Tag Archives: Jim Heaney

The Morning Grumpy – 2/23/2012

23 Feb

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

 As true today as it was in 1963

1. Welcome back, Jim Heaney. We missed you. If you missed my link earlier this week in the grumpy, the best investigative journalist in Buffalo is back on the prowl with his new project, InvestigativePost. His first article out of the box took a look at Gov. Cuomo’s promise of $1BN in economic development incentives in Buffalo and how we might expect to see them doled out.

The key, of course, is how the state targets its $1 billion. While the plan is a work in progress, some aspects of Cuomo’s general approach appear ambitious – at best – and beg a larger question: Is the apparent focus on big-ticket projects the best way to rebuild the region’s economy?

He began to answer the question with his own reporting and supplemented his work with links to dozens of related stories and data points that I’m still churning through. Really great stuff.

In a blog post, Heaney also explained the DNA of this collaborative, non-profit news outlet.

I’ve had a quote from Carl Bernstein taped to the front of my computer terminal for the better part of 20 years that reads, “Reporting is not stenography. It is the best obtainable version of the truth.”

I’ve never been a fan of the “he said, she said” brand of journalism practiced by many reporters and taken to its lowest form by pundits and other talking – or shall I say, “screaming” – heads on cable. That is, present two sides of the story – as though things are ever that simple – and let readers figure it out.

I always thought my job as a reporter was to figure it out – after all, I was the one with the time, training and resources – and provide readers “the best obtainable version of the truth.” This required me to do my homework, get things right and write with clarity – “telling it like it is,” in the words of Howard Cosell.

This is the mindset I will instill as I build the reporting culture at Investigative Post.

Halle-fucking-lujah!  I can barely contain my excitement about this project and what it will mean for enterprise journalism in this region.

2. Were you arrested and charged with second-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an incident resulting in death, and two counts of tampering with physical evidence whilst driving while intoxicated and texting? Are you also a millionaire doctor?  No problem, call Michael Clayton Joel Daniels!

Dr. James G. Corasanti’s actions were not criminally reckless and there isn’t evidence to prove second-degree manslaughter, defense lawyer Joel L. Daniels said.

Daniels is mining an astounding array of technicalities as he mounts his vigorous defense. This case will play out over the summer and if Daniels does what he is well-paid to do, a whole new playbook will be issued to criminal defense attorneys on how to keep wealthy pricks out of jail. Our resident lawyer, Alan Bedenko, will most certainly provide comprehensive coverage on this as the story develops.

3. You should follow the steps at this link and clean up your web history. With a massive change to their privacy policy, the Google is coming to assimilate you.

On March 1st, Google will implement its new, unified privacy policy, which will affect data Google has collected on you prior to March 1st as well as data it collects on you in the future. Until now, your Google Web History (your Google searches and sites visited) was cordoned off from Google’s other products. This protection was especially important because search data can reveal particularly sensitive information about you, including facts about your location, interests, age, sexual orientation, religion, health concerns, and more. If you want to keep Google from combining your Web History with the data they have gathered about you in their other products, such as YouTube or Google Plus, you may want to remove all items from your Web History and stop your Web History from being recorded in the future.

Here’s how you can do that.

Follow the easy, illustrated steps and retain some of your ever shrinking amount of privacy.

4. This story is perfect for talk radio. The type of information that when relayed, causes visceral anger over these entitled 1 percenters who abuse their power and privilege to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal treasury through graft, corruption, and tax evasion. We simply won’t stand for it! Wait…what?!

Not long ago, the Atlantic did a story on the cosmetic surgery rider that Buffalo teachers have.

On Monday, CNN continued to shine the national spotlight on a story that we reported extensively a year and a half ago (“Cosmetic surgery dearly costs city schools,” “Saving face(s): Cosmetic surgery costs for school employees skyrocket,” “Cosmetic surgery rider was saved once,” and more.)

The piece on Anderson Cooper’s show, “Teachers nip, tuck for free,” recaps what we already know: Buffalo teachers have the cosmetic surgery rider; teachers pay nothing for procedures; taxpayers pick up the full tab; last year, it cost about $5.9 million; the district wants the union to waive the benefit as a gesture of goodwill; the union is willing to get rid of the rider, but only through contract negotiations; the contract expired nearly eight years ago.

Stories like this are designed to get you riled up and pissed off about how those damn unions are fucking us over at every opportunity. Sandy Beach can blow an artery and Tom Bauerle can get his thong in a bunch over how these damned teachers are just stealing from you. My reaction? Meh. And I’m in the distinct minority.

Being a teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools is not an easy job. The pay isn’t that great, the working conditions can be hostile, and violent student behavior is a major concern for many teachers in some of the more dangerous city schools. The benefit was originally instituted for medically necessary plastic surgery procedures and has expanded over time to include elective procedures. Imagine a teacher in the BPS suffering injuries at school which might require plastic surgery. Why should that restorative surgery not be covered if deemed medically necessary?

Even so, union leadership is willing to give up the benefit in the next round of negotiations, but the teachers union has been operating without a new contract for nearly ten years. So, instead of demanding the BPS sit down to seriously negotiate with the union, we ask the teachers to make a “gesture of good faith” and voluntarily waive the benefit. To which I say, “Fuck that!”.  Once that’s done, a precedent is set and negotiating power is lost.

Contract negotiations should be a mediated process in which offers are exchanged and compromise is found. Want the union to give up a $6MM benefit? Well, offer them something in return to compensate them for relinquishing it. Perhaps a reduction of the benefit to cover only those procedures deemed medically necessary as a result of injury on the job and moving the saved cash into a teacher training fund, pay increases, or to cover the purchase of new classroom supplies and equipment. Transfer the savings to improve the product.

I only wish I had a union working on my behalf to secure benefits, protect job security, and demand employer accountability. We should all be so lucky. Instead, we operate in fear of losing our jobs at the whim of quarterly profits and the constant demands to increase shareholder value. And we’re thankful for the treatment and call into WBEN demanding that everyone else suffer our fate. It’s a weird country.

5. Do you remember that KeystoneXL pipeline that Republicans have a hard-on for? The pipeline that will reduce our gas prices to Reagan-era levels and bring us hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in economic development? Yeah, about that…

Unfortunately, there’s an all-too-typical problem with the Republican line on Keystone: it’s completely unsupported by the facts. On the jobs front, the Cornell Global Labor Institute estimates the project would create only 2,500 to 4,650 short-term construction jobs—not the “hundreds of thousands” of jobs claimed by House Speaker John Boehner.

Similarly, gas prices would not decrease if Keystone was built—they’d likely go up in many areas of the country.

This is nonsense on many fronts, most of all because the price is oil is fundamentally set on global markets. As the Congressional Research Service pointed out in late January, when there’s trouble in places like the Straits of Hormuz, the price of oil goes up for everyone and Keystone will make no difference, since the oil market is “globally integrated’; it’s not like Exxon offers a home-country discount to American motorists.

But in the case of the Keystone pipeline, it turns out there’s a special twist. At the moment, there’s an oversupply of tarsands crude in the Midwest, which has depressed gas prices there. If the pipeline gets built so that crude can easily be sent overseas, that excess will immediately disappear and gas prices for 15 states across the middle of the country will suddenly rise. Says who? Says the companies trying to build the thing. Transcanada Pipeline’s rationale for investors, and their testimony to Canadian officials, included precisely this point: removing the “oversupply’ and the resulting “price discount” would raise their returns by $2 to $4 billion a year.

So, are we all done with this now?

Fact Of The Day: An economist spent ten years studying street gangs and found they function much like corporations. Executives in the 1%, the street dealers making less than minimum wage and firmly in the 99%. Linked video is from a classic TED Talk.

Quote Of The Day: “They don’t think it be the way it is, but it do” – Oscar Gamble unaware that he just explained the universe in one sentence.

Video Of the Day: Every punch to the face in the classic film, Roadhouse. As someone who has watched Roadhouse over 300 times, you should know that it is more of a religion than a movie. Be nice until it’s time to not be nice.

Cartoon Of The Day: “Terrier Stricken” – Chuck Jones

Song Of The Day: “Acid In My Heart” – The Sleepy Jackson

Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisSmithAV

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

Buffalo News Re-Design

22 Jul

Everyone was talking about the Buffalo News’ new website yesterday. It’s moved away from trying to have the site resemble an online version of the paper with blogs, and now resembles the online presence of most papers around the country. There’s nothing revolutionary or epic about it. It’s just keeping up with the times, with an edgier condensed-font logo and trying to look more live than just a site providing static news.

The product remains the same, despite the new packaging.

I’ll note, however, that the blogs have been relegated to also-ran status – they couldn’t be more of a pain to find. As we know from the Jim Heaney saga, Editor-in-Chief Margaret Sullivan doesn’t want reporters wasting time blogging when there’s writing to be done for the paper.

As if the two were mutually exclusive somehow.

In fact, with the new redesign, Heaney’s blog’s very existence has been obliterated. It’s not gone, however. The archives are available if you know the URL, but it is no longer among the listed Buffalo News blogs, and Heaney is banned from blogging in any way for any outlet. Not only can he not update or write it, but the News did not give him the courtesy of informing his readers about its involuntary demise.

Perhaps that explains why people have suddenly resumed writing for the Politics Now blog, which is little more than an opinion-free repository of press releases.

Outrages and Myopia

15 Jul

The job of a newspaper reporter is to ethically inform the public. The rise of the internet and social media has forever changed how news gets reported and consumed. Some have called the decline of the newspaper business as a shocking death of journalism. But it isn’t.

One could apply the questions of McLuhan’s Tetrad to the internet, recognizing that the world is playing by new and different rules. With the advent of radio and television, newspapers didn’t have to change much at all – but the same is not true of the internet, which offers immediacy, interactivity, and is a medium that grew and thrives on opinion.

To say that the Buffalo News’ tentative experiments with the internet have been clumsy would be a gentle understatement. I am not a consumer of sports news or opinion, but I am told that the Buffalo News’ sports blogs are widely read and well-respected. Opinion – the fact that local reporters report on and are fans of local teams – is implied in sports reporting.

It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone that an investigative reporter is on the side of the truth. Perhaps on the side of good government. In any event, on the side of the city and her people – of the region and its people. When an investigative reporter morphs into a blogger, offering opinion, it should therefore not come as a surprise to anyone that he may highlight incidents of bad government, obstructionism, lack of transparency, bad politics, and acts or omissions that do harm to the city or region.

So it was that the Buffalo News’ investigative reporter Jim Heaney’s outstanding blog “Outrages and Insights” was shut down by editor-in-chief Margaret Sullivan. Artvoice reported:

Heaney was the only news reporter at the paper who blogged regularly and his blog was surely, along with the sports blogs, one of the online product’s prime draws. Some are saying that the reason for the popularity of “Outrages & Insights” is most likely the reason it was spiked, too: Heaney used the blog to deliver scathing opinion and analysis, often regarding the subjects of his objective reporting for the print product, and to lampoon bureaucrats and politicians. Margaret Sullivan, executive editor of the News, explains it differently: She says that the paper has recently lost a number of reporters to contract buyouts, and so she wants Heaney to focus on reporting instead of blogging in order to fill the gap left by their departure.

Margaret Sullivan doesn’t get – and doesn’t want to get – new media. This is disappointing, because it’s new media that has left her newspaper a mere shell of its former self, and is further doing damage to her business. Long ago the Buffalo News should have embraced the new media, but hasn’t.

Reporting and blogging are not mutually exclusive, especially in Heaney’s case. I’m not aware of Heaney neglecting his reporting or investigative duties in order to write his one-post-per-day on his blog. The popularity and insight his blog provided made him a bigger name in the world of local news. His opinions were scathing because he was biased – biased in favor of the people, of the truth, of the city.

That must be why Heaney’s “Outrages and Insights was named “Distinguished Online Blog” for 2009 by the New York News Publishers Association. The New York State AP named Heaney’s blog one of the best of 2009, and he also received an award for his straight business investigative reporting in the paper. Clearly, the blogging wasn’t harming the reporting, and vice-versa.

Now, I’m not a reporter, nor do I hold myself as one. I didn’t contact Heaney or Sullivan to get a self-serving quote. Maybe the News enjoys salving its sources’ egos with he-said/she-said journalism, but I don’t have the time or patience for spin. The notion that reporters should just transcribe two sides’ positions and then let the reader decide is nonsense, after all. Reporters have a duty to cut through the BS and report the truth. What’s clear here is that the best-informed political blog in town has been unceremoniously shut down due only to perceived conflict. Heaney’s blog was a must-read for local politics, just like Elizabeth Benjamin is a must-read for state politics.

The news blogs offered up by the Buffalo News have therefore been officially castrated, further barriers to new media relevancy having been erected.

I wish the Buffalo News would get it and embrace new media, because being stubborn about it isn’t going to change anything. It’s weird to see the Buffalo News, which carries an opinion/editorial page every day, prohibit its investigative reporter from doing the same on a widely-read blog – a blog that enhanced the paper’s visibility. Heaney suffered a horrible family event a few months ago that left his blog “on hiatus”. His bosses added insult to injury and made it permanent.

But it’s not just Heaney who loses his outlet, or the News which loses eyeballs on the net.

Ultimately it is we, the readers, who lose.

Jim Heaney is Wrong

5 Apr

The normally smart Jim Heaney lets his “progressive” tendencies overwhelm his common sense in his blog today, as he dizzily contorts the rules of logic as lead apologist for an impediment to progress.

It is no secret that Canal Side is dead. The Common Council’s out-of-the-blue decision to change the rules mid-game and require a CBA for land to be transferred to the ECHDC was the bullet to the head. It is telling that the Common Council, when performing their one (and only one) role in this entire process, chose to impede development rather than help it along. If that’s not a microcosm of our problems, I don’t know what is. As a side note, the most striking thing about the Common Council’s action is that the vote was unanimous – what’s the point of having planners and economists on the Common Council if they ignore basic planning and economics?

But back to the Jim Heaney’s blog. His lead news item is that the ECHDC is not backing down from calling the CBA a death knell, and this is a bad thing because the ECHDC is an unelected authority. This begs all sorts of LOLZ for multiple reasons.

First, as WNYMedia has shown in the last two weeks, being elected in this city should be proof of incompetence, entrenchment, belief in the status quo, and general ass-hattery. That you were chosen by the voters is a mark of FAIL, not endorsement. Having an elected body in the City of Buffalo rule on anything more complicated than a loan to a failed restaurant is more than it can handle. I’ll take the appointed technocrats over the elected FAILpols any day. I’m sure Jordan Levy is a better manager than David Franczyk is a Council President, and Tom Dee is a better construction manager than Bonnie Russell is a elected representative. If the ECHDC had the power to levy taxes or fees, or had a history of FAIL, that might be something different. But as it is, the ECHDC is the only public-ish entity in Buffalo moving forward with any progress.

That all being said, if you still buy Jim Heaney’s premise that elected officials should be making the decision, then how can you not be outraged that the Common Council has handed over veto-power of Canal Side to a “who’s who” of lefty pie-in-the-sky ideologues and status quo labor unions. Should not the Common Council represent the needs of its constituency, not the needs of this smattering of self-appointed public advocates? Who do these groups think they speak for? The unemployed, that would rather have ANY job than NO job?  Since when is Buffalo in the position of saying no to hundreds of jobs in any pay range? As a Buffalo News editorial pointed out, these CBA’s are used in other cities where people have been displaced or adversely impacted, as a method of compensation. The Erie Canal Harbor is a concrete wasteland. Everyone benefits from anything being there – we aren’t tearing down Allentown (or Lovejoy, or Kaisertown, for that matter) to make room for this development. 

Back to the elected officials. Jim Heaney, after wishing to transfer power from the appointed bureaucrats to the unelected (and, ironically, employed) protestors, calls on Brian Higgins to fix this mess. His theory? Higgins has enough chips on the table to need a win, and will bully Levy until he gets one. Heaney, astoundingly, sees Levy as the risky obstructionist, and the one with his neck out.

Right facts, wrong analysis. Higgins does have a lot riding on the SUCCESS of Canal Side. The two worst outcomes – that either Canal Side does not get built, or worse, it is built and sits empty – are the one’s most likely with the CBA. Higgins gets this, and will lean on the Common Council to pull their collective head out of their ass and move this project along. Unfortunately, Higgins is a Byron Brown guy, and that block is shrinking on the council. Normally, I see this as a good thing. Not this time.

Note to the Common Council: just because you have veto power, doesn’t mean you need to vote that way. Way to live up to the Buffalo stereotype.