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March 20, 2022 - 7:11pm


Three years after taking a stand for First Amendment rights by requesting a transcript from Genesee County Family Court, The Batavian received vindication with a ruling that stated such information cannot be denied to the media company.

Stemming from a Family Court case in November 2019, the request was made after Howard Owens, publisher of The Batavian, was barred access to Genesee County Family Court. Attorney Thomas Burns, who represented a woman accused of hitting her child with an object, had filed a motion alleging that prosecuting attorney Durin Rogers had a conflict of interest because he was also a part-time City Court judge. Burns filed the motion claiming that as a City Court judge, Rogers would also be able to interact with other members of the county’s criminal justice system, and he should be disqualified from that particular case. 

Niagara County Family Court Judge Erin DeLabio barred Owens from access to the courtroom for the conflict of interest hearing, and also ruled against the request for a transcript of the hearing. She cited “confidentiality” concerns that outweighed The Batavian’s belief that the transcript was public information that should be accessible to the press. 

DeLabio’s decision was also partially due to her belief that Rogers had already been elected to the full-time City Court judge position and any potential conflict of interest would therefore have no bearing on the election. The election was not the basis for the initial motion filed by Burns, but, rather, the two roles served simultaneously by Rogers.

Owens and his legal team, led by Heather Murray, managing attorney for The Local Journalism Project at Cornell First Amendment Clinic, filed an appeal on that ruling in December 2020.

A final decision, issued by the Fourth Judicial Department of the Appellate Division on March 18, stated:

“To the extent that the court determined that the attorney disqualification hearing was no longer relevant because Rogers had already been elected to the full-time judgeship, we agree with appellant that the court improperly ignored both the continued importance of appellant’s role in reporting accusations of ethical violations or conflicts of interest on the part of a judge and the principle that, here, it was within the province of the appellant to determine whether the hearing on the disqualification motion remained newsworthy.”

“On the merits, appellant contends that the court violated its right to attend the disqualification hearing and that it is therefore entitled to a transcript of the hearing, the release of which, with appropriate redaction, would be consistent with Family Court Act § 166 … we agree.”

It was a determination expected by Owens based on his knowledge of the First Amendment and state law and assistance from Cornell University, he said. 

“When I was first excluded from the courtroom, I knew the law was on my side. This ruling affirms that all courts in New York are open to the public and can’t be closed to the public without a hearing and factual findings within the perimeters of the law. I knew from my initial research on our exclusion from the hearing that there isn’t much case law affirming this principle for Family Court, so this ruling is especially significant,” he said Saturday.

“The language of the law governing access to courts, including Family Court, is very clear and easy to understand.  It doesn’t surprise me that The Batavian prevailed with its appeal.

“It’s long been my belief that local journalists have an obligation to stand up for transparency in government and the right to public access to public business.  I’m grateful to the Cornell First Amendment Clinic for taking up this case. Mark Jackson and Heather Murray recognized the principles involved in this case and all of the students -- notably Ashley Stamegna -- who did the hard work of researching case law, writing briefs, and presenting arguments, were dedicated to the First Amendment issues at stake.

“One of the principles in this case that I’m glad the court recognized, is that journalists and not government officials, even judges, make editorial decisions and determine what is newsworthy.  When the presiding judge in this case ruled that the material we sought was no longer newsworthy as a reason for her denial of our request for a transcript, it was particularly galling.  It was important that such an egregiously reasoned ruling not be allowed to stand.

“The ruling is also significant because the justices were unequivocal in their reasoning.  There is no wiggle room in this ruling for judges in future courtrooms to close off access without ensuring they are properly following the law.

“It’s important to note, the law still gives Family Court judges great authority to protect the privacy of children in Family Court matters.  This ruling doesn't change that but it does emphasize that judges cannot arbitrarily exclude the public from proceedings.”  

The decision will remand the issue back to Genesee County Family Court to provide Owens with a copy of a redacted (blacking out items of confidentiality) transcript. That’s all he was asking for in the first place, Owens said.

“All we requested was a redacted transcript (to protect the privacy of the family involved in the case), so we were surprised and disappointed in DeLabio’s decision,” he had said at the time of appeal. “Most troubling in her ruling is her statement, ‘The motion was heard AFTER (her emphasis) the local elections. Reporting anything that the (sic) Batavian thinks is relevant to the election after the fact, would have no impact on the election …’”

“Judge DeLabio is not employed by The Batavian. She is not an editor. She is a judge. It is not her place to pass editorial judgments on what is newsworthy.”

We are thrilled by the complete victory for our client,” Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic student Ashley Stamegna said. “Without judicial transparency, we cannot ensure that justice is being done in our courts of law. The Fourth Department’s opinion reaffirms the New York courts’ commitment to providing the transparency that both the law and the public requires. The opinion also clearly demonstrates that it is the province of local journalists—not the courts—to determine what content is newsworthy.” 

Stamegna argued on behalf of The Batavian at the Fourth Department. The Cornell First Amendment Clinic team at the appellate level included lead attorney Heather Murray, Mark Jackson, Jared Carter and students Timothy Birchfield and Christopher Johnson. Murray and Cortelyou Kenney argued at the lower court with summer fellow Samuel Aber assisting with the briefing.

File Photo: Taken of Niagara  County Judge Erin P. DeLabio in 2019 from outside Genesee County Family Court through the doorway window.

To read the full decision, click here (PDF)


January 1, 2022 - 4:28pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in thebatavian, news, top 10.

Here are the most viewed stories of 2021:

In 2021, The Batavian was visited by readers 5.9 million times and we served 10 million page views.

Thank you to our readers and local business owners for your ongoing support of The Batavian.  In 2022, we will continue to work hard as a team to bring you the most comprehensive and widest variety of local news coverage available in the area.

November 10, 2021 - 6:49am
posted by Howard B. Owens in thebatavian.

We tried the Facebook comment plug-in and while it achieved the goal of increasing the number of comments on the site, it was also riddled with spam.

So we tried Disqus and many people find it confusing and difficult to use. I had complaints about an inability to login and with my personal account (instead of the moderator's account), I couldn't log in.

So now we're going back to our old, content management system's built-in comment tool.

Doing so does bring back a feature that was popular with frequent commenters when we used it before -- the "latest comments" box on the left side of the page.  

As I said when we switched to Disqus a few weeks ago: 

The rules remain the same:

  • You must post using a real name (no business names, no alias).
  • No personal attacks.  No name-calling.
  • No profanity.
  • No comments ridiculing, mocking, or insulting other people because of who they are.
  • No misinformation/false information.

We expect community conversations to be productive and respectful.  If you want to spout invective and "alternate facts," that's why Facebook exists (though we also police comments on The Batavian's Facebook page).

October 16, 2021 - 8:54am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Billie Owens, thebatavian, news, batavia, notify.


Billie Faye Owens, 63, editor of The Batavian from 2010 to 2021, died at Rochester General Hospital on Friday evening from complications from congestive heart failure.

She was taken to United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia with health issues on July 26 and remained hospitalized for 81 days. At no time did she test positive for COVID-19.

She was born in 1958 in Charlotte, N.C., to Barbara Jean Carter and Billie Eugene McSwain. Her mother moved her when she was 5 to San Diego where she would eventually attend San Diego State University, earning a B.A. in Journalism.

She went to work for the Daily Californian in El Cajon, Calif. in 1989, where she met her second husband, Howard Owens, then a wire and copy editor at the Daily Californian, and currently publisher of The Batavian. They were married on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene College in 1993.

Her journalism career began with an internship at the Los Angeles Times and included stints at the San Diego Business Journal, the Ventura County Star, and the Canandaigua Daily Messenger.

She won numerous regional and statewide journalism awards in San Diego for her writing and reporting.

She was passionate about her craft and one thing Howard and Billie bonded over quickly was the fact they both had substantial collections of books about journalism, which has grown to more than 400 titles over the years.  They also both enjoyed old movies with main characters who were reporters and editors.

She loved animals and was upset by anybody who abused animals.  She made it a mission to publish reports of people leaving dogs in hot cars and made local animal abuse cases her beat in Genesee County.  She was also well-known for her colorful reports of lost and missing pets and shelter animals in need of adoption.

In 2015, Howard and Billie adopted Rocky, a mix-breed pit bull who had been abused by a previous owner.  Rocky succumbed to cancer on July 31.

Billie is survived by her husband and three grandchildren, whom she loved.  Her mother, Barbara France, passed away in December in San Diego. 

In lieu of flowers or condolences, donations can be made to Volunteers for Animals in the name of Billie and Rocky.  There will be no local service. Her wishes were that her ashes be deposited in the Pacific Ocean off the Ventura County Pier, where the ashes of her son, Charles Raymond Sutherland, were deposited in 2018.

October 4, 2021 - 10:14am
posted by Howard B. Owens in thebatavian.

We are now using a comment system from a company called Disqus for commenting on stories on The Batavian.

Disqus will allow you to use your favorite social media platform as a sign-in tool, or you can create an account with Disqus.  You will no longer need to have a Facebook account to comment.

Since we are no longer using the Facebook comment plug-in, comments will no longer appear on the home page.  On the bottom of stories is a comment link with a count of how many comments so far on the story.  To comment, you will need to click that link (or the headline).  

Disqus doesn't support multiple comment modules on a single page.

Disqus, we hope, will help us better block and control spam.  The prevalence of spam was the great shortcoming of the Facebook system. Disqus will still give us the tools we need to remove inappropriate comments, any spam that does get through, and enforce the comment rules of The Batavian.  

The rules remain the same:

  • You must post using a real name (no business names, no alias).
  • No personal attacks.  No name-calling.
  • No profanity.
  • No comments ridiculing, mocking, or insulting other people because of who they are.
  • No misinformation/false information.

We expect community conversations to be productive and respectful.  If you want to spout invective and "alternate facts," that's why Facebook exists (though we also police comments on The Batavian's Facebook page).

August 22, 2020 - 5:09pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in thebatavian.

Billie and I are taking a little vacation -- some might call it a "staycation" since we're going to the Batavia Downs Hotel.

It's race night tonight and we'll have a good view.

But we'll also be without a scanner. That's the vacation part.

March 15, 2020 - 7:02pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in thebatavian, news.

This is a copy of an email I sent out earlier today to all the local business owners we have in our database, since that isn't everybody, and since emails are sometimes missed or misdelivered, I'm posting it to our home page to ensure all local business owners see it.

Dear Fellow Local Business Owner:
I know from personal discussions that many local business owners are concerned about the local impact of COVID-19. Even if nobody in our community – and we certainly hope this is the case – ever contracts this coronavirus, the effort underway to contain the spread of the disease is already being felt in Genesee County.
The state has said all events and gatherings of 500 people or more should be canceled, other events should have attendance reduced by 50 percent, and restaurants and bars should restrict customer access to 50 percent of capacity.
That last restriction, enforceable by police, fire, and health officials, is of great concern to our local business owners and their employees.
The restrictions are understandable. The main goal of these policies is to keep our health care system from becoming overwhelmed, as has already happened in places like Iran and Italy and happened early on in China. When health care systems become overwhelmed, more people die and the virus spreads faster.
At the same time, lives also depend on healthy economies. People need to work. Businesses need to remain successful.
We are looking for ways to help the local business community. We’re going to continue to ask our readers, of course, to support first and foremost our locally owned businesses.
For locally-owned restaurants, we want to hear from you if you’re offering curbside pickup or delivery. We want to compile a list and publish it at no charge for our readers. Please email details to [email protected]. Include business name, hours of pickup or delivery, location, and a link to an only menu if available. We will publish the list at no charge.
But also, to help promote these services we’re going to offer a discount on sponsored posts to businesses promoting curbside pickup and delivery. We’re taking $20 off the price of a sponsored post, making it $100. And to help increase and overlap exposure, we’ll boost that post on Facebook at no additional cost. For example, if you want to spend $50 to boost the post to our 19K followers on FB, we will only charge that $50 fee we pay to Facebook (no mark up).
If you’re interested, email [email protected].
And let me know any ideas you have for how The Batavian can help the local business community during this time.

February 14, 2020 - 1:29pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in thebatavian.

It seems like a good idea to reiterate our comment policy, especially since some things might not be apparent since we now use Facebook's comment plug-in to manage comments: 

  • Even with Facebook registration, we still require real names. If we see a name we suspect is fictitious, we will check it against public databases. With Facebook, however, we also can now look at your profile. Fake accounts are usually easy to spot. We ban people from making comments with names we do not believe are the person's true identity. Interestingly, the way it works with Facebook, the person doesn't even appear to know they've been banned. I can still see their comments in our comment moderation tool even though the comments are not appearing on the website.
  • Attacks on public officials are a special case. The higher up in office, and the less directly connected to our local community, the more leeway is allowed, but name-calling and personal attacks rarely illuminate or add to a worthwhile discussion. We reserve the right in our sole judgment to hide comments that we find offensive or inappropriate.
  • Racism is never tolerated. 
  • We still do not allow personal insults. Some insults are obvious, others are more subtle, and we don't always catch them. Any comment we suspect of containing a personal insult, we hide. Only the person who made the comment and their Facebook-connected friends will see the comment. 
  • We don't allow profanity.  
  • We expect civil discourse and obvious trolls get their comments hidden and are subject to potential bans.
  • Comments that stray off topic are also subject to being hidden.

No comment is ever hidden because of the content of the comment. All opinions are welcome so long as the comments are within our guidelines.

January 3, 2020 - 5:15pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in thebatavian, news.


It takes a lot of work to cover the news of Genesee County but we would like to do more of it and do it better. That's where you come in: We need your financial support of The Batavian so we can keep doing what we've been doing for more than a decade.

We've signed on the Press Patron, an organization that handles the transactions of patronage for local news organizations. We're asking that you please support our effort to do the work of covering the news by clicking the "Support" button at the bottom of this post.

Thousands of people will see this post. It would take only 400 supporters at $5 a month to enable us to hire an additional staff member.  

An alternative to Press Patron is to subscribe through Facebook. Click Here.

December 31, 2019 - 9:29am
posted by Howard B. Owens in thebatavian, news.

Billie are taking the rest of the day and most of tomorrow off. We'll be out of town.

Happy New Year! And thank you for being part of The Batavian Community.

There will be some coverage posted while we're gone and we have people who can help us if anything comes up while we're gone.

But one thing that would help us in the future maintain coverage when we go away is your financial support.  Please click the "Support" button below and help us get to a position where we can hire more help.  Local news can't survive without reader support so we're asking for you to support The Batavian.

December 30, 2019 - 7:19pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in video, thebatavian, news.

In the fall of 2018, I made the decision to take video seriously as an online-publishing medium and began working at learning how to make better videos and upgrading the equipment we needed to do it.

This year was our first full year of producing video at a serious pace. We published nearly 500 videos in 2019. Here are five favorites.

Video Sponsor

When David Bellavia asked me to travel to Washington, D.C., in June to attend a ceremony at the White House where he would receive the Medal of Honor, I was stunned by the invitation. This was the greatest honor of my journalism career.

I was the only working media from Genesee County on the guest list and was the only photojournalist present when Bellavia received a private tour of the Lincoln Memorial and the only photojournalist in the East Room after the ceremony. These are days I'll never forget. I think the video came out pretty well, too.

One morning in August, a friend told me about this event involving hot rods in Le Roy and since I was going to be in Le Roy anyway that I day, I decided to stop by. I had no idea what I was in for. For years, the Hardcore Happening has been one of the hidden jewels of Genesee County. It was fun to be there and it was fun to make this video.

"For the Loved and Loving: The Story of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument" was my first true effort at making a documentary. It was truly a labor of love and took months. To me, it's The Batavian's gift to the community, a document of a key part of local history.

I always enjoy meeting the members of the Batavia Muckdogs. They're often great guys but Milton Smith was something special. He's "Tony Gwynn nice" and was a joy to interview. I hope he has a long and successful career.

We published dozens of music videos in 2019. The performance at the Smokin' Eagle of Deep Blue playing "Born in Chicago" is one of the ones where everything worked -- clean audio and good visuals.

Thank you for your support of The Batavian in 2019 but there's one thing more you can do for us to help us bring you more news and more video. Become a supporter by clicking the button below.

December 30, 2019 - 6:49pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in video, thebatavian, news.
Video Sponsor

Click the links below to view the following other Top 10 videos of 2019:

This was a our first full year of producing video on a regular basis. In total, our videos received 185,293 views.

December 9, 2019 - 8:45am
posted by Howard B. Owens in thebatavian, news.

This morning, both Billie and I are flying to Chicago for a local news conference sponsored by Google.

Google is flying in local publishers from all over the country to talk about local news, both how technology is shaping the way news is covered and what tools are available to help with revenue.  

We return on Thursday.

Our evenings will be free and since I've been to Chicago a few times, I'm looking forward to taking Billie to some of my favorite restaurants and bars.

We have coverage lined up for while we're gone and of course, we'll have computers with us so you can still expect to find local news on the site while we're traveling.

October 22, 2019 - 12:37pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in thebatavian, news.

Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION), a trade organization I helped found eight years ago, is holding its annual conference in Nashville this year (first time it's not in Chicago).  

I'm leaving town today to attend that conference and hit a few honky-tonks. I will be giving a presentation on photojournalism for local news publishers.

We've got things covered while I'm gone but as we usually do, we like to let readers know things will be a bit different in how we do coverage.

August 20, 2019 - 8:18am
posted by Howard B. Owens in thebatavian, news.

In 1919 Arthur and Alma Davis, with their baby daughter Leoma, traveling by covered wagon from Nebraska to Southeast Colorado, staked a claim to a piece of land outside of Walsenburg.

One hundred years later, the Davis family still runs the ranch and will receive a Centennial Farm award from the State of Colorado at the State Fair in Pueblo on Friday.

Leoma was my grandmother so I will be at the State Fair with my father.

I fly to Denver today, where I will spend a couple of days visiting with my brother, two nieces, and a cousin, then my dad and I will drive down to Walsenburg.

While in Huerfano County, my dad and I will also visit La Veta, where my grandfather was born. My dad and I haven't been to Walsenburg together since I was a teenager, though we've both been back there in the interim (when I worked for GateHouse Media, I arranged for a visit to the company's paper in La Junta so I could visit Walsenburg).  

As is our practice, I'm telling you all this because obviously, when I'm out of town, it affects news coverage.  

Billie is remaining in Batavia. We've made sure the people who normally help us with coverage -- Mike Pettinella, Alecia Kaus, Jim Burns, Steve Ognibene, and the fine folks at WBTA -- are all aware and available to help out while I'm gone.

My laptop finally got tired of the rigors of being my laptop last week and quit. Marc Johnson at Millennium Computers was kind enough to hook me up with a loaner so I won't be completely out of the loop. It's Windows but I can make do, I guess.

July 5, 2019 - 12:45pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in video, thebatavian.

The popularity of videos from The Batavian increased in June, when we published 47 videos.

Video viewership was up 39 percent, to 31,200 total views in June, and total minutes viewed was up 106 percent, which means more people are watching our videos and for a longer amount of time.

Last month, I wanted to share the message that we're working hard to produce quality videos that are worth your time to watch. It looks like a lot of people tuned in and found out that is true.

Our average views per video increased from 497 to 663.

Our five most viewed videos:

David Bellavia Hall of Heros Induction Ceremony

Stabbing on Ross Street Batavia         

Recalling Michael Paladino         

Press conference with David Bellavia Medal of Honor nominee   

Over the Border Mexican Food Truck opens in Batavia

Here are four of my personal favorites:


Video Sponsor




LOCAL BUSINESS OWNERS: You can sponsor our videos. To find out more contact our sales rep Zach Lee at [email protected]

June 21, 2019 - 10:24am
posted by Howard B. Owens in thebatavian, Facebook, news.

This will be the first post on The Batavian where comments are powered by code from Facebook and tied to Facebook's registration system. To comment, you will need a Facebook account.

Starting with this post, the website will display the Facebook commenting system. Older posts have the old commenting system and will retain the old comments.

Why the change? 

Because Facebook has better moderation tools than are available through our old commenting system. Also, practically the whole universe has a Facebook account now and sites that use Facebook comments get more comments on stories.

Why not? Because it feels a little like giving into the Borg. "You will be assimilated."  

I think it's the right move now but we'll see.

Facebook has other projects in the works to help local publishers like me, mostly through the trade association I helped create, Local Independent Online News Publishers, that makes me a little less wary of Facebook.

So, we'll see. In business, if you're not trying new things, you're dying. So we try new things.

June 3, 2019 - 1:08am
posted by Howard B. Owens in video, thebatavian.

You may have noticed, since last fall, we've been ramping up our video production.

Last month, The Batavian published 46 videos.  

In the past week, I've received several favorable comments about our videos.  It's always helpful to get feedback so I appreciate hearing what people think.

I hope you've been enjoying them, though I know not all of you have been watching them, which is kind of the point of this post.

Longtime readers know I worked hard over the years to become a better photographer. I'm taking the same approach with video. I'm working hard to learn how to shoot and edit videos that don't waste your time, that are worth your time to watch.

My concern is that many people who consume online news have come across, over the years, a lot of poorly produced video from local news sites. My concern is that you associate local online news video with something that isn't worth your time so you don't even bother with it now.

I hope to convince you that the videos we're publishing on The Batavian are worth your time. And I do believe I've gotten better -- though I still have a lot to learn -- over the past several months; heck, even over just the past month.

So, please, if you haven't been inclined to watch our videos until now, give them a little time.  

Here are four videos from May that you might have missed.

May 7, 2019 - 2:26am
posted by Howard B. Owens in thebatavian, news.

Sometime after 2 p.m., we noticed the site was running slow. At a little before 4:30, I opened a ticket with our hosting service. That is pretty much the precise moment the site went completely offline.

Servers going down is part of the business and I wasn't too worried. They go down for a bit, get a swift kick from a tech, and start running again. After a couple of hours, I thought it really unusual that it wasn't up and running again but still expected we would be back online soon.

When we weren't back up after five hours, I was pretty unhappy and stopped dealing with support by email and got them on the phone. They got two senior engineers on the phone with me and I got my IT guy on the phone.  

The four of us were on the phone together for more than four hours. We can't find the problem. There are no errors in any of the logs. Individually, every component of the server is handling requests as expected.

We did notice that pages with a single story load immediately. Pages with just a few stories load slow but they load.

So we've cut The Batavian's home page back from 20 stories to just 10. The fact that you're seeing this post shows that, yes, you can once again get to the home page. But it does have only 10 stories on it. It's not possible, it seems, to use the "next" button at the bottom of the page to get past that point.

One of our most popular sections is obituaries and that section is loading just fine.

We're all going to bed and will work on this issue more in the morning.

UPDATE 9:30 a.m.: The issue appears to be resolved. It turns out there was an old, no-longer-used connection to facebook.com, that was timing out.  It's been disabled and everything seems back to expected performance.

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