CitizeNetReporter, County Director of Communications, Journal News Reporter Address Council of Neighborhood Associations

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WPCNR MEDIA-GO-ROUND. March 6, 2018:

The CitizeNetReporter, John Bailey, Catherine Cioffi ,County Executive George Latimer’s Director of Communications, and Richard Liebson, Journal News reporter, gave Council of Neighborhood Associations representatives personal views Tuesday evening of how media has changed over the last twenty years, the pressures on journalists and the challenges of informing the public from a reporting standard and getting organizations stories and positions to the public.

After Bob Brady introduced them each gave prepared and personal anecdotes of what reporting is like today, the challenges of the internet world of news, and how public relations is being used as a tool by government to inform the public as much as the media does.

John Bailey was introduced first delivering these prepared remarks on today’s media environment:

 I STARTED WPCNR 18 YEARS AGO.

 IN 1999, I NOTICED THE DEMONSTRATIONS OUTSIDE PRESIDENT CLINTON’S WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION MEETING IN SEATTLE WERE NOT BEING REPORTED BY TELEVISION NETWORKS. BUT THE INTERNET’S INDEPENDENT MEDIA CENTER BROKE THE NEWS ON THE INTERNET. I THOUGHT A WEBSITE ENABLING LOCAL CITIZENS TO BECOME REPORTERS OF LOCAL NEWS JUST LIKE THOSE INTEREPID INTERNET REPORTER PIONEERS.

BUT WAS THERE ENOUGH NEWS AROUND WHITE PLAINS TO FILL A SITE DAILY?

I STARTED GOING TO COUNCIL MEETINGS, PLANNING BOARD MEETINGS, ZONING BOARD MEETINGS, SAW MANY ISSUES GOING ON NOT BEING REPORTED. THERE WERE TWO REPORTERS WHO COVERED THE CITY REGULARLY. YOU, RICHARD, COVERED THE POLICE. THERE WAS PLENTY NEWS OUT THERE.  

PEOPLE STARTED READING MY WEBSITE, BECAUSE AOL WAS THE RAGE. BUT THE CITY OF WHITE PLAINS DID NOT LOVE MY REPORTING.  I GOT FREQUENT PHONE CALLS FROM THEM.

THEN AROUND 2005 THERE AROSE A CONTROVERSY OVER WHETHER THE CITY NEEDED A NEW SEWER LINE TO HANDLE THE EFFLUENT FROM THE PROPOSED RITZ CARLTON AND CONDOMINIUMS.  

THEN THE JOURNAL NEWS REPORTER ASKED TO SEE  THE CITY CORRESPONDENCE ON THE RITZ PROPOSAL BY FILING A FOIL.  IN THE CORRESPONDENCE, SHE FOUND A MEMO THAT IF ANOTHER SEWERLINE WAS NOT BUILT TO CARRY THE RITZ WASTE EXCLUSIVELY THERE WOULD BE SEWAGE IN THE STREETS.

THAT IS THE WAY JOURNALISM SHOULD WORK. JOURNALISTS DIGGING TO FIND THE ANSWERS TO TOUGH QUESTIONS.

REPORTERS COVERING THE SAME STORY OFTEN ARE  INSPIRED BY A TACK ANOTHER REPORTER TAKES, AND DEVELOP THE STORY TO THE  BENEFIT OF THE  NEWS-INTERESTED AND AFFECTED PUBLIC. In this CASE THIS REPORTER’S HUNCH LED TO REQUIRING THE RITZ CARLTON BYPASS.

NOW THE STATE OF JOURNALISM TODAY—WE NO LONGER IN MY OPINION COVER AS CLOSELY AS IN THE PAST.

THE INTERNET HAS MADE A HUGE DIFFERENCE IN BUSINESS FOR NEWS ORGANIZATIONS. PROLIFERATION OF FREE NEWS MEANS TRADITIONAL NEWS ORGANIZATIONS HAVE CUT BACK ON STAFF FOR REPORTING.

CONSOLIDATING COVERAGE OF TWO COUNTIES, ROCKLAND AND WESTCHESTER, AND NATIONAL NEWS INTO ONE NEWSPAPER MAKES GOOD BUSINESS AND ADVERTISING SENSE, BUT DOES IT MAKE FOR GOOD COVERAGE?

ADDITIONALLY, THE NEWS AUDIENCE HAS BEEN FRACTURED BY THE PROLIFERATION OF NEWS CHANNELS AND ENTERTAINMENT CHANNELS. THEN, TOO,THE FOCUS OF RADIO STATIONS HAS GIVEN US MORE WEATHER AND TRAFFIC THAN RED NEWS MEAT.

THE LOCAL CABLE NEWSCASTS IN NEW YORK AND WESTCHESTER SPREAD THEMSELVES THIN. TELEVISION REPORTERS ARE UNFAMILIAR IN MANY INSTANCES WITH THE TOWNS THEY ARE SENT TO COVER.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE LIKE MR. LIEBSON’S IS OFTEN MISSING.

On the county level I HAVE ALSO NOTICED A RELUCTANCE TO RETURN INQUIRIES FROM REPORTERS, ON PLAYLAND AND THE AIRPORT.

THIS PRACTICE OF  PROVIDING LIMITED EXPLANATIONS TO BACKGROUND MEDIA STRIPS THE MEDIA OF SUFFICIENT UNDERSTANDING OF THE ISSUES TO ASK WHAT I LIKE TO CALL “THE OBVIOUS QUESTION.”

The obvious question for example in the Con Ed power story is TO ME: How many trucks, equipment, and crews did you have to bring in, and how much more INVESTMENT would Con Ed have to spend ANNUALLY to have these HARD ASSETS AND HUMAN ASSESTS on staff PERMANENTLY?

With THE NEW Director of Communications position, the new COUNTY GOVERNMENT administration has an openness and a refreshing sense of concern to tell people what is going on– very refreshing– I might add.

You, the neighborhood associations, have to be on alert at all times to what OUR GOVERNMENT ADMINISTRATIONS ARE doing.  And to dig below the surface story to ask the tough questions.

Twitter, Facebook, skype, Instagram and god knows what other sites scramble the news audience’s perception today. There is no waiting for accredited verification and the facts, and yesterday’s big news is OFTEN upended by the next bit of chaos, the next distraction,    

Despite light years improvement in the ability to communicate, THE INDUSTRY MAY BE abusing these gifts BY CONTRIBUTING TO NEWS CONFUSION. IT IS ALL THE MORE IMPORTANT FOR US TO TEACH OUR YOUNG PEOPLE TO BE WARY OF INTERNET NEWS AND TO SEARCH FOR VALIDATION OF WHAT THEY READ.

IT IS IMPORTANT FOR OUR INDUSTRY TO UNDERSTAND THAT the truth counts, AND WE NEED TO HOLD OUR ORGANIZATIONS ACCOUNTABLE FOR IT.  

Reporters  try TO get at that truth but there are FEWER of us to do it. It is up to the public to want the truth—always.

The truth is a harsh mistress. We have to continue to pursue it relentlessly .

Catherine Cioffi backgrounded the audience on her lifelong love of journalism her 9 year career as a assignment reporter for WCBS News Radio. She moved in a public relations position with Mercy College, and eventually became Director of public relations for the college. She said when she saw sending out press releases that were not being used, you compiled college mailing lists and sent out newsletters as a first step to get alumni, friends of the school more involved in the school, whether it be promoting and sponsoring events.

She moved into the Director of Communications position for the Latimer administration. He enthusiasm for news and the truth give her a unique perspective on how to get the media to cover her boss and a regular basis. She has started a weekly “My Westchester” Newsletter that she puts out by e-mail and on the website. The latest newsletter should be available to. Her newsletter wraps up the Latimer activities, news and accomplishments of the week. So far she has not lacked for material.

Ms. Cioffi noted that in 2 and a half months she has arranged  to post complete videos  of the County Executive’s news conferences ont the County Government Facebook page. The shorter videos go up within 1 hour. The 30 and 45 minute tapes withing two hours — first, fast and facual. And in a nice touch, she includes reporters’ questions and Mr. Latimer’s answers to them. You can see the juicy parts they did not show you on television.

Cioffi also announced she is planning a podcast which she will prepare  (I suggest daily, Ms. Cioffi). The podcast will be regular and is one more quick way of getting the day’s lead Latimer story out there in just another unique way. She said “I know having been a reporter, what they want, and I give it to them.”

Richard Liebson, the veteran reporter for The Journal News let the audience in on the way newspapers pick stories today: they measure the “clicks” that each online story receives and the subject matters that are the most popular, the newspapers do more of that kind of coverage. He added that many of his stories and those of other LoHud reporters are printed in many of Gannet papers around the country. Subject matters that done. The popular kind of stories he said were entertainment, restaurant stories having to do with living lifestyles.

Coverage of local stories in the past took up most of the question and answer period. Mr. Liebson pointed out that not all journalism was dying, noting that the Washington Post had recently hired 35 reporters.

Members of the audience said they felt the weeklies that cover Westchester were pretty good sources of news. Some complained that papers no longer printed press releases. Mr.Liebson pointed out that papers made a practice of ignoring news releases today because they do not have the staff to respond call up and go into depth on a news release story.

Mr. Bailey said that what the weeklies needed to do was find venture capitalists who would pour millions into them so they could publish daily; beef up their website coverage locally and variety and be more objective in their coverage to build their audience and compete for the ad dollars. Money was the key to reviving journalism, he said.

 

 

 

 

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