRO, not with BRO itself. They have an audience, fulfill a legit niche , and do it well. For me, a relentlessly positive tone has a definite shelf-life before I check out. But Buffalo’s appetite for being told it is a “better place than everyone says it is” is insatiable. I and others at WNYMedia often point to our general lack of confidence, thin-skin, and defensiveness to outsiders as a primary impediment to our future success. I’m sick of the need for constant self congratulation to placate our collective low self esteem. I’m sick of caring about Forbes rankings. Donn Esmonde should be out of business, devoting multiple columns to one comment from a kid at the World Juniors. When the Sabres sign a big name player, media ask almost immediately about what his impression of Buffalo is, and how he overcame it to lower himself to play here. 

How about we get over it, see Buffalo for our positives and negatives, warts and jewels? We need to decide if we like living HERE, not the fantasy land on BRO or the uninformed derided caricature prevalent in the rest of the country. God forbid, we should be more like Detroit. Then, with a bit of cockiness back, we can, you know, just go do stuff.

New Buffalo 2005 – 2009

4 Sep

I started blogging in late 2003, and started focusing on local issues about a year later – after John Kerry lost the presidential election. Soon after that, in early 2005, George Johnson contacted me about Buffalo Rising – it was then a print publication that was starting a blog, and they were going to cover “New Buffalo”. George even made these handy widgets that said, “New Buffalo” and were used to promote not just Buffalo Rising, but the idea that Buffalo was finally shedding its rustbelt image of failure, and that great things were coming. They were just around the corner. This time, we’re going to get it right.

Some, like Christopher Byrd, say it was stupid to think it ever existed. We at WNYMedia.net promoted the notion that there wasn’t a “new” or “old” Buffalo, but One Buffalo. I had bought in to the notion of there being a “new Buffalo” because I know first-hand how dramatically a city, a region, and a mindset can change. The city I grew up in, White Plains, was once a typical little suburban city with a bustling main street (Mamaroneck Avenue), and you had your drug stores, Woolworth’s, movie house, music store, donut shop, photography store, Macy’s, etc. Then they built the Galleria mall, and Mamaroneck Avenue started looking dingy and forgotten. But in the last decade, a massive transformation took place right downtown in the shadow of a newer, fancier mall – Mamaroneck Avenue is booming again and features names on it like “Target”, “Ritz-Carlton”, and “Trump”.

Likewise, when I first moved to Boston it was a lot like Buffalo. Clinging to past glories, still thinking it was the hub of the universe, gritty but progressive thanks to a massive yearly influx of young, energetic people with disposable incomes. Now, it’s Boston.

Buffalo? I think the idea of “New Buffalo” is dead. The time of death, in my estimation, was the moment Byron Brown was re-elected Mayor of the City of Buffalo in 2009. He’s had 5 years to do something palpable to change not just the city for the better, but also its culture of back-scratching and backbiting. But it’s only gotten worse. And if you think about it – who’s out there who could take that job and possess, much less articulate, a coherent, credible vision for Buffalo’s future? We always come back to: no plan, no vision, no goals, no aspiration. Just make sure Goin’ South and Grassroots get their promised jobs, and STFU.

New Buffalo existed, after all, in the aspirations and hopes of people who love this area and want to see it grow. People who are here not because they have to be, but by deliberate, conscious choice. People who know it’s good elsewhere, and want to make it good here, too.

My goodness, January 2005 was filled with hope. And that’s just one example. Half a decade later, and Tom Suozzi is no longer going to be in elected office, much less Fixing Albany or its 3 men in a room. The Brennan Center’s simple recommendations for legislative and rules reform haven’t been completely implemented, and Albany pols don’t seem energized to make those changes. Revitalize Buffalo? Gone. WNY Coalition for Progress? Gone. Kevin Gaughan’s push for regional, metropolitan government? Gone in exchange for downsizing town boards and consolidating towns & villages.

We cheer small successes and are mentally and emotionally numb or immune to our disappointments. But as far as movements of the young and plugged-in, the big trend seems to be to get together and pow-wow about social media. You know who’s not using social media? The Erie County Legislature, the administration running the City of Buffalo, the Mayor of the City of Buffalo, the Buffalo Common Council, your town/village/city government, and most likely your representative in the State Senate/Assembly/town or city council. And if they were using social media, chances are they’d use it for one-way announcements rather than conversations about WNY and its government.

The red/green budget crisis seemed like a cathartic moment when we would finally get our political, economic, and social act together to jettison the past and work towards the future. Didn’t happen. The same fights get fought by the same people. Some who seemed as if they could be positive actors for change turned into raving, indecent lunatics. Others gave up.

New Buffalo as a concept may be dead, but plenty of people and organizations are taking little steps towards making a better WNY and a better life for them and others. Buffalo isn’t just a place, it’s something of a state of mind.

Buffalo needs goals, a plan to reach them, and leadership to steer us through the plan. When those three things converge, then we’ll have a truly New Buffalo.

Pulling in the same direction: “Progress” in New Buffalo

4 Sep

The varying moods induced by the slate of Buffalo news this summer– Canalside setbacks, potential flight of HSBC bank, and the death of UB 2020 to mention only a few – have highlighted the various goals of tribal Buffalo in 2010. That the same bit of news could cause both despair and victory cheers in such numbers and to such depth shows a distressing fracture. Not everyone will agree all the time, on everything, nor should they. But it wasn’t that long ago that the community was pulling on the same rope in the same direction far more often. Note the recent obituary on the death of the idea of New Buffalo – many can not agree that the patient is even dead, much less what the idea meant when it was alive.

What is the definition of “progress” in this town? I thought I used to know. I moved back in 2007, unknowingly at the height of “New Buffalo” and accidently in the middle of Old Home Week (nee Buffalo Homecoming, nee Citybration). I didn’t know “New Buffalo” was the name of the feeling, but I did know the hope and optimism. It was one factor that got me to move a family here.

Courtesy Treasure Frey at stuartbrown.com

Now, not so much. Instead of a generally agreed upon view of progress, or at least the idea that the city could walk and chew gum at the same time, allowing us to pursue multiple threads simultaneously, it seems we’ve become divided into a number of camps.

– The Old Building Camp (Tielman, Esmonde, BRO) says that keys to Buffalo progress are rotting away in front of us as we speak. Fix up the nice old architecturally significant buildings we have, and other cities wish we had, and we’re on the road. This view is well summarized by David Steel, one of WNYMedia’s frequent commenters, who identified a list of projects in Alan Bedenko’s article as reasons for optimism. Out of his 35 projects, 25 were rehabs or additions to older buildings.

My issue with this approach is that it pays more attention to the building than its contents. The building is just the container: its the tenants, and the jobs/wealth/impact they generate, that will cause progress in Buffalo. It is telling that the developers of Buffalo (Termini, Brown, Montante, Savarino, Paladino) trip off the tongue faster than the business leaders (Rich, Jacobs, Wilmers is Chairman at M&T (who is the CEO?), I had to look up how to spell First Niagara’s Koelmel).

– The New Building Camp, smaller in size but no less vocal, says that old building conversions are nice, but they are a natural part of city development, and are not a big deal. That we praise them so loud and so long is sad, small, and kinda pathetic. What we should be looking for is New Buildings that indicate a willingness to take risk, require fewer government subsidies, have a potential return of real money, and show a increased demand for CBD space. When Carl Paladino finally builds 50 Court Street, says lefty (another regular commenter), come talk to me.

But to me both the Old Building Camp and New Building Camp have a similar problem: if one focuses on the contents of the package, and not the package itself, it is a less-than-rosy regional picture. The Larkin Building filled with Kaleida, First Niagara, law firms, and others from the local area. The Larkin is a win if you consider moving a corporate HQ from Pendleton to Buffalo a win, and success is measured based upon traffic across the city/suburb line. Even if you are city focused, Avant grabbed a law firm from a Buffalo historic building, construction of UB’s medical campus downtown just moves programs from University Heights, and the future high profile moves of Phillips Little and HSBC to Canalside (allegedly) just move workers several city blocks. Some projects are considered successes before they even have tenants: the only occupier of the new rehab at the Genesee Gateway is the State Dept’s new Passport office, a development coup of a couple dozen low paying government jobs, and the rest of the building is not yet spoken for. The Hautman-Woodard Institute and NY Center of Excellence for Bioinformatics are beautiful and terrifyingly empty, a shade of their possible capacity.

It is the same or worse for housing. A City of Buffalo Common Council member confessed to me in confidence that he is not a fan, generally, of large housing rehabs, such and Frizlen’s and Termini’s warehouse and school conversions. Why? Because 15 new housing units in a neighborhood means 15 abandoned houses nearby. No one is moving from Atlanta, or Syracuse, or even Cheektowaga for most of these units. They are moving from a house a couple blocks away.

New buildings, old buildings. I care what’s inside.

– Frustration with the previous two camps yields the Coalition of Enough Already, which does not want just anything built, but does want SOMETHING to happen. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to satisfy all. It shouldn’t do more harm than good. But simply building a Peace Bridge, or Canalside, or a Casino, or anything larger than $30 million, would show a change in attitude and general competence of leaders of all types: political, business, government.

– Moving on from the Construction is Progress camps, our own Chris Smith is vocal advocate for the Good Government Camp, which says what we really need are less corrupt politicians, policy leaders, new ideas, good schools, and a regional plan that leverages our assets. Good government hears the news that the new data center Yahoo built in chilly Lockport uses less energy for cooling, from 54% of all energy used by the datacenter to 1% (!), and makes a plan to capitalize on it. I am sympathetic to the idea, and to the broken hearts of so many that thought Mayor Brown, and a new wave of average citizens getting involved, would make this actually possible. I am now more cynical about this possibility than any of the others.

– The Grass Roots Camp says all your fancy buildings, and money, and politics is crap, and always will be, and while you cry over spilt milk on Canalside or some budget hearing, real people are making a difference every day. Poster children include PUSH, Urban Roots, the Wilson Street Farm, Buffalo ReUse, MAP, taco trucks, Sweetness_7 Cafe, carriage rides in Delaware Park, and yoga down at Canalside.

I have been accused of being dismissive of such things, and perhaps I am. I think all are wonderful projects in their own right. I just don’t confuse any with progress in Buffalo. That so many people do is sad, and says how far Buffalo has fallen, but speaks nothing ill of any of the projects themselves. But I feel jobs and growth will allow Buffalo to progress far more, not just in economic areas, but to fight poverty and improve our general quality of life.

– Let me add in one more camp, not yet represented. It’s the camp I am in. How will we know when Buffalo is “progressing?” Growth. I am waiting for the census data to show Buffalo, or WNY, or even some demographic segment of any decent size, is larger now than it was in the past. Even if that growth is year over year, much less over the decade. Buffalo is getting smaller, greyer, poorer, and suffers a lack of Brain Gain of national proportions. Growth creates markets for buildings new and old. Growth brings new people with new ideas that can flush out some of the old guard politicians and interest groups. Growth can justify new bridges, new casinos, new shopping areas, and new housing downtown. Growth changes the brand. Growth gives me a job without taking one from you. Growth gives out two foundation grants instead of one. Growth can cause its own problems, but for a region already as spread out and empty as ours, many of those problems simply don’t exist.

But why do we need the camps at all? Should not a healthy city be able to restore old buildings, build new ones, make better schools, and attract new businesses simultaneously? In fact, is it not those attributes that define a healthy city. Perhaps that is the objective proof we need that Buffalo is not healthy, even if it was momentarily in the recent past.

In Buffalo, we all chew off the same bone. It’s a zero sum game. Money for Larkin means less money for something else. The Wendt Foundation said yes to the Genesee Gateway project, and thus no to something else. Which is why more and more people are becoming members of a second camp, in addition their first identified above: the Nihilists. Saying yes to PUSH means saying no to Canalside. Saying yes to downtown means saying no to the Seneca Casino. Saying yes to the new Courthouse means saying no to the Statler. Saying yes to subsidized housing means saying no to UB. Saying yes to old buildings means saying no to the Peace Bridge.

It is not new for government, business and non-profits to have to make choices with limited resources. It is new for one group to fight another’s project with as much energy as they pursue their own.

Cease and Desist

19 Oct

The Buffalo Spree (to which I contribute) has a story about the state of Buffalo blogs 2009.  Sites like WNYMedia.net, my blog, Buffalo Rising, and others started up or gained notoriety around 2005.  Blogs come and go, but the immediacy of the medium – now enhanced with Twitter and other social media sites – together with its interactivity and typically different style of writing helps blogs maintain their popularity. You’re here for some reason. Now, even the venerable Buffalo News is on the blogging/commenting bandwagon, but only a handful of News writers really get what it’s all about – chief among them Jim Heaney.

While just about every Buffalo-based blog has a specific beat or point of view, we all fundamentally believe that Buffalo is a great place that has a lot of room for improvement.  There’s been a lot of trash talk on occasion between sites – most notably between WNYM and BRO – but that’s the nature of the internet.

I see the evolution of blogs and news along the lines of what Chris Smith outlines.  NYU Professor Jay Rosen talks about links as currency.  CUNY Professor Jeff Jarvis talks about freedom of information – if the end product is good, people will come.  I don’t pretend to be a new media scholar.  I just keep an eye on what’s going on and write about what I know, what I think, what I hope.  Chris and Marc handle the business aspect of WNYMedia – I don’t.

One of the things that Spree’s Chris Schobert particularly wanted to learn about was a feud that WNYM and BRO engaged in back in 2007.  I’ve criticized BRO before, and they’ve ignored me just fine, but I recall a time when there was a palpable hatred between the two entities. People used to come up to me all the time and ask what it was all about.  Generally, I kept it quiet – I never wrote about it here before.  When Chris Schobert first asked me about it, I wrote back:

I’m reluctant to re-hash a 2 year-old spat with BRO.

For some reason, though, he persisted, so I answered thusly:

The cease and desist was a laughable strong-arm tactic, but in my mind it’s ancient history. What ticked us off so was that it was (a) legally unsupportable; and (b) threatened to put us out of business before we even really got off the ground.

I also added some background information in parentheses because I wanted him to understand why, exactly, it was legally unsupportable. I’ve reprinted the entire exchange below. I didn’t want to dredge up old, past animosities.

My counterparts were all too happy to, though, so I’m going to get my two cents in through this post.

One of the things that Chris Smith said in the piece was:

“outlets like ours are forcing larger outlets to change. The larger media outlets won’t admit it. What newspapers have devolved to in a lot of ways is he-said-she-said journalism. You’re reporting a horse race: who wins—not what happened or why it happened. When we report on something, we focus on the why and the how. Not the who and the when.”

Well, I’m going to give you the why and how of that time in early 2007 when Buffalo Rising accused us of something we didn’t do, weren’t doing, weren’t planning on doing, and brought lawyers in to threaten us.

An interesting footnote to this occurred several years ago, when, according to Smith and Odien, BRO sent WNYM a cease-and-desist letter. “We hired a guy to design our website,” says Odien. “He had designed BRO’s website, where he had used a totally different publishing platform—we weren’t using any of their technology. We were using something completely different. We received a cease-and-desist letter from their attorney that we were not to deal with this individual or else they would sue us and him. We weren’t exceptionally happy with where our design was going at the time, but it sealed our resolve to move forward with it—I’m not going to have anybody tell me what I can and can’t do. Over time that’s worked itself out, and we never actually had to go to court. But to me, it was emblematic of what the problem was at the time—they were trying to build a new media company that was acting a lot like old media companies, and we were an open source and we were trying to help local business with our money, trying to design something, and they were trying to interrupt it.”

Here’s the letter:

[HTML1]

It wasn’t just that, of course. It was how contrary the letter was to Buffalo Rising’s entire ethos; to help and promote everything that’s great and wonderful about Buffalo. Their public persona, so to speak, is one where most everything is rosy and sweet and boostery. In 2007, when WNYMedia.net was trying to become something more than a hosting company and a shitty main page, we retained the services of a local web designer who had previously helped design Buffalo Rising. We made it crystal clear to him that we didn’t like Buffalo Rising’s site, and wanted something different laid on top of the WordPress blogging platform (Buffalo Rising used Typepad as a platform at the time). We never intended nor retained anyone to duplicate or copy or misappropriate anything of Buffalo Rising’s, nor did we want to.

Nussbaumer had an obviously tongue-in-cheek response to this (via e-mail): “That was a fun time. From what I remember there had not been an altercation between Buffalo Rising and WNYM for eleven days. It was promptly decided that there was no controversy to discuss online, and we should fire a shot across their bow. We didn’t want to sink them, we just wanted to frighten them. If we wanted to, we could crush those guys like little tiny ants. (Insert bug smiley face here).” Buscarino adds, “This is beyond me and before my time, but my understanding is that contracts are binding and whatever is agreed to with a signature has to be upheld.”

How many other local Buffalo-based companies has Buffalo Rising wanted to “frighten”? Elena’s point is well-taken, but contracts may be binding, and if so, only between the signatories to it. WNYMedia.net wasn’t among them.

If you’re going to crush a tiny ant, you’re going to need some weight behind you. In this particular instance, Buffalo Rising had a contract with the web designer. He had signed a non-compete agreement with BRO, and BRO accused him of violating it by working on WNYMedia’s horrible, awful, completely unworkable piece of shit white-on-black site that everyone hated between about June 2007 until a few months later. The one that we couldn’t embed video in, the one everyone had trouble reading, the one that took us offline for a solid week when implemented. Of course, we didn’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars in VC money to enable us to do much else besides do shit on a shoestring.

It was as if Coca Cola accused us of misappropriating its trade secrets, because we began selling cow manure in 20 oz bottles.

The thing about non-compete agreements is that, well, WNYMedia.net didn’t sign one with anyone. We were free to retain whomever we wanted. If the person we hired was violating another contract, that sure as hell wasn’t our problem. We didn’t learn of a non-compete until we were threatened with a lawsuit (sent by a lawyer from the firm where Kevin Gaughan worked, incidentally). WNYMedia.net had to hire its own lawyer to reply with a “go fuck yourself, have a nice day” letter.

[HTML2]

So, there it is. Now you know why there was so much acrimony and a poisoned relationship with Buffalo Rising during that period. We saw them as hypocritical bullies. It’s one thing to talk trash, it’s another to threaten a patently unsupportable lawsuit.

I don’t know why the Spree wanted to learn more about it, and I don’t know why everyone didn’t just say, “you know what, that was a long time ago, and I don’t want to dredge up old animosities”, but they didn’t.

I did, however, respond later to Schobert’s questions. After the jump, that Q & A. Continue reading

Syracuse = WNY

9 Feb

There is one word to describe this story by frequent commenter RaChaCha – astonishing. From an email he sent this morning:

Coming on the heels of denying WNY Senator Stachowski his promised position as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, the new state senate majority is again brusquely snubbing NY’s second-largest city — and third-largest, to boot — by refusing to hold one of their public hearings on senate reform/rules changes anywhere west of Syracuse.

I was in Syracuse Friday afternoon — this year I was pulled into a budget project for Onondaga County, and have been commuting to Syracuse daily — so I took the opportunity to speak at the senate public hearing held at Syracuse city hall. This month, there will also be hearings in Manhattan, Albany, and Long Island — but *nothing* west of Syracuse. Thursday and Friday, I spoke with the chief staff organizer of the public meetings, Andrew Stengel, about the possibility of also holding a hearing in WNY. I mentioned the very strong coverage by the Buffalo News on state government reform, and that Buffalo’s new media outlets such as Buffalo Pundit and Buffalo Rising would help get the word out about a session held in WNY — but he was having none of it. “This IS the Western New York hearing,” he told me. He said Syracuse was picked to be “convenient” to folks from Rochester and Buffalo, as well as Central New Yorkers.

How did that work out–? Well, of the 15 speakers, NOT ONE was from west of Rochester — and the one other speaker from Rochester was someone I’ve never heard of or met, representing a good government group I’ve never heard of, who was handing out homemade business cards without an e-mail address or phone number. Clearly, the two of us together couldn’t possibly do justice to the ideas, experience, and passion for state government reform held collectively by all the residents of the state west of Onondaga County.

Also in Syracuse was WGRZ reporter Kristin Donnelly — not to speak but to ask the committee co-chair about holding a hearing in WNY. Although they were slightly nicer to her, she got the same answer as I did (http://www.wgrz.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=63996&catid=37).

Staffer Andrew Stengel (whose two phone numbers both have NYC area codes) admitted to me that he had never ventured as far upstate as Syracuse before Friday. I don’t question his good-government credentials (until hired this year by the state senate he was on the staff at the Brennan Center), but regardless, this seems to be yet another case of WNY — like all of upstate — getting short shrift from our Manhattan-centric state leadership. In fact, the senate reform committee has but 3 of 9 members from upstate: two Republican (minority) members, and one Democrat who hardly seems old enough to shave. The Brennan Center crowed on their blog (http://reformny.blogspot.com/) about the makeup of the reform committee, despite that 5 of 9 members hail from the Big Apple, and not a *single* member is from west of Onondaga County.

I think we can and should do better. It’s perhaps over-optimistic, but if we make a collective fuss, we might be able to embarrass the state senate into getting out their maps and finding their way west of Syracuse — to hold a hearing on state senate reform and rules changes that WNY’ers can really participate in. I’m doing my part by drafting an article for Buffalo Rising about the situation.

Personally, I think it’s an outrage. It’s approximately 150 miles from Buffalo – Syracuse. A 300-mile round-trip is supposed to be convenient to Buffalonians? On a Friday? For a hearing that takes place in the afternoon?

Here’s a tip for Mr. Stengel. Believe it or not, people west of the Hudson and north of Poughkeepsie still do have jobs, in spite of Albany’s best efforts.

To have someone affiliated with the Brennan Center so ignorant about basic fucking New York geography is as disconcerting as it is insulting to hold the WNY hearing in Syracuse. Hey, how about we hold a hearing about New York City policy in Binghamton? That’s about the same distance as Buffalo is to Syracuse.

If they did deign to hold a hearing in Buffalo, I’d definitely promote it and attend it, and I’m sure WNYMedia.net would cover and record it. But we’ll not have that opportunity, because no one could make it 300 miles round trip halfway across the damn state to make this event.

The Buffalo Ruse on Buffalo Rising

7 Feb

Awesome:

The founder and editor of BuffaloRising.com, a hard-hitting online newsmagazine that features unbiased restaurant reviews and stories written by reporters who ask the tough questions, Nussbaumer was observed by LAPD officer Frank Poncharello placing stickers on Los Angeles Times newspaper boxes that said “Why Waste Your $ On The LA Times When You Can Get All Of Your Real News For Free At BuffaloRising.com?” Witnesses say that when Poncharello asked Nussbaumer what he was doing, the haggard-looking assailant pulled out a Magnum .357 and pointed it at the officer, shouting, “I’m saving the world from bad journalism!” Before Nussbaumer had time to fire his gun, Poncharello’s partner, 32-year LAPD veteran Theo Kojak, wrestled the suspect violently to the ground and subdued him.

Officers responding to the scene were horrified to discover 7 dead bodies stuffed into the trunk of Nussbaumer’s Chevrolet Cracker. Six of the victims were managing editors of prominent U.S. newspapers and the seventh body was identified as Geoffrey Kelly, a contributor to a little-known weekly alternative newspaper in Buffalo called ArtVoice.

Buffalo Rising Apologizes

7 Feb

Buffalo Rising has apologized to Artvoice (and the other free periodicals available throughout town) on its site.

It explains that it all stemmed from its abandonment of the magazine, and that it wanted to get former readers to go it the website.

The table tents, which are getting a lot of attention now, read “DON’T READ THESE.” Now, the plan was to have our distributor put these table tents on countertops (near registers, on bars, etc) at heavily trafficked locations. And by proclaiming “DON’T READ THESE,” we meant ‘Don’t Read These’ table tents. By writing ‘don’t read these,’ we hoped, of course, that people would read these tents. The tents go on to explain how BuffaloRising.com is a source for information about the city.

Unfortunately, in some locations, our distributor put these tents on Artvoice magazines, making it seem rather clear that we were encouraging people not to read Artvoice.

The grammar, however, is faulty. As commenter N explains,

But why would they use a plural demonstrative pronoun to refer to the (singular) table tent that the assertion is referring to?

If the table tents were going to go individually on tables or counters, the text should have been, “Don’t Read This”. Furthermore, the tents go on to instruct the reader as follows:

People couldn’t possibly read that table tent to get a “daily fill of news about the city, dining, region, and events” around town, and also save a few trees.

While the apology is necessary, the explanation stretches credulity for me. I think it was clearly designed to get people to get their “daily fill of news” from BRO rather than some other periodical. The tents, as they say, speak for themselves.

Don’t Read This, Either

6 Feb

Buffalo Geek told me that Buffalo Rising had bought “tents” to place on the racks for free weeklies throughout Buffalo imploring people not to read the free weeklies, and go to Buffalo Rising instead. Because I didn’t know wth a “tent” was, he sent me some pictures from a Jim’s Steakout in Buffalo today (all images can be clicked & enlarged):

Check out the gall of this.

Those are Artvoice racks that Artvoice bought and Artvoice got permission to place in the shop. Buffalo Rising recently stopped publishing its own hard-copy periodical and is now “exclusively online”, whatever that means. Why would Buffalo Rising be asking its readers not to read Artvoice? Are they even in competition anymore, as far as the race for magazine eyeballs is concerned? There’s obviously a place in this world for BRO to exist in the same world as Artvoice, so why start a war with the latter? Why squat your little mini-billboard on Artvoice’s property?

But that’s not the best part, for me. Check out the bottom of this thing:

At the very bottom is the logo of the Albright Knox Art Gallery. Apparently, the Albright Knox subsidized and bought an ad on these “tents” to – what, to encourage people to not read a publication called ARTVoice?! Why? To not read a publication in which the Albright Knox itself advertises? To not read a publication featuring Albright Knox artwork on its cover?

Is this a joke? If so, it’s not particularly funny. Is this marketing? If so, why put out the equivalent of a negative ad? Is this promoting the Albright Knox? If so, I guess I’ll avoid it and go to the new Gehry-designed AGO or the new Libeskind-designed ROM.

We’ve taken shots at media before, but it’s always been criticism of the content – not an effort to put someone out of business, or encourage people to not patronize the outlet. But this seems incredibly mean-spirited, counterproductive, and downright cheesy, to me.

For its part, Artvoice is not at all amused by this, and notes that the Albright Knox is not at all pleased, either.

Whose idiotic idea was this?

The BRO Thread Recipe

22 Jul

I don’t really comment anymore on stuff I find at Buffalo Rising, but occasionally a post is published that has a perfect mix of ingredients that can only be improved upon by its willing readership.

Witness this post about La Nova on W Ferry and the great BRO bugaboo – parking. If that BRO post was a loaf of sourdough bread, the original post about La Nova’s parking would be the base. The commenters add the remaining ingredients, and the resulting mixture can be summarized as follows:

1 1/4 cups local business
1/3 cup surface parking
3 cups all-purpose development know-it-allism
1 tablespoon classism
1 tablespoon racism
1 teaspoon political corruption
2 teaspoons NIMBYism
1 dash la Cosa Nostra

Mix it all up in a bucket, and Voila! You have thread WIN.