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NYPA honors The Batavian for audience development promotions and news coverage in 2023

By Staff Writer
nypa first place audience develoment the batavian

The Batavian received multiple awards over the weekend from the New York Press Association at the organization's annual spring conference in Saratoga Springs, including a first-place award and a third-place award for its audience development promotions.

 The Batavian's first place award was its campaign promoting its new logo, an eagle modeled on the eagle atop the Soldiers, Sailors and Marines Monument (Upton Monument) in Batavia. The Batavian held eagle-drawing contests for young people at three events in 2023 -- Juneteenth, a Batavia Muckdogs game, and the Genesee County Fair. The winner of each contest received a guitar.

The judges said of the promotion, "This promotion was a cute and fun way to show pride in the community and the newspaper while inviting young people to show their creativity by drawing eagles in an art competition."

The promotion was a joint effort of The Batavian's entire staff, Publisher Howard Owens, Creative Manager Lisa Ace, News Editor Joanne Beck, and Publication Assistant Kara Richenberg.

Second place in the category went to The Highlands Current for a promotion involving ice cream, and The Batavian received third place in the category for its initial promotion of Early Access Pass using retro cartoons of people reading newspapers on the theme of "don't be the last to know."

The judges said of the promotion, "This presentation made this judge think about Dick Tracy comic strips for their color, boldness, and terse but effective dialogue. The message was quite clear, attractive and interesting."

The campaign was created by Owens and Ace.

Beck received second place for Investigative/In-Depth Reporting. Beck was honored for her ongoing and thorough coverage of Ellicott Station. Beck broke the news that contrary to promises, the apartment complex would not be "workforce housing" (according to the definitions of Housing and Urban Development) as initially promised by the developer and would more accurately be called "very low-income housing," with tenants able to qualify with federal housing assistance vouchers. She was also the first local reporter to inform the community that Savarino Companies,  the developer, was going out of business over a dispute with the state on another project. It seemed then that Ellicott Station development was stalled a long way from completion (Savarino has since resumed construction). No other news outlet has provided the community with as much information and detail about Ellicott Station.

The judges, "This entry includes extensive reporting on a local apartment development. The stories include great detail on information the community was likely very interested to learn, including the developments that took place over time. The reporter and The Batavian team clearly dove in to this topic, covering it from the early stages and even through to the final result."

Owens received a third-place award in the Feature Photo category for his shot of then-eleven-month-old Ezra Wheeler and his first visit to Santa at Christmas in the city.

The judges said, "This is absolutely precious! Baby Ezra is mesmerized by Santa ... and the Jolly Old Elf seems equally enthralled with the baby. Great work!"

Feature Photo was among the most competitive -- most entries -- categories in the contest, according to the judges.

Mark Gutman, the Batavia Daily News, won first place for a photo he took at Wings Over Batavia.

Nick Sabato, a former sports writer for The Batavian and is now sports editor for the Niagara Gazette, won second place for Sports Writer of the Year.

Other online-only publications to win awards include RiverheadLocal (Long Island) and The Examiner (Westchester).

nypa second audience dev
nypa independ investigative coverage
nypa feature photo award

State budget includes tax credit that addresses crisis in local news

By Press Release

Press release:

Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature unveiled the final state budget Saturday, including a payroll tax credit for local news outlets, modeled on the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, in the sweeping package. With the passage of this bill, New York is now the first state in the nation to incentivize hiring and retaining local journalists. This game changer for the local news industry comes just months after the launch of the Empire State Local News Coalition, an unprecedented, grassroots campaign powered by more than 200 community newspapers across the state.

Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, the Senate bill sponsor, said: “I’m elated that our first-in-the-nation Local Journalism Sustainability Act is passing in the state budget. A thriving local news industry is vital to the health of our democracy and it’s our responsibility to help ensure New Yorkers have access to independent and community-focused journalism. Thank you to Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Governor Hochul, our Assembly Sponsor Woerner and the over 200 local publications of the Empire State Local News Coalition who helped pass our bill. Our efforts will help ensure that our democracy will not die in darkness.”

"Without local news coverage in our community, there would be a lot that our local governments do that voters would never know about nor have any way to realistically question; there would be no accountability," said Howard Owens, publisher of The Batavian.  "We created Early Access Pass to give the community an opportunity to support local journalism and help us hire more reporters. This tax credit will help those dollars, along with our vital sponsor support, go further, and should open the door for us to hire more reporters, which is the legislation's primary purpose. We're hopeful this legislation will help ensure Genesee County continues to get the local news coverage it needs and deserves.

"I also want to thank our local representatives, Assemblyman Steve Hawley and Sen. George Borrello, for their support of this critical piece of legislation," Owens added. "They both recognize the importance of local news coverage to our community and understand the crisis state the local news industry is in."

The program--$30 million per year for three years--allows each eligible newspaper and broadcast business to receive a 50% refundable tax credit against the first $50,000 of an employee's salary, up to a total of $300,000 per business. $4 million will be allocated to incentivize print and broadcast businesses to hire new journalists. The remaining $26 million will be split evenly between businesses with fewer than 100 employees and those with more than 100 employees, ensuring that hyperlocal, independent news organizations can access these funds. 

After stalling for years, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act catapulted into a top legislative priority this session following the early-2024 founding of the Empire State Local News Coalition and the coalition’s mobilization of support from hundreds of New York hometown papers as well as a broad range stakeholders from around the country, including the Rebuild Local News Coalition, Microsoft, and El Diario. Organized labor, including NYS AFL-CIO, CWA District 1, and national and local news guilds, also played a critical role in mobilizing support for this historic bill. 

"The Empire State Local News Coalition is thrilled by the state budget’s inclusion of a payroll tax credit for local news outlets modeled on the Local Journalism Sustainability Act. New York is now the first state in the nation to incentivize hiring and retaining local journalists–a critical investment given that hundreds of New York’s newspapers have closed since 2004, leaving too many New York communities without access to vital local information. The objectivity of this credit shows that there is a fair way for public policy to support local news without jeopardizing journalistic integrity. This program is a model for other states across the U.S. to follow as communities across the country raise their voices to save local news,” said Zachary Richner, founder of the Empire State Local News Coalition.

“We’re incredibly proud of the 200 newspapers in our coalition, which built an unprecedented grassroots movement in support of saving New York’s local news industry in a few short months. We’re especially grateful to Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, whose tireless advocacy for this tax credit was instrumental in moving it through the legislative process. The coalition thanks Governor Hochul, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Speaker Heastie, Assembly Sponsor Carrie Woerner, and the entire legislature for supporting this industry-saving policy, and we look forward to continuing our advocacy for local news in the years to come," Richner continued. “Other states and stakeholders interested in replicating this playbook and hearing about lessons learned should reach out to us at”

Since launching in February, the coalition has quickly mobilized stakeholders across the state to rally behind the bill. In addition to rallying with grassroots advocates in Westchester and Albany, members led petition drives, letter-writing campaigns, editorials, and advertisements, sounding the alarm on the decline of local journalism.   

New York’s leadership on this issue could change the course of local journalism in the U.S. The budget’s inclusion of this tax credit comes at a watershed moment for the journalism industry: New York State has experienced hundreds of newspaper closures in the past few decades. 

The Batavian's eclipse coverage

By Howard B. Owens

The Batavian will have at least a half-dozen people engaged in covering the eclipse on Monday, mainly attending various viewing sites.

But there are dozens of viewing locations on eclipse day, and we can't make it to all of them.  We would love your help -- send us your photos.

Here's what we're looking for:

  • Pictures of people viewing the eclipse
  • People enjoying the social aspect of gathering for the eclipse
  • Please send pictures that show people's faces, not backs
  • Send full-resolution photos, not thumbnails
  • Email photos to
  • Please be sure to include your name for photo credit, and include the location, and the names of any people in the photos if you know them.
  • Feel free to send photos from the hour or so leading up to totality as you take them; we will attempt to do some real-time coverage of activities.
  • Or send them later if that's more convenient.
  • Photos from just within Genesee County, please.

Thank you.  We hope you have a safe and enjoyable eclipse day.

The Batavian’s daily email newsletter is back

By Howard B. Owens

After a long hiatus, we’re bringing back our email newsletter!

It was short-lived before because it’s a lot of work, but we’ve come up with a plan to deliver it to your inboxes again on a daily basis.  We plan on putting out the first new edition on Monday.

Click Here to sign up right now!

The newsletter will also help promote local businesses.  If you run or own a local business, contact Lisa Ace ( to find out how to promote your business in The Batavian’s Email Newsletter.

If you need technical support with the email newsletter, contact Kara Richenberg at


2023: Another busy year in local news

By Howard B. Owens
year in 2023
Following a police pursuit from Byron into Batavia on July 31, a subject barricaded himself in an unoccupied -- though rented -- apartment in a complex on Bank Street. The police presence drew a lot of community attention.
Photo By Howard Owens. (Photo a National Press Photographers Association regional award winner).

It was another busy news year in Genesee County, with lots of big stories, such as the ongoing saga of Ellicott Station, which even cast a shadow over a planned development for Pembroke.

That wasn't the only sign of economic growth in Pembroke, which is the site of a distribution center under construction and a planned new travel center, growth that seems largely driven by anticipated new jobs at WNY STAMP in Alabama, a GCEDC project that was mired in controversy in 2023, beset by lawsuits and environmental concerns.

In 2023, the environment didn't always play nice with Genesee County.  In June, wildfires in Canada raised concerns locally over air quality, and Bethany, along with Pavilion and Pembroke, have been suffering through water shortages.

Counties throughout upstate New York hit the panic button in the spring when rumors circulated that New York City was planning to bus asylum seekers and other immigrants to rural parts of another state, causing Genesee County to join in declaring a state of emergency and banning local facilities from housing migrants.

The return of Wings Over Batavia capped Genesee County's 2023 summer.

There were no major crimes, but a spate of random gunfire incidents caused concerns among Batavia residents. 

In the arts, Batavia Players opened 56 Main Theater and The Harve made for a more entertaining June.  

In sports, both Notre Dame (baseball) and Byron-Bergen (Boys Soccer) made runs at state championships. Pembroke won its second consecutive state championship in 8-Man Football.

Readers visited the site 1.4 million times in 2023 and viewed 9.2 million pages.

The big stories aren't always the most read stories.  Here are the 15 most viewed stories according to stats for The Batavian in 2023.

Many of our stories were reported first on The Batavian, and we broke some important stories, most notably the travails of Ellicott Station.  If you value great local reporting, you can help ensure it continues.  Join Early Access Pass today.  As a member of Early Access Pass, not only are you supporting your local community by supporting local news coverage, you are getting early exclusive access to our most important stories.  You also get early access to Deal of the Day.  Currently, you get a four-hour advance (look for this window of time to increase in 2024) on important stories and Deal of the Day.

We wish you a Happy New Year and thank all of our loyal readers and sponsors for your ongoing support.

year in review 2023
On Memorial Day, Genesee County's veterans and community members honored the men and women from the military who sacrificed their lives for the sake of freedom in the United States.
By Howard Owens
muckdogs yearin review2023
The Batavia Muckdogs continued to grow in popularity in 2023 under the ownership of Robbie and Nellie Nichols.
Photo by Howard Owens
polka king year in review 2023
Jimmy Sturr, the reigning king of polka, played Batavia Downs in April.
Photo by Howard Owens.
pitbull south main 2023
A mail carrier was hailed as a hero after she successfully fended off a dog, Steve, who was attacking a home health care worker at a residence on South Main Street, Batavia, in June.
Photo by Howard Owens (Photo won a regional award from the National Press Photographers Association) 
bethany town hall demolition
Bethany's old Town Hall, too expensive to rehabilitate into a usable structure, was demolished in August.
Photo by Howard Owens.
boxcar derby 2023
Oakfield hosted a box car derby during Labor Day weekend, the first time the event was included in the annual Labor Daze Music and Food Festival.
Photo by Howard Owens.

News coverage in the coming weeks

By Howard B. Owens

I wrote these words in March 2016.

For at least two weeks, I'm going to be unable to do much work.

Friday morning I was diagnosed with a detached retina in my right eye. I'm having surgery this morning. I get to spend the next week in a constant facedown position. It will be at least two, possibly three, weeks before I can return to work.

Well, history repeats.  Almost exactly.

Last Wednesday, I covered the food distribution at St. Anthony's and noticed no issue with my vision.  I remember specifically looking through the viewfinder on a couple of photos and lining up how the scene was framed and didn't notice any problem with my vision.  That night, I covered a candlelight service in Le Roy, and as soon as I put the viewfinder to my right eye, I knew something was wrong.

I was diagnosed with a detached retina on Friday.  Today, surgery.  

Again, at least two weeks of facedown recovery.  I looked just now at notes to readers in 2016 and I was actually out of work for three weeks.  This time, the doctor is saying a week or two of recovery.  The detachment in 2016 occurred because I got hit in the eye with a basketball.  This time -- it happened on its own.  This time, I also got to the doctor faster and am getting treatment sooner.

In 2016, after surgery, I was told I couldn't read, no email, no websites, no books, no magazines, nothing. I haven't been told that yet, but I'm assuming I'll get the same instructions.

Mike Pettinella will help a little more with coverage, which I greatly appreciate, but he has limited availability because of other responsibilities.  

We have a big pool of freelance photographers available to help us out now -- many more than in 2016 -- but they all have full-time jobs, families, etc. I'm sure they will step up where they can, but we also encourage community groups to submit their own photos and information about events to

I will be turning off the scanners in my house for the duration. I don't want to feel tempted to get on the computer to post something or feel frustrated that I can't go out to cover something.

We will inevitably miss some stories.  This wouldn't be as much of an issue if we had more help.  We would have more help if more people would sign up for Early Access Pass.  This circumstance clearly highlights why it is important for you to join Early Access Pass.  To join, click here.

Important change to Deal of the Day, new benefit for Early Access Pass members

By Howard B. Owens

In May, we launched a program that enables our readers to help support local journalism.

It's called Early Access Pass and enables members to read selected stories before non-members.  Currently, selected stories require a membership to read during the first four hours of publication.

In order to enhance the value of an Early Access Pass membership, starting Jan. 1, members will get the first crack at buying Deals of the Day coupons.

During the first four hours of a Deal of the Day post, only Early Access Pass members will be able to purchase Deal of the Day coupons.

To ensure you don't miss out on valuable discounts, sign up for Early Access Pass today by visiting

Use the Discount Code DOD10OR15 for either 10 percent off on the first year of an annual membership or 15 percent off each month for six months of a monthly membership.

As we head into the holiday season, remember to support local businesses

By Howard B. Owens

It's that time of the year when people start thinking about the holidays -- planning parties, family gatherings, gift-giving, and maybe how we might take care of ourselves and the people we love a little better.

It makes it a good time to show a little love to our community and support the local business owners who do so much to make our community a better place to live. They create jobs, serve volunteer organizations, make donations to various groups and charities, and give a local community its vibrancy.  

When planning your holiday season, don't forget to support local businesses.  Counties with strong local business communities thrive.

Local news is also important to the health of a local community.

Here is a list of the businesses that support The Batavian's mission to bring you lots of local news. Please remember to support them not only during the holiday season but throughout the year.

Community Sponsors

Opinion: Addressing Investigative Post's glass house

By Howard B. Owens
Batavia Downs 2022
File Photo by Howard Owens

This is from a recent edition of an email newsletter published by Investigative Post.

The Batavian has drawn a fair amount of attention over the years for being a successful online, for-profit news organization. What’s been left unsaid is its practice of writing favorable stories about its sponsors and advertisers, in particular, the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. Owner Howard Owens was at it again the week before last, penning another story that echoed the OTB party line (sic on the link)

The Post is a Buffalo-based startup news not-for-profit that doesn't attempt to offer its community complete and comprehensive coverage but rather to cherry-pick the stories it chooses to write.

The publication has been on my radar for a while for its sensationalistic, often incomplete reporting.

Now it is attacking me and my publication, and I think that deserves a public response.

Yes, we're for-profit (though, honestly, it's not that much profit, just enough to keep us in business). And I've known plenty in the nonprofit news sector who consider advertising-supported news to be unethical. Throughout my career, going back to 1986, I've come across no shortage of reporters and editors who thought news should be a charity case.

In 2010, I was in Chicago at the first gathering of small, independent online news publishers. Several of the publishers represented start-up nonprofits. At one session, somebody in the middle of the room stood up and said, "Can we all agree right now that advertising is evil."

I responded by saying essentially that advertising support is far superior to the nonprofit model because you have a greater diversity of revenue.  If you're doing it right, no one advertiser is going to be able to hold you hostage.  If the need arises to report something negative about a business, you can do so without fear or favor because if that advertiser cancels its promotions, it's not going to put you out of business.  It likely won't even mean significant cuts in expenditures.  No layoffs. No furloughs. Nobody is hurt.

That diversity of revenue gives us a lot of freedom to report what is factual and honest without succumbing to threats. 

I don't give in to blackmail.

For example, by a hard-and-fast policy, we run all arrest reports without favoritism.  I've written up arrests of good friends, people I know well and respect. I've had volunteer firefighters, who I have a soft spot for, call me and ask me not to run their arrests. There's no shortage of people calling and asking that we just make this one exception this one time.

But it would be unfair to all the people I don't know, the people who have no connections or advantages or even think to call, to play favorites.  We run all arrests we receive from local law enforcement. Period. No exceptions. That has cost us money and hard feelings, no doubt.

Over the past 15 years, three business owners have been arrested (that I know of).  In the first case, the advertiser had -- the week before he was arrested -- said he wanted to double his spending with us.  The day after we ran news of his arrest, he canceled his ad.  He's never advertised with us again.  In the second case, the business owner called a staff member and rudely and profanely canceled her ad.  In the third case, a friend of the advertiser called me and warned me about running his arrest report. This business owner was a top-tier advertiser.  We ran his arrest report the following week when we received it, and he canceled his ad and hasn't run with us since, nor will he again as long as I own The Batavian.

In another case, we ran a story about a local organization that mentioned a newsworthy faux pas by the director.  The next time we called for an ad, she said no, citing our previous story.  

Look, if an ad buyer has some business reason for not advertising with us and we can't convince that person about why they're wrong, it's the ad buyer's right not to buy an ad from us. But when a buyer tries to blackmail our coverage, that's a line ad buyers are not allowed to cross, as I made clear to this particular ad buyer. We don't change the course of an article to please an advertiser; that's what journalistic integrity is all about.

Batavia Downs
Yes, there's no hiding the fact that Batavia Downs is a major advertiser.  And yes, we put effort into covering most of the Downs' good news stories (Wiener Dog races, donations, concerts, etc.). Some of this stuff is just fun to cover.  And being a comprehensive local news publication, or at least trying, we cover positive events as well as news that is less than favorable to people and places.  A news outlet that isn't covering what is good in a community is not serving the community. It's a drain on the community if all the news is negative and sensational, something the folks at Investigative Post clearly don't understand.

I don't think positive stories about local businesses are a bad thing. They are not unethical. Investigative Post seems to disagree, based on the statement above.  We cover a lot of business openings.  We celebrate significant business anniversaries and expansions.  We make it to as many ribbon cuttings as we can.  I think successful small businesses are critical to a healthy local community (one of my major complaints about not-for-profit news outlets is they often ignore their locally owned shops, which ill-serves their communities). You will never see positive coverage of locally owned businesses in the Post because, you know, "advertising is evil," which means small business owners don't matter to the "serious journalist."

As for Batavia Downs and what it means to The Batavian: If Western OTB canceled all spending with us, yes, it would hurt. It would hurt a lot. I'd probably cry. But it wouldn't put us out of business, not with our diversified revenue streams (something Early Access Pass is slowly helping with, as well, so please join). If that happened, we would cut back on some spending but nothing that would hurt our employees.

Our main reporter for Western OTB is Mike Pettinella.  He's a freelancer, which is ideal in this circumstance because, in accordance with state employment law, I have limited ability to direct his work.  He chooses his own stories for the most part (I can suggest stories), and he chooses how to cover them. Investigative Post is making it sound like I cover Western OTB, but I've only ever been to two meetings of the board, and I've done only one significant story about the organization's legal issues. This is by design. I recognize that Batavia Downs is a major advertiser.  When Mike is available to cover OTB, his coverage provides a degree of separation between me and that business interest.

Mike is an experienced and professional reporter.  He does something that the folks at Investigative Post often fail to do -- he makes sure all sides are represented.  He doesn't cherry-pick. He doesn't sensationalize.  He just reports the story straight.

It seems the folks at IP think we toe the "OTB party line" (itself a loaded phrase that betrays the Post's bias).  No, we just ask Henry Wojtaszek questions and are careful not to misquote him or misrepresent him. Apparently, the folks at IP equate telling a balanced story, letting both sides have their say, with biased coverage. That tells us something about their mindset. Being fair is biased when your view is already made up about a person or entity. 

It's almost like they want to try and cower another publication from calling into question their shoddy reporting.

Take, for example, their latest report on Western OTB's legal fees.

OTB shells out millions for lawyers and lobbyists

The basic presumption of the article is biased, that Western OTB isn't entitled to respond to legal challenges.

Legal challenges that were largely created by the past sensationalistic reporting by IP on Batavia Downs, a fact IP pretty much admits to:

Investigative Post used 2018 as a benchmark for spending on lawyers and lobbyists because OTB operated in relative obscurity until Investigative Post began reporting on its problems that December.

Investigative Post considers mistakes and oversights to be "problems," implying misdeeds in the context of the story.  More bias.

An old journalist's trick to justify reporting on something you think should be scandalous is to find somebody to criticize it without full transparency about the source's agenda or finding a way to balance his or her opinion.  IP has those sources, an Erie County elected official with a political agenda and a former disgruntled OTB executive.  Not that there is anything wrong with giving those people a platform to speak their minds, but knowing up front that they are biased against the target of a story, a fair so-called investigative reporter would seek out sources who might have a different point of view, particularly the chief spokesperson for the agency in question, in this case, Henry Wojtaszek.  Of course, Wojtaszek refused to comment on this particular story, but who can blame him, given the IP's history of sensationalizing its coverage of OTB?  But surely, the reporter, J. Dale Shoemaker, could have found another legal expert to address the issue that would balance the story, perhaps noting that these expenses are not out of line given what OTB has had to deal with since December 2018.

We now know that Shoemaker could have called City of Rochester OTB representative Dennis Basset for a less sensationalistic take on the legal expenditures, though one suspects that Shoemaker didn't much like Bassett's response to his questions following Thursday's OTB meeting. There are surely other board members who support Wojtaszek who would have shared their views on the matter.

Then there is this quote from Mike Nolan, the former OTB employee, that is presented naked of any meaningful context. 

“As a former chief operating officer, the costs that you’re speaking to seem to be extraordinarily high from what they were in years past,” he said.

Well, of course, costs have gone up since Nolan left.  He's one of the reasons for higher legal costs since he filed a lawsuit against Western OTB alleging wrongful termination.  And since he's left, there have been other questionable attacks on Western OTB that officials there feel the need to defend.  Why is it surprising that the agency's legal costs have gone up? And isn't it the right of OTB leadership to defend themselves against what they see as unfair and legally misguided attacks?

Here's their most significant 2018 story reported by IP:

OTB’s part-time board enjoys gold-plated perks

This started the ball rolling on the accusation that the OTB board has illegally or improperly provided itself health care insurance.  In the one story I've written on this topic because Mike Pettinella wasn't available, Wojtaszek explained how this issue has been misrepresented. The interview was in response to a now-dismissed lawsuit by George Maziarz (who was represented by another Erie County Democratic politician, Nate McMurray). (It's worth mentioning that this story gave Maziarz his say and allowed Wojtaszek space to respond -- fair and balanced reporting, as it should be done).

As for health insurance for board members, Western OTB has attorneys working on the issue.  The agency does not agree that board members can't receive health insurance coverage.  

While Maziarz says that the Comptroller's Office and a legal firm hired by Western OTB say the practice is illegal, the issue doesn't appear to be that cut and dry. There is an older Comptroller's opinion that says the practice is permissible.  The memo on the topic, prepared by attorneys Gabriel M. Nugent and Robert J. Thorpe for the board, cites the 1978 opinion as well as the later opinion and suggests board members no longer accept health insurance.  It doesn't, as Maziarz claims, call the practice illegal.  

Health insurance, Wojtaszek said, is justified because pretty much every other public benefit corporation in the state offers it, and Batavia Downs operates in a very competitive environment and needs to attract and retain the most qualified board members. 

The other issue addressed by Wojtaszek is the allegations first raised by IP and echoed in the Maziarz suit is the use of free tickets to sporting events.

Batavia Downs acquires tickets as perks for high rollers and special guests, Wojtaszek said.  A host from Batavia Downs typically accompanies these guests to the events. The role of the host is to ensure things go smoothly that people get their tickets, get into the venue, receive the service expected for the event, and that the host takes care of any issues that arise.

"Previously, if you were host, we provided a ticket to the host and then the host was allowed to bring a guest with them," Wojtaszek said. "At that point, they may have brought somebody from a wife, a husband, a son, or a daughter with them. We have since corrected that. Subsequent to the recommendation from the compliance company, it's just a host who takes care of whatever event, hockey game, football game, concert, and I think we're doing it properly now."

He said that the accusation that board members could just casually ask for tickets to Bills or Sabres games at board meetings and receive them misrepresents what actually took place. He said anybody, including board members, could ask for tickets on behalf of patrons of Batavia Downs.  They were not, he said, asking for themselves and friends and family.  However, to help improve the procedure, all requests must now be in writing and clearly state who is receiving the tickets. 

There were about 100 tickets unaccounted for, not the thousands previously alleged.

Balanced Coverage
These are just two examples where the Investigative Post has sensationalized stories and misrepresented the truth. If you search the Post's website for "Batavia Downs," you will find four pages of sensationalized headlines and stories, a regular drum beat of negative story angles. What you won't find are stories about record revenue, about Democratic board members backing Wojtaszek's leadership, record distributions to counties, in-depth interviews with Wojtaszek addressing the allegations against him and the board, the Downs' support of area charities, any of its concerts, or its successful Night of Champions.  It seems that anything positive about Batavia Downs would disrupt the flow of IP's "corruption" narrative.

Shoemaker was so eager to push the corruption narrative that he used that loaded word with Bassett in an interview after the board meeting on Thursday.

Clearly, Shoemaker didn't like Bassett's full response to his question because he truncated the key portion of Bassett's quote in his report on the meeting

"I think corruption is a very strong term," he said. "I've been on this board, as I said, 14 years, and I don't see corruption."

The denial of corruption by a Democrat completely upsets the narrative being pushed by the Post, so of course, Shoemaker didn't include it.  Shoemaker's article on the whole overlays and misrepresents Bassett's discussion of "reform."  Overall, Bassett concentrated on how well Western OTB is doing and that it is important to stay focused on the business of the operation and its success and not be distracted by politics.

Shoemaker also left out Bassett's statements about changes and reforms already undertaken, instead focusing on potential further "reforms."  Again, it would disturb the narrative to report that Wojtaszek and the board have actively responded to criticism and made changes.

If your news business model is to always attack and criticize without ever recognizing the good in people or institutions, then that's a flawed business model. As long as Investigative Post maintains that business model, all it will do is hurt its credibility with fair-minded people while partisans cheer them on, giving them the illusion that they're doing everything right.

It's worth noting that nobody yet, not even the Post, has turned up any evidence of corruption.  Mistakes, yes, as Wojtaszek has owned up to, which IP hasn't reported. Throughout five years of constant badgering by IP and others, no illegal activity has been identified.  Yes, there is an FBI investigation (which is helping drive up OTB's legal costs), but that has been ongoing for years -- apparently, but the FBI never confirms anything -- and an investigation is not proof of illegal activity. Yet IP throws around the word "corruption" often enough to convince me that the folks there clearly believe OTB is corrupt.  In old-school journalism, we call that kind of belief "bias." 

Based on a prior email conversation with Shoemaker, the folks at Investigative Post also seem to think we pander to GCEDC because GCEDC bought some ads from us.  Yes, GCEDC this year -- for the first time -- placed some ads with The Batavian.  The entire expenditure is less than one percent of this year's revenue. Yet Shoemaker called into question my ethics. He was ticked that I wouldn't grant him an interview about the ad buy.  Why? Because I don't trust the Investigative Post, which I made clear to him.

We've had no issue in the past reporting stories that are unfavorable to GCEDC's agenda. Most notably, we brought attention to GCEDC's plans to use tax incentives for remodeling at Batavia Towne Center. Those design changes would eventually, as expected, lure Dick's Sporting Goods to Batavia. Tax incentives to support retail businesses are a questionable use of an IDA's power since locally owned businesses can be damaged.  In fact, both businesses mentioned in the story above are now out of business.  I know for a fact that our stories did not please, to put it mildly, the folks over at GCEDC.

Tainted Money
So let's return to the for-profit vs. not-for-profit debate.  

I've encountered the arrogance of nonprofit publishers many times over the past 15 years. They think that because they are not driven by profit in capitalist terms, their motivations are pristine.  And that is their blind spot.  All news organizations need to bring in more revenue than they spend and set some aside for inevitable revenue shortfalls when business cycles take a dive, as financial disclosures show Investigative Post does.

Here's the thing though: All money is tainted in some way. The need to raise money to fund journalism doesn't isolate the publication's leaders from pressure to shade coverage. It doesn't matter if you operate with a profit motive or without.  As Bob Dylan sang, "You've got to serve somebody."  

If you rely on advertising, you might be tempted to bend to an advertiser's will (though, as I explain above, this is less likely, but I have seen it happen).  If all of your revenue comes from readers, either through subscriptions or memberships, then you will be more likely to cater to the will of the readers, who don't always see the full picture or have a balanced view of the world. For example, if you're a publisher in a largely progressive Democratic community, you're going to be hard-pressed to publish stories that run against that orthodoxy.  If nothing else, you'll be less welcome at swank cocktail parties. And, finally, if all your revenue comes from donors, you're going to be beholden to your largest donors.  

If most of your donors are institutional -- meaning big annual grants -- you're only going to get grants if your operations conform to the foundation's political ideology if they have one, and in my experience, many do, either left or right, because that's why they get into the business of handing out money -- to push agendas.

Investigative Post reported $434,875 in donations in 2022. Jim Heaney, the founder, editor and executive director, was paid more than $70,000. That isn't exorbitant for his leadership position, but clearly, he needs the Investigative Post to be successful if he wants to continue earning that salary in an era when good-paying journalism jobs are hard to come by.

The Post lists among its major donors some fairly progressive, left-leaning funders, such as the Wallace Global Fund, the Rowboat Family Foundation, and the Knight Foundation (this might surprise some, but I have personal experience dealing with that foundation's agenda-driven contributions in another organization where I served on the board).

These potential ties to Democratic donors, and the need to pander to mostly Democratic Erie County, are important to think about because the reporting of the Post has helped lead the the disenfranchisement of the rural counties that are members of the OTB board of directors.  Earlier this year, Democratic State Sen. Tim Kennedy of Buffalo pushed through legislation that weighted the OTB board voting in favor of the Democratic-dominated counties of Monroe, Niagara and Erie. 

For the Investigative Post, mission accomplished, perhaps. The problem is the current board seems to favor Monroe County's Bassett, who seems to support Wojtaszek, as its new chair, with one notable exception. Erie County's board member Jennifer Hibit blocked Bassett's appointment to chair. 

Isn't it interesting that an Erie County Democrat, Sen. Kennedy, wrote legislation to put enough power in the hands of Erie County's Democrats that one OTB member can thwart the will of the rest of the board, including non-Erie County Democrats? A more cynical and conspiracy-minded person (and I hate conspiracy theories) would suspect that Erie County Democrats, aided and abetted by the Investigative Post, are trying to angle to gobble up more of the revenue generated by Batavia Downs.  Legally that might be difficult, but way less difficult for Erie County Democrats to pull off is selling Batavia Downs to the Seneca Nation or the politically connected Delaware North (where Gov. Kathy Hochul's husband works UPDATE: A couple of days after publication I was informed Bill Hochul recently left Delaware North). Don't be surprised if there is pressure from the governor's office on Monroe County to remove Bassett from the OTB board. Would Heany and Shoemaker call that corruption? 

And don't expect the Investigative Post to question the motives of the Democratic Party when it comes to Western OTB.

Savarino and Elliott Station
If the Post isn't just about pushing a political agenda and really, truly, about investigating questionable conduct, why hasn't it written anything about Sam Savarino and Savarino Companies? 

Savarino is one of Buffalo's most prominent developers and has been involved in multiple projects supported by taxpayer dollars, which is normally just the kind of target the Post likes.

As The Batavian has pretty much exclusively reported -- Ellicott Station was sold to the community first as market-rate housing, then as workforce housing, only to find out it was really intended to be very low-income housing with subsidized rents. The Investigative Post has called into question our relationship with GCEDC, but that reporting by Joanne Beck led to a less-than-pleasant phone call from a GCEDC official.  Of course, we knew our reporting would upset some people locally, but we did it anyway because it was the right thing to do.

Since then, Savarino Companies has gone out of business. The result, apparently, of questionable dealings with Alfred State and New York State, leaving, we're told, multiple projects incomplete, including Ellicott Station.

This is surely a situation that begs for more investigative reporting. We're doing our best to push hard on the Ellicott Station issue, the only news organization to do so, even though we must rock some boats in the process, but we don't have the resources to commit to a major investigative project. A developer of Savarino's history certainly has a deep and long paper trail an investigative reporter could explore. I would love to do it, but I wouldn't be able to cover soccer and basketball games, school board meetings, planning board meetings, town board meetings, community events, and other such news that I'm sure Heany finds beneath his dignity.  All my time would be taken up by digging through Savarino documents and ferreting out sources.

Meanwhile, the Investigative Post is generating substantially more revenue than we are, has a much larger staff with only one charge -- digging up dirt -- and they're letting Sam Savarino off the hook.  Why?

My only guess is it has something to do with Savarino being a major contributor to Investigative Post and sitting on the board of directors.

Talk about a conflict of interest for Heaney. He's living in quite the glass house, but he wants to throw stones at me.

The People's Choice: Eagle drawing by Tylin Torcello

By Howard B. Owens
Eagle Entry 19

An eagle drawing by Tylin Torcello, of Batavia, received the most votes during two days of voting at the Media Center at the Genesee County Fair from readers of The Batavian to earn the People's Choice Award. The prize is a harmonica.

To see all 20 of the staff favorites that were finalists in the People's Choice Award, click here.


Eagle Entry 17
Second Place, by Miranda Tamburlih, 15.
Eagle Entry 11
Third place, by Vincent Domick, 15.

To help support The Batavian's commitment to the community and help ensure we continue to provide the news coverage Genesee County needs, please sign up today for Early Access Pass.

The 20 finalists in The Batavian's Eagle Drawing Contest

By Howard B. Owens
Eagle Entry 19
By Tylin Torcello.

Here are all 20 of the staff-favorite eagle drawings readers created while visiting the Media Center at the Genesee County Fair this past week.  The drawing above by Tylin Torcello won the People's Choice award. The prize is a harmonica.

Eagle Entry 1
By Emily Wallace.
Eagle Entry 2
By Kathy Cercere
Eagle Entry 3
By Brooke Frega, 17.
Eagle Entry 4
By Payton Metz, 14.
Eagle Entry 5
By Grace Wheeler, 15
Eagle Entry 6
By Jessica Stonewell
Eagle Entry 7
By Norie Oubre
Eagle Entry 8
By Ian Walthew, 11.
Eagle Entry 9
By Amy LaDuca
eagle drawing 10
By Jane Chaddock.
Eagle Entry 11
By Vincent Dimick, 15.
Eagle Entry 12
By Brandon Squires.
Eagle Entry 13
By Elaine Lemley.
Eagle Entry 14
By Nichole Douglas.
Eagle Entry 15
By Gabriel Valese, 16.
Eagle Entry 16
By Stella Kwiatek, 15.
Eagle Entry 17
By Miranda Tamburlih, 15.
Eagle Entry 18
By Emelie Maysonet.
Eagle Entry 20
By Chris Coyle
colton smith's eagle drawing
Drawing by Colton Smith, 14, who won the Harley Benton guitar.
eagle drawing Genesee County Fair
Drawing by Jadan Torcello, who won the $100 Red Osier gift card.

Batavia resident wins Red Osier gift certificate in eagle-drawing contest at fair

By Staff Writer
red osier winner
Batavia resident Jadan Torcello receives a $100 gift certificate from Red Osier Landmark Restaurant on Friday from Howard Owens, publisher of The Batavian. Torcello entered The Batavian's eagle-drawing contest at the Genesee County Fair in the 18-and-older category, and her drawing was among staff favorites selected for a random drawing to win the gift certificate.
Photo by Jim Ernst.
eagle drawing Genesee County Fair
The winning drawing in the 18-and-old category of The Batavian's eagle-drawing contest at the Genesee County Fair by Jadan Torcello 

Local news site shares love of music, community during fair concert

By Joanne Beck
Howard Owens and Colton Smith
Howard Owens, left, publisher of The Batavian, presents the top prize of the local news company's eagle-drawing contest to Colton Smith on Thursday during The Eaglez concert at the Genesee County Fair in Batavia. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

After five days of entries, narrowing down the pool to staff favorites, and a final random drawing at the Genesee County Fair, The Batavian finally had its winner for the guitar giveaway contest. 

And on Thursday, the luck-winning artist, 14-year-old Colton Smith, who has been visiting Genesee County from West Virginia this week, received his prize during The Eaglez concert at the fairgrounds in Batavia. Colton had drawn one of the best eagles for the contest, and he walked away Thursday evening with a white polished Harley Benton Big Tone Trem guitar with gold-colored hardware.

Meant as a source of inspiration for young musicians and as a token of appreciation to the community for all that it has given us in terms of fantastic musical entertainment, the guitar was purchased by The Batavian's publisher, Howard Owens. His hope is that someday we will all be seeing Colton up on stage rocking out or otherwise reaping wild enjoyment out of some musical genre. 

Don't forget to stop by The Batavian's booth on Friday to cast your vote for the People's Choice Award: the Top 20 staff favorite eagle drawings. The winning artist will be announced Friday evening and will receive a harmonica. 

We will also be announcing the 18 and older prize of a $100 Red Osier Landmark Restaurant gift certificate on Friday, so remember to check back and see who won these great prizes!

The Eaglez and The Batavian at the fair 2023
The Batavian's publisher Howard Owens, right, joins The Eaglez tribute band on stage for a few moments Thursday to present a guitar prize to a young artist and aspiring musician during the concert at Genesee County Fair. 
Photo by Joanne Beck
colton smith's eagle drawing
Colton Smith's eagle drawing.

Visit the Media Center at the Genesee County Fair

By Staff Writer
genesee county fair media center
The Batavian's publisher Howard Owens explains Early Access Pass to a visitor at the Genesee County Fair Media Center. The Batavian is running an eagle drawing contest with prizes of a guitar (17 and under) and a Red Osier gift certificate (18 and older). WBTA is also participating in the Media Center and running a "Voice of Batavia" contest.
Photo by Steve Ognibene.

Photo: When you visit the fair, visit the fair's Media Center

By Howard B. Owens
The Batavian WBTA Genesee County Fair Media Center
WBTA's Nici Johnson and Rachel Berardini with The Batavian's Kara Richenberg at the Genesee County Fair Media Center in the Exhibition Hall on the fairgrounds on East Main Street, Batavia. When you stop by, please note that there are contests to enter. WBTA is doing a "Voice of Batavia" contest.  They'll record you doing a station tagline and you will have a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to Senor Leon's Mexican Restaurant.  The Batavian's potential prizes are a guitar for those 17 and under, and for adults, a $100 Red Osier Landmark Restaurant gift certificate. 
Photo by Howard Owens.

Video: A J Affronti lead guitarist for Knight Patrol tries out Harley Benton BigTone

By Howard B. Owens
Remote video URL

A. J. Affronti, lead guitarist for Knight Patrol, tries out Harley Benton BigTone White Trem guitar at the Genesee County Fair.

The guitar is a featured contest prize from The Batavian at the Genesee County Fair. The guitar contest is open to kids 17 and under. Visit our booth in the Exhibit Hall on the fairgrounds, and while at the booth, draw an eagle on an entry form.  The winner will be randomly selected from among staff-favorite drawings.  The winner will need to be able to attend the Eaglez Tribute Band concert on Thursday evening.

The other big prize from The Batavian at the fair is a $100 gift certificate from Red Osier Landmark Restaurant.  Same rules apply, except you can arrange to pick up the gift certificate any time before the last day of the fair.

The best 20 drawings from the two age groups will be selected for a "people's choice" award, with voting at The Batavian's booth on Thursday and Friday. The prize is a harmonica.

Knight Patrol is playing at the fair tonight (Sunday) in the Entertainment Tent.

Photos: The Bluesways Band fills Jackson Square for a Friday night concert

By Howard B. Owens
Remote video URL

It was a full house in Jackson Square for the Business Improvement District's weekly Friday night concert, this time featuring The Bluesway Band.

For one song, Guitarist Steve Kruppner played a Harley Benton BigTone White Trem that is a featured prize in a drawing contest at the Genesee County Fair this week sponsored by The Batavian (see video above).

The Bluesway Band is:

  • Chas DelPlato, keyboards, vocal 
  • Anthony DelPlato, guitar/vocals 
  • Brad Kujawski, bass/vocals 
  • Pete Metzler, drums/vocals 
  • Steve Kruppner, guitar/vocals
  • Special guest for Friday night: Frank Minuto, Congas/percussion

Photos by Howard Owens.

the bluesway band jackson square 2023
the bluesway band jackson square 2023
the bluesway band jackson square 2023
the bluesway band jackson square 2023
the bluesway band jackson square 2023
the bluesway band jackson square 2023

The Batavian's guitar contest inspired by the area's community of music artists, today's opportunities for young musicians

By Joanne Beck
Remote video URL

It was as if we arranged the tribute band The Eaglez to perform at Genesee County Fair during The Batavian’s debut, along with WBTA, for the first-time official Media Center at the Fair this coming week.

Along with the Media Center’s booth, The Batavian is sponsoring an eagle drawing contest, with the first prize being Harley Benton BigTone Trem guitar for some lucky artist aged 17 or under. The guitar for the winning eagle drawing (randomly selected from among staff favorites) will be presented during The Eaglez concert on Thursday (July 27) night!

This will now be the third such guitar giveaway sponsored by The  Batavian, and it might seem like a completely incongruous thing for an online media company to do, right? A news site giving away a musical instrument? Shouldn't we give away a typewriter or a camera?

Well, first, let’s explain the eagle-drawing contest.

An eagle is the primary essence of The Batavian’s logo, borrowed from the Upton Monument, which sits at the intersection of routes 5 and 63 in downtown Batavia. Publisher Howard Owens wanted to capture that symbol along with the name of this city he now holds dear after setting down roots more than 15 years ago.

“The Upton Monument is our community's most important and significant landmark, and the eagle that sits atop of it represents independence and courage, two characteristics of good news organizations,” Owens said.  "When planning our new logo, the eagle seems a natural way to represent our commitment to the community and to fearless and honest journalism."

The guitar contests are something Owens said he wanted to do to give back to the community to promote an appreciation for the magic and beauty of music among its youth.

Owens has been a music fan from his most formative years growing up in California, listening to The Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Elvis. He had musical ambitions early on, but his parents couldn't afford the investment in music lessons and instruments, and by the time he did get a cheap, almost unplayable guitar, there was nobody in his family or neighborhood to help him develop his skills.  

"The world of music is so different today than when I was young -- there are guitars available that play and sound great, stay in tune, and are well made that are affordable," Owens said. "The online resources for players of all skill levels, from the first-day beginner to the advanced player, just didn't exist for most of my life. I get excited when I think about the musical opportunities available to kids today, and I want to help point them in the right direction."

No, not everyone is going to be a rock star, Owens admits, but he is aware of how many local musicians there are who have humbly started out on a family keyboard, a hand-me-down guitar or a used set of drums, who continue to gig today, or have found other avenues for careers and secondary incomes in music, or just continue to play for their own enjoyment.

“Batavia, Genesee County, the GLOW region is bursting with musical talent," Owens said. "I'm inspired by so many people, from Bill McDonald and Justin Williams to Tom Ryan, Daniel King, Ray Williams, Steve Kruppner, Dylan DeSmit, Michael Murray, Alex Feig, and the whole Del Plato family, among so many others, that I want to see that local musical tradition continue. Paul Draper shared with The Batavian recently how his musical career began with an inexpensive keyboard, and he's become one of the region's top gigging performers. It's great to see so much talent in our community, and I think we, as a community, can develop more young talent."

For the first two contests, The Batavian set up a booth for a one-day event and gave away an acoustic guitar and a knockoff of a Fender Telecaster.  Since the fair is a bigger, multiday event, Owens said he wanted to find a guitar that would really grab people's attention and get kids excited about the possibility of winning a quality musical instrument.  He figured an archtop guitar would fit the bill, and was excited when he found the Harley Benton BigTone Trem in white.

The guitar, he explained, is patterned after a Gretsch White Falcon, which among guitar enthusiasts is an iconic instrument. A new White Falcon costs thousands of dollars.  The Harley Benton guitar is a fraction of the cost, and Harley Benton is considered one of the world's best budget-line guitar companies.

Steve Kruppner, an accomplished solo performer and guitarist for The Bluesway Band, played it on Wednesday and said he's impressed by it (see video above).

"This is extremely well built," Kruppner said during his test drive of the guitar. "Like I said, I learned guitar on what was probably an Italian-made copy of a Fender Strat. It was just a complete piece of junk. It was unplayable.  The strings were this far off the neck and they wouldn't tune. But this guitar is really sweet. I wouldn't mind having one myself just to have at home right now."

Kruppner admired the tuners, neck, solid build of the guitar, its Bigsby-style tremolo, white finish, gold trim and clean sound of the pickups.  The guitar is both a great lead instrument and a great strummer, like an acoustic guitar, he said.

"I tell you what, if I was 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 years old and I got this guitar, I'd be thrilled," Kruppner said. "This is a far better guitar than what I learned on, I can tell you."

To enter the contest, visit the Genesee County Fair, go to the Exhibit Hall, find the Official Genesee County Fair Media Center, where both The Batavian and WBTA will be set up with booths, and ask for an entry form.  While at the booth, draw your best version of an eagle (entries must be drawn at the booth or nearby). The Batavian staff will select their favorite drawings to be entered into a random drawing.  To enter, you must agree to return to the fair on Thursday night for the Eaglez concert (a free pass will be provided to the winner's family) where you will receive the guitar on stage during the concert.

For adults, there is also an eagle drawing contest, and the prize is a $100 gift certificate from the original Red Osier Landmark Restaurant. The winner will be asked to return to the fair at an agreed-upon appointment time for a promotional photo and to receive the gift certificate.

The People's Choice award is a harmonica.  The Batavian staff will pick its 20 favorite drawings from all the entries, and visitors to the Media Center on Thursday and Friday will vote for their favorite of the 20 selected. The winner will be asked to return to the fair on Saturday for a photo-op and to receive the harmonica.

Steve Kruppner and The Bluesways Band perform at 7 p.m. on Friday in Jackson Square as part of the Business Improvement District's weekly concert series.

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