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Daily writers garner AP awards

By Howard B. Owens

Congratulations to Scott DeSmit, Tom Rivers and Joanne Beck of the Batavia Daily News for their Associated Press writing awards.

DeSmit won a first place award for three of his columns.

Rivers won three awards. He will receive a second-place award for his columns, a second place for beat reporting, and an honorable mention for his series on farm labor.

Beck receives a second-place award for columns and a third-place for continuing coverage of the city ambulance service issue.

The awards will be presented Sept. 23 in Syracuse.

Partisanship in local media

By Howard B. Owens

Our friend Russ Stresing thinks the Batavia Daily News is pushing a Republican agenda, largely because the paper didn't publish a recent letter he wrote.

After more than two decades in journalism, I tend to take all such charges with a grain of salt. Every paper I've ever been associated with has been blasted by both sides for either its liberal agenda or its conservative agenda - at the same time.

People tend to think the local media is pushing whatever agenda they don't happen to agree with.  I think newspaper journalism has its inherent faults, and it no longer serves readers well, but overt partisan bias is rarely one of them.

The Batavian gets accused of pushing political agendas, too. To this day many local Republicans think this is a Democratic site, yet recently I've been hearing from Democrats who think we've shifted to the right.

Either charge is ludicrous. I've been open from the beginning about my own political positions -- I'm not registered with any political party and haven't been for at least a decade. I identify myself as libertarian, and I dispise partisanship in governing. 

Both Republicans and Democrats have an equal opportunity to use The Batavian to promote, if you will, their positions, policies and candidates.  If one side takes more advantage of that opportunity than the other, that is going to lead the other side to think The Batavian has taken up residence in the opposing camp. But for the partisan side holding that perception, it really has nobody to blame but itself. It simply failed to take the opportunity to be equally heard.

I believe in robust debate. All sides should be heard -- just don't get into personal attacks. On The Batavian, the rules are simple: Use your real name and don't get personal. Otherwise, you're free to pursue whatever agenda you wish. If community members don't think you're being truthful, accurate or are drawing illogical conclusions, expect disagreement (as they say, we should disagree without being disagreeable).

If Russ had submitted his letter as a blog post to The Batavian, it likely would have wound up on the home page -- not because I agree with his politics. (In fact, there are a couple of key points in his article that I disagree with.) But because it's a local opinion of local importance.

Republicans have the same opportunity to be heard, and there have been times recently where Republicans got a chance to be heard on The Batavian even though I disagreed with the particular positions taken.

In other words, the weight here isn't whether you're a Republican or Democrat, whether I agree or disagree with you a particular position, but rather is what you have to say relevant to our local audience and is your position is presented civilly.

I've been told numerous times that there is an unwritten rule among local Republicans: Don't participate in The Batavian. Why? "Because it's a Democratic site." It's a foolish mandate. The only people Republicans are hurting are Republicans. 

The perception that this is a Democratic site arose early because Democrats discovered it first. Why? Because at the time, Democrats where much more organized online and more wired, even at the local level.  When blogging first started, it was nearly exclusively a Republican/liberatarian activity, and then guys like Markos Moulitsas Zúniga  came along and recognized progressives needed to be heard in this new medium. He was aggressive about promoting a progressive agenda online and nearly all by himself created what is called the Netroots movement. You could make the case that Obama would not be president today without it.

It was the local Netroots community that found The Batavian first. Thus, their voices were more often heard than Republican voices, but it is a complete misconception to conclude that the outcome was intentional. And in those early days, we were quite happy, honestly, to have any audience.

Now, I'm told, there's this notion among some Democrats that The Batavian has become more of a Republican site, but mainly because we publish so many press releases from Chris Lee, Ranzenhofer and Hawley.

Folks, they're our elected representatives, and if they send out press releases that seem relevant to Genesee County, I'm going to publish them.

When the local Democrats send out local press releases, and I've received a couple, I'll publish those, too. 

Though in both cases, I wish more often people would just create a user profile and post under their own names. I recently rejected an op-ed piece from Steve Hawley's office because I thought it should be published under Hawley's name, not mine. It's one thing for me to write up a little summary of a press release under my name and link to the whole document verbatim, but it wouldn't be right to publish somebody else's entire opinion piece under my name.

Two days ago, Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer and Assemblyman Steve Hawley hosted a press conference about pending anti-gun legislation. I covered the press conference not because I favor Republicans, but because it was held in Genesee County.

Why was a press conference opposing possible anti-gun legislation being held in a basically pro-gun county? The perception might be that that's a bit like "preaching to the choir."

Without publicity beyond Genesee County, wouldn't the legislators' voices be muted, thereby limiting their ability to sway voters? But Ranzenhofer made the valid point that with digital media, their views can be known to voters statewide.

In other words, they picked Genesee County for the press conference because we have robust online media. If they had gone to Erie or Orleans, The Batavian wouldn't have covered it. We care most about what happens in Genesee County, without partisan considerations.

If we have any overt agenda, it's to promote localism, to promote the local community. We're all about Genesee County. We're parochial and proud of it.  

Daily News makes Reader's Digest feature

By Howard B. Owens

The Batavia Daily News got a little attention from the April edition of Reader's Digest, but maybe not in the way editors might appreciate.

In a feature called "Hold the Presses!" the Digest lists five headlines, with one of them being from the satirical publication The Onion.

Among such gems as "Smokers asked to keep butts off beach" and "Volunteers needed to hep abuse victims" is the Daily's surely unintended contribution: "Orleans seeks tenants for new jail."

(This item brought to The Batavian by an alert reader.)

Daily News article stirs some online debate over city employee salaries

By Philip Anselmo

Another Daily News article by Joanne Beck that takes up the issue of the assistant city manager's salary has got tempers flaring on the newspaper's Web site. Beck authored an article a couple weeks back in which she was accused of sexism for questioning why Sally Kuzon is being paid $24,000 more per year than past assistants.

In today's article, Beck writes:

City Councilmen Bob Bialkowski, Bill Cox and Rose Mary Christian say they want answers about how the assistant manager's salary was established. The total of about $84,000 includes a $2,820 car allowance, according to information provided to The Daily News.

There has never been a car allowance for an assistant manager before, Christian said. She questions why there's one for Assistant Manager Sally Kuzon, a Williamsville resident who was granted a residency waiver.

The article, which is interesting and well-written, has already garnered more than a dozen comments (and climbing) on the site.

We have still not received the information we requested from the city two weeks ago, when we filed a Freedom of Information Law request to view the salaries for all city employees for the current year, the project year and the past year. We were informed that it would take until March 30 to compile the information.

News roundup: Genesee Co. native among four dead in weekend murders

By Philip Anselmo

One of four people murdered over the weekend was a Batavia native, WBTA's Dan Fischer said. Former Lakeside Hospital worker Frank Garcia is accused of shooting five people Saturday, killing four of them. One of the victims, 23-year-old Mary Silliman was born in Batavia, according to Fischer.

Daily News reports reference Silliman as a Corfu native.

The rampage began about 5 a.m. when the suspect drove to Lakeside on Route 31 and found Mary Silliman, a nursing assistant at Lakeside's long-term care facility, outside, apparently on a break, law enforcement sources familiar with the case said. Silliman, 23, lived in Albion and was a former Corfu resident.

Police are still unclear on all the details of the alleged murders. Garcia is also suspected of murdering a Canandaigua couple in their home execution-style later that day. OAS_A

From the Democrat & Chronicle:

Police have not released several details surrounding Saturday's killing spree, including how the suspected killer knew the slain Canandaigua couple or how he spent the nine hours between the first killing and his arrest.


Garcia, a registered nurse, started working as a per-diem nursing supervisor at Lakeside's Beikirch Care Center in late October or early November, said interim Chief Executive Officer Michael Stapleton. Beikirch Care Center is also where Sillman worked. Garcia's employment was officially terminated last week, though he had not worked a shift "in several weeks," Stapleton said.

Silliman attended Pembroke Central and Batavia High schools, according to Fischer. Check back with that site later for a full obituary on Silliman.

News roundup: City poised to scrap county-wide ambulance service

By Philip Anselmo

Batavia is ready to get out of the ambulance business. City Council said last night that it would vote Monday to terminate its agreement with the rest of the county to provide ambulance service throughout the county, according to an article this morning in the Daily News. Joanne Beck writes: "That will mean no more city ambulance service for all residents of Genesee County, including the city."

"No more city ambulance." Flat out.

WBTA's Dan Fischer is quick to point, however, that the void will not remain empty for long. "If council votes to close down the ambulance service, expect a deal to be struck with a private ambulance service out of Rochester or Buffalo," he says.

Beck put together a fine article, replete with colorful quotes from Council, such as this one from Frank Ferrando:

“If we’re making money, none of us would want to give it up.... I think we want to provide this service, and it’s an excellent service, we just can’t foot the bill. We can’t foot the bill for the whole damn county.”

As for the rest of "the whole damn county"—they're not so willing to give up the service. Beck writes:

Seventeen of 18 Genesee County municipalities have indicated they’d like to extend the current ambulance service agreement another year, City Manager Jason Molino said. Pembroke opted out. The city must first “execute an extension and modification agreement” to continue offering the service before it can then notify those municipalities of the city’s termination clause, Molino said.

Genesee Fire Wire photo gets nod in international Media Awards Contest

By Philip Anselmo

Hats off to Jay Lynch and the Genesee County Fire Wire for picking up a second place grab in the International Association of Fire Fighters Media Awards Contest. Lynch won in the category of "Fire service photo on a Web site" for this shot of city of "Batavia Fire Department Lieutenant Mark Mikolajczyk pulling down the ceiling during overhaul operations at 39 Washington Avenue."

From the press release:

Each year the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) holds their “Media Awards Contest”. The Media Awards Contest honors communications, reporting and photography that best portray the professional and dangerous work of fire fighters and emergency medical personnel in the United States and Canada.

These awards recognize the exceptional work by IAFF affiliates who serve a vital role in their communities while generating public awareness for fire fighters. The stories and photos entered also bring to light important issues that affect the welfare of fire fighters throughout North America.

The 2008 Media Awards Contest entries are made up of many categories including print, internet, and video media. City of Batavia IAFF Local 896 entered several photos in following categories:  “News Photo With A Circulation Under 100,000” and “Fire Service Photo On A Web Site”.

That seems like quite an honor for Lynch and the Fire Wire. Congratulations!

The Daily News also picked up a nod. A photo of fire fighters tackling a blaze at Pauly's Pizza received honorable mention.

Honorable mentions ... are used in the IAFF’s Burn Foundation Calendar. The Burn Foundation is dedicated to burn prevention and education, burn research and improving the quality of life for burn survivors. It was created in 1982 and is the largest non-government source for burn research grants and the sponsor of the annual IAFF National Children’s Burn Camp, held each fall in Washington, DC. The Batavia local of the IAFF is proud to have the Daily News photo included for the 2009 IAFF Burn Foundation Fundraising Calendar.

You can purchase a calendar at the IAFF Web store.

Immigrant labor reform is a high priority for incoming Farm Bureau president

By Philip Anselmo

New York's new Farm Bureau President, Dean Norton, of Batavia, will be heading to San Antonio next month for the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation, according to the Daily News. Once there, Norton, along with some 5,000 other farm bureau members from across the nation, will attend more than a dozen conferences on issues related to the industry, including

sessions on the turbulent global economy and how it relates to U.S. agriculture, the urgent need for livestock producers to become activists, the continuing debate over biofuels, crop and livestock outlooks for 2009, and much more.

(This information was available in a news release issued by the AFB that can be accessed via the group's Web site.)

Immigration reform will likely take top priority for Norton as he settles in. Tom Rivers writes:

Norton expects immigration reform -- setting a policy that would significantly boost legal farmworkers in agriculture -- to be at the top of the Farm Bureau priority list at the state and national levels.

"It's a safe bet to say that immigration will be a big one (on the agendas)," Norton said by phone Sunday from Washington.

Rivers also cites a survey put together by a pair of Cornell University researchers, in which some 1,200 state farms were questioned on the importance of immigration reform.

From that survey:

Many farm managers are concerned about labor supply. They feel that immigration reform is an urgent public issue and very important to their business. While the survey did not inquire about managers’ responses to the current immigration environment, ongoing informal feedback from farm managers and the organizations that represent them reveal a number of emerging trends and responses. As a result of increasing controversy over immigration reform as well as increased immigration enforcement activities, farm managers are beginning to make decisions they would not have made several years ago.

Farm managers told the researchers that they want to be more involved in the policy making process. "Agricultural employers are aware that their voice is often overshadowed by the large number of non-farm voters concerned about immigration reform," said researchers.

Some are concerned that many farms are "holding off expansion plans until they are more certain that they can acquire the workforce necessary for larger agricultural operations." In other words, uncertainty regarding the stability and constancy of the labor pool is causing farms to stunt their own growth. Farms are also doing all they can to reduce the visibility of immigrant laborers in the community in an attempt to avoid detention and deportation.

One potential solution offered by those surveyed involves searching for alternative labor pools. Some farm managers are even "reluctantly considering recruiting local workers, but they expect that the work ethic and work performance will be below that of the current Hispanic workers."

You can download the complete survey here. Also, be sure to check out the piece in today's Daily News by Tom Rivers.

Batavia Daily News gets online classifieds up and running.

By Howard B. Owens

We heard from a few sources that one of the hang ups the Daily News ran into was getting its print classifieds online.  This, we hear, delayed the launch of the web site, and when the Daily launched on Tuesday, classifieds were not part of the launch.

That's not surprising -- many newspapers have struggled with getting legacy ad systems to transfer files cleanly to online systems.

It looks like the Daily has worked out the kinks -- the ads are now online.

Batavia Daily News finally has a web site

By Howard B. Owens

After months of "we'll have a web site soon" -- some tell us years -- the Batavia Daily News finally does

The site launched some time in the past two hours.

The site, hosted by Town News, which is a favorite content management system used by many small publishers, is rather basic.  The platform offers limited ability for big news packages or posting breaking news.

But the daily will offer comments on stories, at least for now. However, the registration process is rather lengthy and submissions are held in a moderation queue pending approval, a process often used by papers on Town News, but tends to inhibit community conversation.

We'll see if the comment I just left on a Joanne Beck story gets posted!

Of course, Daily News staffers are always welcome to leave comments on The Batavian.

Many people have asked me what the launch of the Daily News site means for The Batavian. To me, it only bodes well.  The Daily is going to help create more community interest in local online news, which means many, many more people will find The Batavian and like the different way we handle news.

Go take a look at the site and let us know what you think of it.

UPDATE: They did publish my comment ... at least for now.

Batavia's Christmas in the City judged a success... by most accounts...

By Philip Anselmo

Festivities at this year's Christmas in the City were fervid enough to warm the people of Batavia inside and out, despite the frigid winds and snow that whipped down Main Street from time to time throughout the evening.

"It was the best one we've had so far," said Lynn Garlock, owner of Grugnale's deli and restaurant on Jackson Street. "At one point we were so busy, I thought we were going to have to start a waiting list. All the tables were filled up."

Sandwiches, subs and salads were churned out en masse. Clarinets, flutes and a capella vocals were on hand to serenade the diners. All the while, you could hear the steady clop clop as a horse and buggy trotted past the storefront, carting its mittened passengers on downtown.

Garlock was particularly taken with the talents of the Bluebells, a group of about six or seven young female vocalists from Batavia's middle and high schools. In fact, she was so fond of their singing that she has asked them back.

"We liked them so much, we're going to have them come sing during lunch," she said.

Don Burkel told us that this year was a raging success. Burkel is the director of the downtown Business Improvement District, the event's sponsor. No less than 43 vendors came out to set up a table and wares in the Batavia City Centre. Not bad, considering most years the event doesn't draw many more than 30 or so, said Burkel. Add to that all of the downtown shops who stayed put, hosted musicians and held sales.

"We had a record number of vendors," said Burkel. "It was good to see a nice turnout. ... We need to support these business people. That's the key in this economy."

Garlock's praise is typical of the business owners who participated in the event this year, whether they hosted carolers or set up in the mall. Passers-by were treated to a warm cup of chili out front of Adam Miller's Toy and Bicycle.

"We had a great night," said John Roche, the store's owner. "We had a lot of traffic, a lot of people in. And, the chili was really good."

People especially enjoyed the entertainment from the carolers and other musicians who rotated in and out of the store all evening, he said. He didn't spot a single empty seat in the horse and buggy all night.

Of course, you might not know the event was such a success—that is, if you saw the article that ran in the Daily News Saturday. Two photos ran with the article. One depicts a short stretch of Main Street out front of the mall entrance. The sidewalk is empty. The street is lined with parked cars. The caption reads: "Cold temperatures drove people off the streets during the annual Christmas in the City Friday downtown."

That can't be entirely true. A frequent contributor to The Batavian, Daniel Cherry, was not only out in the cold, but documenting the night's festivities—he posted several of his photos to the site. Cherry even snapped a few photos of the horse and buggy, which we're told ran until well after the event officially ended because so many people came out to take a ride.

As for the other photo that ran with the article, a shot inside the mall, the people in the picture are so distorted because of the poor quality of the image, that it is more likely to excite pity than joy.

One Attica resident is even quoted as saying that this Christmas in the City was "terrible." Terrible!? Despite the hundreds of people who were crowded into the mall concourse throughout the evening, she goes on to say that: "There's hardly anyone here." She also laments that there isn't enough "free" stuff.

Not everyone agreed, however. One Batavia resident judged the mall "full" of people. Another felt that "people were more excited this year."

I say we practice a little bit of that gratitude we boned up on over the Thanksgiving holiday. We may be a little too quick to stuff that altruism back down the dirty stocking of the rest of the year. Christmas in the City sure saw a lot of folks come out. There was free chili, free bread, free horse and buggy rides, free entertainment all over downtown. Santa danced around a stage in the mall with his chipper, glittered elves. So yeah, I say it was a success. How about you?

Photos taken by Brian Hillabush.

Batavia Daily News for Tuesday: Deputies investigate potential contractor scam

By Philip Anselmo

Joanne Beck covered last night's meeting of the Batavia City Council in a pair of articles in today's Daily News. Both stories—a parking ban on Oak Street and a discussion on changing the city's system for payment of trash collection—were featured on WBTA this morning. The Batavian referenced both articles in our morning news roundup.

Genesee County sheriff's deputies are looking into a string of complaints about a contractor not providing services that were paid for in advance. Lakeside Home Beautification, operated by Martin A. Miller, is based in Stafford. One homeowner, Jennifer Taberski, told Scott DeSmit that she paid Miller $3,800 to fix their roof in June. Nothing has yet been done, and her money was never returned, she claims. "He basically kidnapped my money," she said. Another homeowner was recently refunded their $1,750 after Miller allegedly failed to repair a roof.

DeSmit reports:

Miller, 48, served two one-year jail terms from a criminal case in Wyoming County.

He pleaded guilty in 2002 to four counts of petit larceny for scheming people out of more than $12,000.

Sheriff's deputies are encouraging anyone with information about Miller, or anyone looking to make a complaint, to contact them at (585) 343-5000.

In other news, Virginia Kropf put together a folksy piece on five Albion families who got together Monday for a reunion of their golden retrivers, all of which—unbeknownst to the owners—came from the same Valentine's Day litter. Interesting.

We encourage you to pick up a copy of the Daily News at your local newsstand. Or, better yet, subscribe at

Batavia Daily News for Monday: Potential changes in store for Batavia's Oak Street

By Philip Anselmo

Last month, the state Department of Transportation came to the Batavia City Council with a proposal to transform Oak Street from four lanes to three and use the center lane for turns only, according to the Daily News. At least one Oak Street resident, Carol Grasso, plans to oppose that proposal because it would mean that vehicles would no longer be able to park on the street. (Parking is currently allowed, save between the hours of 7:00 to 9:00am and 4:00 to 6:00pm.) Grasso will voice her disapproval of the project at this evening's Council meeting.

In other news, this year's Toys for Tots campaign has kicked off for the season. Wal-Mart in Batavia will host a collection this Saturday and Sunday. Other barrels will be out for collection at the Genesee County Career Center, the Batavia City Fire Department, HSBC Bank and Hospital Heart Rehab Center. Call Ed Weiss at (585) 343-8279 if you would like to donate or to find out how your business can host a collection barrel.

Crossroads House will remain closed temporarily for construction and to allow the home to potentially locate a new full-time director and better organize its internal management. Crossroads, a "comfort home for the terminally ill," is funded almost exclusively by public donations. The group hopes to be back open soon.

We encourage you to pick up a copy of the Daily News at your local newsstand. Or, better yet, subscribe at

Batavia Daily News for Friday: Call it Batavia Downs... Casino...?

By Philip Anselmo

Tom Rivers reports in today's Daily News that Batavia Downs will now be known as Batavia Downs Casino following a change of heart among the state's lottery regulators. Further, "video gaming machines" will no be re-dubbed "slots." Rivers explains:

Lottery and state legislators have eased their restraint in using terms "casino" and "slots" to describe the activities and games in the race tracks, which are now filled with beeping and flashing machines that resemble Vegas slots.

What does this mean for the business? Apparently, a lot.

"The word 'casino' is more representative of our business," said Martin Biniasz, the Downs marketing director. "It's a wise move on the state's part because they realize these machines can be a great revenue generator."

Biniasz goes on to say that the new name will allow them to better compete with Native American casinos.

In other news, Scott DeSmit covered yesterday's fire at My T Acres in Batavia, which was featured on The Batavian yesterday and this morning. The Batavian will also be posting an interview with My T Acres co-owner Patricia Riner later this afternoon.

We encourage you to pick up a copy of the Daily News at your local newsstand. Or, better yet, subscribe at

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