Monday, May 03, 2010

Empty snark: so easy, even an editorialist can do it!

Yesterday, The Post-Star ran yet another editorial on school spending with its trademark temper-tantrum tone. This followed the previous day's only slightly less obnoxious editorial on school tax rises; the paper, which recently increased its newsstand price by 100%, objected to Hadley-Luzerne school district's (admittedly steep) 25% tax hike. Sunday's editorial lectured school board members to stick their neck on the line by cutting the fat but was, as always, woefully short on specifics. I guess the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial writing is no longer based on quality or persuasiveness but on empty snark.

Sunday's editorial took issue with the recent decision by the Glens Falls' school district (GFSD) to save three sports programs originally slated for extinction. Reportedly, the district's athletic director found $34,000 in other areas of the sports' budget to cut in order to save volleyball, golf and alpine skiing. The $34,000 represents less than 0.1% of the overall proposed $38.2 million budget, a budget which DECREASES overall spending.

More accurately, the editorial didn't take issue with preserving those three sports in and of itself, but rather with the concept that, in their opinion, it was so easy for the AD to rustle up $34,000 from other areas of the budget. His program must be dripping with excessive lard, the daily claimed.

So for his trouble, the athletic director is serenaded with such cutesy lines as:

All it took was the athletic director reaching into the special coffee can he keeps on top of the fridge for equipment, supplies, uniforms and fees, and pulling out a wad of cash. Oh yeah, that $34,000. I didn't hear you the first time.

and

It doesn't take a miracle to find fat to cut from budgets. It just takes diligence and courage. Unfortunately for taxpayers, those qualities among our elected officials are often in short supply.

And the editorial then proceeds to not offer any other specific examples of so-called fat in the GFSD budget. Is then the editorial board, by its own definition, lazy and gutless?

But given this harshness against perceived waste, I was astonished to see a column by Managing Editor Ken Tingley waxing eloquent on the virtues and vices Joe Bruno, the former state senate majority leader recently convicted of corruption. He paints the portrait of a good man who had a moment of madness, which is quite different than the very deliberate and systematic decision-making revealed in his trial.

[I realize the difference between an editorial (collective opinion of the editorial board) and a column (the personal opinion of the author). However, Tingley's previous columns have made it clear he shares the editorial board's harshness against perceived wasteful school and governmental spending.]

Perhaps more than any other politician in Albany, Joe Bruno represented the old-school machine politician doling out of public largesse and buying loyalty like some sort of Mafia don. He represented the politician who freely spent and allocated tens of millions of dollars of our money so as to advance his power, prestige and, given his corruption conviction, his personal business dealings. Bruno (who had a baseball stadium named after him) became the embodiment of Albany's decadence.

Regardless of what you think about GFSD spending or Joe Bruno's legacy, the paper's hypocrisy is stunning.

An honest and decent athletic director who very arguably 'wasted' $34,000 deserves to be tarred and feathered and drowned in a sea of snark, but an ethically-challenged convicted felon who wasted tens of millions of tax dollars and is one of the key contributors to the state's current fiscal crisis deserves a certain degree of sympathy.

Maybe The Post-Star's brain trust is so worried about creating ever more snarky insults that they've decided to abandon any sort of guiding principle.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Opinion is cheaper than reporting and insult is easier than argument. Alas.

As for Bruno, his rule over the New York State was the antithesis of open government, a cause Mr. Tingley occasionally champions.

Anonymous said...

Despite welcome news of economic recovery (at least as measured by consumer confidence), the lingering spookiness of world financial markets owes in large part to debt. While there's the headline news of government debt (Greco-Roman-Iberian, US, etc), corporate debt cannot be ignored.

The Post-Star's parent company, Lee Enterprises, Inc. from Iowa, holds hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate debt dating back to its purchase of the Pulitzer Newspaper chain in 2005. Debt it had to restructure into a vast balloon shape last year (over half a billion due in 2012).

As a result, Lee's stock is down (over 92% from its 5-year high, and over 25% from its three month high) and cannot pick itself up off the mat.

This is one of the main factors dogging the editorial content of the Post-Star (driving price increases and layoffs). Naturally, there are other factors, as well—persistent loss of classified advertising to online sites, and entrenched managerial mediocrity to name two. Not the most encouraging combination for those who rely on excellence in local news delivery.

Brian F said...

2nd anon,
I understand how the travails of Lee Enterprises would affect their ability to offer quality news coverage. I don't see how it affects their editorial positions.

Anonymous said...

Starving the newsroom budget by sending local profits to Iowa damages editorial content in general, not so much editorial positions. Those are undermined by an entrenched, feckless editorial board.