Blogs > Life, I wrote.

Life Editor Ivan Lajara talks about living in the Hudson Valley, language, the Web, cats and even politics. But he shouldn't.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On TV

News items from the wire:

"Eight of broadcast television's 20 most popular programs last week featured contestants competing on their ability to dance, remember song lyrics, cook, impersonate celebrities or display some other talent, according to Nielsen Media Research."

The most watched show? "America's Got Talent."

America's Got Problems.

On writing

In my short career as an editor, I have encountered many great writers.

I also have seen some awful stuff. But nothing like this:

"Gerald began — but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them 'permanently' meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash — to pee."

That gem was written by Jim Gleeson 47, of Madison, Wis., who beat thousands of English perpetrators on Monday in an annual contest that celebrates bad writing, according to an Associated Press story.

He said his time in college prepared him.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Two sides to every story?

A column on today’s Wall Street Journal (yes, I also read other papers) by Dennis Patrick and Thomas W. Hazlett, both former Federal Communications Commission officials, tackled the now defunct “Fairness Doctrine” — the rule that forced broadcasters to basically give time for other “contrasting perspectives” when a controversial issue was raised.

In it, Patrick and Hazlett criticized U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, and others for efforts to re-impose “fairness” regulation.

The issue of government enforcement and regulation notwithstanding, there is a school of thought in journalistic circles that says that in order to be fair, every side has to be presented. And everyone can agree with that.

But not every position has two or more sides.

If you allow me to be a bit ridiculous, allow me to present the following example:

Say you are writing a story about the roundness of the Earth. Do you have to introduce the Earth-is-flat crowd?
(Believe me, there are some still out there — look them up).

Now, say you are writing the same story at the time it was discovered the Earth was round. Having a large and loud constituency, the Earth-is-flat crowd has to be part of that story.

The challenge, thus, is determining how large is a certain view. If it is too small, giving that side a forum may distort the story by giving the sides equal footing. Some of this shenanigans passes for debate on cable news channels today (they know you’ll watch with amusement if they get the loonies on their show, news be dammed).

I mentioned some of this to colleague and masterful reporter Paul Kirby, who deadpanned me with this:

“There’s only one side to the story: The truth.”

I could not have said it better.

By the way, the “Fairness Doctrine” didn’t apply to newspapers.
And that is good. I’m a big fan of Uncle Sam, but not if he’s making newsroom decisions.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Et tu, YouTube?

Warning: The following blog is long and contains references to other media.

I listened to a radio ad recently for a story about the much-publicized Kingston mayor's bout with the wife of a candidate for district attorney.

The lead of the story in the ad made much ado about the video ending up on YouTube.
As you may know from reading our blogs, we posted it -- we had to, after all, since it's news -- -- so I was confused about YouTube being part of the story.

The lead of the radio station story on its Web site reads: "KINGSTON, NY (2007-07-16) Kingston Mayor James Sottile and the wife of Democratic DA candidate Jonathan Sennett got into an argument. She punched him, they threw drinks at each other. And it's all on YouTube. ..."

The audio story ends with this when mentioning the YouTube posting: "Sometimes the context is lost without an objective reporter," which is something I can agree with.

Which also is one reason why I posted on the YouTube page that the Freeman had the whole story. And If you click on the link about the person who posted it, you'll also get a link to the Freeman Web site. The "context" was provided by Political Editor Hugh Reynolds with help from Freeman Reporter Paul Kirby and City Editor Jeremy Schiffres -- all of them veteran journalists.

Alas, in retrospect, that might not have been enough.

Other local media and even a New York City daily made note of YouTube in their stories as well, and none of them mentioned who had posted it or why. And nobody bothered to contact the person who posted it (I would have gotten an e-mail, since that person was me.) Add to that the fact that I know most of the people who worked on those stories, and you've got yourself a confused editor.

I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. There is only so much time you can spend on a single story, and some information is not gathered (Follow up stories take care of that). Besides, who posted the video is obviously peripheral to the story itself. I also don't think that our competitors would've been too happy saying the Freeman was the medium that posted the story online. In return, you might have noticed, I mention no news organizations by name (you know who they are anyway).

Notice also that the Freeman Web site -- like every other Web site -- has the same global reach as YouTube (though, obviously, not as many visitors). So posting it exclusively on our Web site, which we can't do yet, had the same potential to reach as many people.

We saw it as a tool, especially as the "The video speaks for itself" quotes began piling up. We even quipped about giving our competitors a free bone (after all, they could have gotten the video themselves -- like the New York City network did -- and post it on their Web sites, if they have the capability). The pack, by the way, was happy to chew the bone. Most of them link to the YouTube page.

The security camera video was a primary source. The Freeman got a copy, and we put it online.

So, again, why was YouTube part of stories by other media?

Because, I want to believe, the reporters who worked on the story probably thought it was a random citizen who posted the video ("Broadcast Yourself" is the site's motto). One paper even editorialized about being "leery about how the video ... ended up on You Tube so quickly." That speaks to an unwritten newsroom fear about unreliable reporting, (you may not believe me, but journalists are professionals --constantly learning and with an understanding of the written word, ethics, history and all the other goodies formal training provides).

A more cynical me thinks a lot of journalists are still struggling with the fact that newspapers are evolving, and video and audio are becoming part of what we do.

But an even more cynical me thinks the whole YouTube mention was a way for other media to link to the video without having to get it themselves or pay lip service to their competitor.

Think about it. Rework the lead on the radio story:

"KINGSTON, NY (2007-07-16) Kingston Mayor James Sottile and the wife of Democratic DA candidate Jonathan Sennett got into an argument. She punched him, they threw drinks at each other. And it's all on the Freeman's Web site."

"Reporters do reporting" -- no matter the medium --is not a story.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Star notes

* Colombian-born comedian-actor John Leguizamo, who has a dwelling in Ulster County, turned 43 on Sunday. Happy Birthday!

* Ulster County's Aidan Quinn (also an honorary "doctor" from SUNY New Paltz) got an Emmy nod for HBO's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" last week. It is his second nomination. He'll be in good company. Sister-in-law Lorraine Bracco (the shrink on "The Sopranos") got a nod for the HBO hit mob drama. Quinn is married to actress Elizabeth Bracco (who also was on "The Sopranos").

* Steve Buscemi is said to have fallen for the area thanks to Quinn. Although officially a New York City resident, Buscemi has a place in Ulster, and if you're lucky you might spot him here and there. You can see him now in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry."

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter and the worldwide craze

The Associated Press moved a review of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” at 7 p.m. Friday, many hours after we had finished our Saturday Life pages.

If you are a regular Freeman reader, you know we don’t run book reviews. I had blogged (is that a verb?) about this before.

Having said that, tomorrow’s Freeman will have the review (And don’t worry, there will be no spoilers).

Why are we making an exception for this book?

The answer is you.

As in, YOU are the one who's going to be at the bookstore at midnight tonight -- dressed up as a wizard with a wand and a goblet -- buying a children’s book (Sorry, young adult).

Children actually wanting to read?

Adults captivated by a children’s book?

A worldwide celebration of a fictional character?

That, my friends, is news, if not magic.

So if you want to know if Harry lives or dies, well, you’re going to have to read a book.

What a crazy concept.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Web matters

Freeman readers might have noticed today's food story in the Life section highlighted a Culinary Institute of America video the facility posted on YouTube.

YouTube allows fans to post and even paste videos on other Web sites (The mayor's infamous bout, which we posted, is a good example).

Expect more Web things from us now that the floodgates are open. Whenever you see the computer mouse in the Life pages, you can expect to see a complementary feature online.

Case in point, tomorrow's Harry Potter stories have an accompanying Web feature: a "Jukebox" provided by Random House with excerpts from previous books. The new one is in Guantanamo, apparently, until its release Friday at midnight, though photos of pages of “Deathly Hallows” are said to be online (And no, I’m not giving you the link).

And if you have time, check out the mayor's video (one more time) and compare the level of discourse of The Freeman's monitored forums with the one from anything-goes YouTube.

Ouch!

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Allaire Studios

Life readers might have noticed today that Mandy Moore recorded her new album at photographer and musician Randall Wallace’s Allaire Studios in Shokan.

Allaire has hosted a plethora of artists, including David Bowie, Tim McGraw, Norah Jones, Rush, Ray LaMontagne, Dar Williams, the Gipsy Kings, My Morning Jacket, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, The Strokes, Jason Mraz, Tim & Neil Finn, The Magic Numbers, Staind and on and on and on. The list is quite large (and impressive).

Local artists like New Paltz’s The Trapps and Woodstock’s Donald Fagen (of Steele Dan) have also recorded there.

The Associated Press’ Michael Hill wrote about the studio a few years back (it opened in 2002). The New York Times called it a haven.

As I said before, there must be something in the valley.

Visit www.allairestudios.com for more information.

Also, like anything and everything music, the studio has a presence on MySpace.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Steve Buscemi, part II

Buscemi (see first post from Thursday) is a part-time resident of Ulster County, and good friend of fellow actor (and Ulster County resident) Aiden Quinn, according to Abbe Aronson, publicity director of the Woodstock Film Festival. I had long suspected this, having heard many people talk about sightings of the actor-director over the last years.

The stars are all around us.
There must be something in the valley.

...

Talking about the festival, its organizers are having a gala with a Not So Silent Auction Saturday from 6:30 to 10 .m. at the Wiltwyck Country Club, 404 Steward Lane, Kingston.

The auction features some interesting goodies, including some items from area stars Uma Thurman, David Strathairn and, of course, Buscemi.

As always, the Freeman will keep you posted.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Entertainment and religion can mix, and well

Alert readers might notice an unusual “Best Bet” in Preview this week.

The Saved Skaters, a Christian group that mixes faith and skateboarding, is coming to Accord’s Skate Time 209 for a free skating demonstration and possibly some Jesus stuff.

Is the Freeman, all of a sudden, proselytizing?

Hardly.

Just like a traditional klezmer concert or a spiritual drum circle, some entertainment events do have religious overtones, and we have them all. As an editor, it is one of my responsibilities to tell you about not just the events, but what and who is behind them (and, of course, when, where and why).

So if a screening of a local movie happens to be fundraiser for a church or even a politician, we’ll tell you about it. We have to.

Some readers might choose to go, some not. Caveat emptor (“Let the buyer beware”).

I think it would be dishonest to omit who’s behind a certain screening or concert or skating demonstration.

Besides, note that the event is “unusual,” one of the very definitions of news (as in “Man bites dog”).

...

Skate Time 209, you might remember, got in trouble with the state Division of Human Rights for having a “Christian Skate” night. The state thought the facility was discriminating.

To avoid the problem, the event -- playing Christian music while people skate -- was changed to “Spiritual Skate” night and the whole storm disappeared from cable TV and Christian Radio.

I always thought the whole issue was weird.

Say you were to go to “Spiritual Night” because you are a spiritual person who practices a non-Christian religion. Remember caveat emptor? How do you, the “buyer,” “beware,” if you are not aware?

So I’m glad they’re spelling it out this time. Everybody can go. And obviously, some might choose not to.

Like me.

Steve Buscemi

Woodstock Film Festival's 2005 Honorary Maverick Award-winner Steve Buscemi has a new movie, “Interview.”

The late Hallie Arnold wrote about him when he came to the film festival in October of 2005 here and here. There were more stories, of course, but you get the idea.

Before that, he was “whacked” in “The Sopranos” at a farm in Red Hook. Hallie wrote about the filming when the crew was here in 2003 (and stayed at the Holiday Inn, less than a block from where I’m writing this). That story does not mention him nor the plot of the episode, HBO being HBO (“It’s not TV, it’s ‘I’ll sue you if you reveal the plot’ HBO").

Also a director, the “fiercely independent” “funny-looking" man (“Fargo,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Armageddon,” just to show his range) directed and stars in “Interview.”

In the film, Buscemi plays, get this!, a journalist who gets to interview a TV and movie star (played by the gorgeous Sienna Miller) AS PUNISHMENT from an evil editor (not me). It is a punishment, apparently, because the journalist he portrays is a serious reporter who has no time for trivialities.

Paris Hilton notwithstanding (see post below), I wonder what Hallie would have thought, since she was a serious reporter who loved covering stars like Buscemi.

And now that I've introduced Paris (I'm not sorry this time) and if you can’t wait to get your Steve Buscemi fix, you can see him at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck in one of the 18 shorts of “Paris je t’aime,” which means “Paris (and something else in French which is definitely not ‘Hilton’).”

Actually, Freeman reporter Mary Fairchild just told me “Paris je t’aime” means “I love you, Paris,” so pardon my French.

...

“Interview” opens Friday “in selected cities.” We, of course, have not been selected.

But the folks at Upstate Films in Rhinebeck have, and are planning to have the movie starting in August.

The Freeman, of course, will keep you posted.

Monday, July 9, 2007

First of all, I’m sorry.

I had to bring her up if we were to discuss this.

Browsing the Associated Press wire today, I found a story about the upcoming E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo for video games, which starts tomorrow. I found three photos for that story. One of them was a file photo of Paris Hilton.

Thing is, the story really has nothing to do with her.

So when I read the cutline (that’s the caption, for people who speak normal English), I found this unbelievable sentence:

“There will be no celebrity appearances from the likes of Paris Hilton ...”

In the most uncanny move to make the irrelevant relevant, the first paragraph of the story ends with this:

“Celebrity appearances from the likes of Paris Hilton or Snoop Dogg are a thing of the past, too.”

As I said before, I’m sorry for bringing her up.

So here’s my apology, via MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski:



...

Hilton was at E3 once, so the almighty AP decided in its infinite wisdom that she was relevant for this year’s story.

Well, I lived in Albany for two years, so from now (and applying its same formula), the AP should include me in every story about the state politics.

Here’s a token:

ORIGINAL: ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Despite their recent feuding, Governor Eliot Spitzer said Monday he has a "fine" relationship with Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.

“IMPROVED”: ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Despite their recent feuding, Governor Eliot Spitzer said Monday he has a "fine" relationship with Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. One-time Albany resident Ivan Lajara -- who once saw Gov. Spitzer when he was state attorney general -- visited the Legislature once and even pressed the “Nay” button in the Senate chambers, even though he was told not to touch anything.

How’s that for news.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Ulster resident can't see her movie in Ulster

Ulster County resident Vera Farmiga is one of the protagonists in the thriller “Joshua,” opening Friday in limited release and “nationwide” later (quotes in “nationwide” means “probably not in the mid-Hudson Valley”).

She played the female role in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning “The Departed” (She was the love interest of Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio).

Funny thing: According to IMDB.com, she lives in both New Jersey and Los Angeles.

But if you are to believe print interviews with her, she’s been in Ulster since 1999 and likes it a lot, thank you very much.

So here’s hope the movie comes to her county.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Useless "Transformers" trivia

Former SUNY New Paltz theater student John Turturro is one of the organic characters in the live-action movie about the robots that made me waste a lot of hours in the '80s (Damn you, Megatron!)

The Freeman has the review of the movie on Wednesday.

Away message away

This is what you should’ve been exposed to on June 23:

“I’m going to be away until July 3. I’ll be back then” (I forgot to push the PUBLISH button)
...

I was on vacation, and I actually took a painfully forced break from the news and the Web (or at least I tried until the terror plots in the U.K.).

So I missed reading about the gigantic Ellenville drug bust and the tiny ‘hippie’ bust, a racy DA race, the Hilton interview (no loss there), “Die Hard 4” (call it what you want, it’s just “Die Hard” to me), the iPhone (I want it), the Libby quasi-pardon and the iPhone.

Did I mention the iPhone? And how its only carrier, AT&T, has no reception either at the Freeman office or at my house?

Anyway, this is my belated way of saying sorry. And get out there. It’s nice.

And get me an iPhone.