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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 14, 2011

Terry Anderson asks, “Who’s going to do the serious, important journalism?”
The Altamont Enterprise rises to the task, winning 10 statewide awards,
placing fourth for single flags

Terry Anderson sounded the high note at this year’s New York Press Association Convention, held last weekend in Saratoga Springs.

With the explosion of info-tainment and pseudo news, he asked, “Who’s going to do the serious, important journalism?”

He looked out at the hall packed with reporters, editors, and publishers of weekly newspapers and small dailies and said, “I remain dedicated to journalism. I’m a true believer in its high purpose and principles…I’m still a dead-tree journalist.”

A combat correspondent in Vietnam, Anderson in 1985 was the chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press when he was kidnapped in Beirut by Shiite militants and held hostage for six years and nine months. Afterwards, he wrote a best-selling memoir about the ordeal, Den of Lions. He will soon be teaching at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

For 20 years, Anderson has worked all over the world with the Committee to Protect Journalists. “These are the people who go to work every day and don’t know if they’ll be coming home,” he said. They could end up in a prison, a hospital, or dead, he said. “And yet they still do it; they still go out and report the truth as they see it.”

Most of the correspondents killed in uprisings are the local journalists, he said; they don’t fly home after the story is covered. They do it, he said, “to find out the truth as best they can and tell it.” Anderson went on, “Mostly, you just have to believe in the goodness of telling the truth…a vague thing to hold on to when people are shooting or you’re being beaten on.”

The tools may have changed but the mission remains the same.

Anderson described the recent reporting done by Al Jazeera during the 18 days of revolution in Egypt as “real journalism,” making “our newspapers look sick.”

He also praised the citizen journalist, Mohammed Nabbous, known simply as “Mo,” a Libyan blogger who risked his life to tell of the uprising in his country. Nabbous got past Gaddafi’s Internet blockade, setting up a satellite connection to stream live feeds.

On Feb. 19, two days after the uprising began, he said in the first live broadcast from Benghazi, “I am not afraid to die; I am afraid to lose the battle.”

He died on March 19, his 28th birthday, leaving behind his wife, Perdita, pregnant with their first child.

“The last thing we saw was him falling to the ground,” said Anderson. “He wasn’t even a journalist.”

Anderson said that his friends in the Middle East joke that, in 20 years, the only governments that will not be functioning democracies will be in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He went on, “You cannot have a free society without a free press. Period…And they want a free society,” he said of local journalists working in war-torn countries. “The people who jail them and kill them know how important it is, too.”

Of journalists working in the United States, Anderson said, “We rarely go to jail. But what we do is every bit as important.”

He cited the work of Samantha Swindler who, as managing editor of the daily Times-Tribune in Corbin, Ky. — a paper with a circulation of 6,000 — investigated the Whitley County sheriff, leading to his indictment on 18 charges of abuse of public trust and three counts of tampering with physical evidence.

Swindler ignored death threats in doing her work, said Anderson. He quoted his friend, Al Cross, who directs the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues: “Al says it’s a lot harder to be a community journalist than a war correspondent and just about as dangerous,” Anderson said.

“You live among the people you cover…” he told the crowd from the New York Press Association. “Frequently, the best kind of journalism makes people mad.”

Small newspapers work without “real resources,” he said and without “big companies to back them up.”

“We are vital to the health of democracy,” concluded Anderson of journalists.

With Anderson’s words to inspire us, we at The Altamont Enterprise — circulation 6,200 — felt proud this year to be named among the top five single flag newspapers in New York State. Our newspaper is independently owned, published by James E. Gardner, who has been with The Enterprise for more than half a century.

In this year’s contest, judged by our colleagues in Arizona, 171 newspapers submitted 2,634 entries. The contest covered the 2010 calendar year.

We came in fourth, for single flag — that is, not part of a chain — newspapers with 105 points. The Enterprise was judged in the second of four categories based on circulation, winning three first-place awards, two second-place awards, five third-place awards, and an honorable mention.

Byrd soars

Artist Forest Byrd, who has consistently won awards since joining The Enterprise five years ago, won two first-place awards this year and second place, too. A studio art major from California State at Long Beach, he designs the Enterprise editorial page each week.

Byrd won first place for his Nov. 4 cartoon of Kristin Davis, who claimed to be the madam that supplied call girls for Eliot Spitzer.  Davis’s campaign for governor sent out nasty flyers made to look as if Warren Redlich — a local politician running for governor on the Libertarian line —were a sex offender; he is not.

Byrd’s drawing showed Davis sporting buttons with slogans like “Good Government = Bad Politics” and “Lower the Level of Debate Now” to illustrate the editorial, “Pushing buttons won’t move us forward.”

“You really know how to command attention,” the judge wrote of Byrd. “The ‘Pushing buttons’ illustration pushed my buttons. Nasty campaign tactics have replaced the civil discourse that propelled this nation forward.”

Byrd also won both first and second place for graphic illustration, his original art winning in a field dominated by computer-generated images.

For a May 6 editorial, “Cast an honest vote as school boards wrestle dragon,” Byrd drew the economy in the shape of a dragon. The dragon, festooned with an American flag, has a ring in his nose. A chain is attached to the ring, and the dragon gazes, without any fear or alarm, at a man — dwarfed by the size of the dragon — futilely pulling on the chain. The man is standing perilously close to the edge of a cliff.

“We’ve all heard the term ‘slaying the dragon,’” wrote the judge, “but Byrd took it and brought it to life through the beautifully detailed illustration.”

The judge also says he wishes he could have seen the prize-winning illustration in color. It’s in color on the Enterprise website — www.AltamontEnterprise.com — under archives for May 6, 2010.

The second-place award was for a full-page watercolor Byrd painted that accompanied a Dec. 30 editorial on local initiatives to protect the environment, “Resolution for the planet: Protect our fragile globe with concerted effort.”

Byrd painted a polar bear seated in a Wal-Mart parking lot, gazing steadfastly at a snow globe; inside the globe, a polar bear in an arctic landscape returns his gaze.

The judge called this “another great example of Byrd’s range as an illustrator.”

Best columns

Award-winning opinion writing has been a hallmark of The Enterprise for the last two decades. This year, editor Melissa Hale-Spencer, who has worked at The Enterprise for more than two decades, won first place, and reporter Jo E. Prout took third place — each for a collection of three columns.

Hale-Spencer’s work included a Jan. 7 piece, “We bear the responsibility for killing our prey, packaged or not,” written in response to a backlash of letters The Enterprise received after printing a picture of a young hunter with the bear he had killed. Using the work of Konrad Lorenz as a lens, Hale-Spencer looked at people’s relationships to the animals they eat.

On July 15, Hale-Spencer wrote, “Navajo tradition: Weaving pain and pride, history and hope,” examining the sometimes tragic history woven into Navajo rugs, often overlooked by mainstream American culture.

On Aug. 5, Hale-Spencer wrote “Reach out to help a woman who has carved a life of self reliance,” detailing her personal connection with an elderly Hilltown carver.

“The writer’s storytelling is first class,” wrote the judge. “All three entries were strong and diverse. Well done.”

Prout, a Notre Dame anthropology major who has written for The Enterprise for 15 years, often draws on her life’s experience as a mother and active community member to enlighten Enterprise readers.

Her July 8 commentary — “Graduates must learn to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” — was a highlight of our graduation special edition. Prout sketched out the struggles and triumphs of six graduating seniors against a backdrop of advice offered by Henry David Thoreau in Walden. Never sentimental, Prout writes, “At times a crackpot, at others an insightful man, Thoreau was a thinker.”

“The graduation column works well with Thoreau quotes,” wrote the judge.

On July 22, Prout, an ordained elder in the Reformed Church of America, wrote “Well versed: Learning from life about biblical verse,” responding to a story reporter Saranac Hale Spencer had written about Joe Levinger, a man who escorts people into Planned Parenthood offices. While some readers had been offended by the story, Prout, after a close and insightful reading of Biblical verse, concludes, “Jesus wasn’t born to judge us or to make us suffer. He was born so that all of us, even those of us who cross barricades to get birth control, or those of us who do things considered hurtful to God, are welcome to spend eternity with God, if we only accept that gift of Grace.”

On Sept. 23, Prout wrote a humorous column about her husband’s efforts to fix a faulty well pump.  “He’s a good guy; he waited until I’d showered,” she wrote. “We both knew, but didn’t say, that it could be a few days before I got another decent shower.”

Prout makes everyday frustrations into rollicking accounts, revealing a family’s fond interconnections.

Spot news

For the second year in a row, The Enterprise placed in the spot news competition. Melissa Hale-Spencer took second place for her Jan. 14 stories and editorial on the fire that ravaged the Skipper family home.

While plenty of media covered the house fire at 37 Park Avenue, The Enterprise broke the story that mattered — the story of a heroic athlete who carried on and earned a medal despite having lost everything in the fire.

It involved tracking down family members no longer in their burned-out home, and talking to local sports boosters and coaches who supported Ernestine Skipper in her comeback run.

Along the way, Hale-Spencer discovered Ernestine’s coach had suffered a house fire as well and wrote an editorial exploring why it is we cover fires and what can be learned in their aftermath.

The lead story, “Rising from the ashes: After her family’s home burns, Skipper races on” was illustrated with a photograph by Mike Seinberg of Skipper in her Guilderland jersey competing in an earlier race.

“The community effort to help Ernestine Skipper compete after her home burned down was an important story to tell,” wrote the judge.


The Enterprise won two third-place prizes for photography this year — for sports action and spot news.

Staff photographer Michael Koff took what the judge termed a “great all-around shot” during Guilderland’s playoff baseball game. Harry Brodsky is diving back to first base. His left foot is kicking up dirt; his lips are pursed; his eyes are intently focused on the base as his hand reaches for it.

Koff captured the moment by getting at ground level and shooting up at Brodsky, whose movement is frozen in crystal-clear focus.

Brodsky was safe, and the Dutchmen won, 7 to 5, over first-seeded LaSalle in the semifinal Class AA game. The picture illustrated a story about the game written by Enterprise sportswriter Jordan J. Michael.

Koff says he has taken pictures since he was a little kid. “I’ve always loved it,” he said. “I like capturing moments.” A graduate of the Albany Academy for Boys, Koff went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Siena College in 2002. In order to pursue his passion for photography, he then earned a second bachelor’s degree, in art with a concentration in photography, from the University at Albany.

Koff has worked for The Enterprise since June 2007 as a general-assignment photographer.

While Koff’s sports action photo dominated the back page of our June 3 issue, Darron Leddick’s spot news photo dominated the front. The issue was a rarity for The Enterprise — it was printed in color.

Leddick’s photo illustrated a story by Anne Hayden, “‘Like walking into hell’: Six companies douse motel inferno,” describing the fire that engulfed the Governor’s Inn on Guilderland’s Route 20.

The picture stretches across four columns, a horrifying panoramic view of galloping flames. At the center of the frame, silhouetted against the blaze, a lone firefighter puts on his gear. His small size is a visual contrast to the enormity of the task ahead, and yet he proceeds.

“Nice flames,” wrote the judge.

Leddick, an off-duty volunteer firefighter, was sound asleep in the wee hours of the morning on May 31 when his beeper went off. He leapt out of bed and into his car, grabbing his camera on the way. He raced down the town’s main thoroughfare — still in the early-morning hours — and got to the scene of the fire before the first fire truck arrived.

What he found was a blazing inferno, one of the biggest fires in Guilderland in years. Because Leddick got to the scene before the firefighters arrived, he was able to take the remarkable shot of a firefighter from the first crew on the scene, putting on his gear.

Leddick continued to cover the unfolding drama, taking shots of the chief in command, of the many volunteers at work as they hoisted ladders and manned hoses, and of the elaborate aerial equipment. Day dawned as he worked.
Environmental coverage

Continuing a longstanding tradition, The Enterprise was honored again this year for its coverage of the environment. Based on two editions — Feb. 11 and Aug. 12 — The Enterprise won third place in a category with no divisions, meaning newspapers of all sizes competed.

The Feb. 11 edition featured two front-page stories on the regional Rapp Road landfill. The lead story, “Waste stream takes new course,” was written by Saranac Hale Spencer, a Cornell philosophy major who has reported for The Enterprise for five years.

“Society’s trend of consumption, use, and waste is becoming less linear as dumps around the world reach capacity,” she wrote, going on to detail plans for Albany’s Rapp Road landfill, including both composting and incineration.

In a related story, reporter Anne Hayden wrote of a court case that Save the Pine Bush, a watchdog group, lost against the city of Albany over the fifth expansion of the Rapp Road landfill. She detailed the arguments on both sides as well as the judge’s decision.

Hayden, an English major from Siena College, has assiduously covered Guilderland for The Enterprise for over two years.

The Aug. 12 front page was dominated by a photograph of a lone zebra mussel clinging to a rock near the shore of Thompsons Lake in the Helderbergs. It was accompanied by a story “Scientists have biological weapon: Zebra mussels invade Thompsons Lake.”

The story and photograph were by Hilltown reporter Zach Simeone. He studied both journalism and theater at the University at Albany and has been reporting for The Enterprise for four years.

Simeone broke the story about the invasive mussels in the Helderbergs and also reported on scientists at the state museum who had been working for almost 20 years to design a biological weapon against invasive mussels and were on the verge of marketing it.

The groundbreaking research by Simeone, Hayden, and Spencer allowed the editor to write editorials on the issues. “What most impressed me about this newspaper’s environmental coverage were the well written editorials accompanying each story,” wrote the judge. “These pieces went a long way in supplementing the coverage and in helping the public understand vital issues that are too often overlooked — the importance of composting and the effects of invasive species.”

Community leadership

In another category with no divisions, The Enterprise took third place for community leadership, maintaining a tradition that over the years has covered a wide variety of topics, including property revaluation in the Hilltowns, land-use planning and politics in New Scotland in the wake of a proposal for a mega-mall, and understanding suicide.

This year’s award was for a series of news stories and editorials by Melissa Hale-Spencer on the budget process in the Guilderland schools, including in-depth school board election profiles.

The coverage began in January when the governor proposed cuts in state aid, amounting to a loss of $1.7 million for Guilderland, and ended with the May vote, “At GCSD: After months of agony, $85M plan passes as Fraterrigo leads the pack.”

The media usually covers the annual May school budget votes only as they are about to happen or, worse yet, after they’re over. “In-depth coverage of Guilderland School Board and school budget vote process,” wrote the judge. “Blow by blow behind-the-scenes look at how tough decisions get made.”

Best series

The Enterprise was given an honorable mention for its extensive coverage of the failure of Altamont’s police commissioner to take the required Civil Service exam. Village reporter Jo E. Prout broke the story in June. Saranac Hale Spencer added to the series and Melissa Hale-Spencer wrote several editorials on the subject.

In the five years that the public safety commissioner occupied his post, he never took the required Civil Service exam and, when he neared the end of his provisional appointment period, he and the mayor refused to reveal whether or not he had taken it.

After the list of those who had taken and passed the exam was made public by the county, the mayor led a crusade to circumvent the Civil Service system in an effort to keep the commissioner in his post — giving him a 50-percent pay-rate increase and changing his title to “team leader.”

In the end, after months of persistent coverage and editorializing by The Enterprise — the only medium covering the story — the village succumbed to the law and appointed a new chief, who plans to take the Civil Service exam at the next opportunity.

“Nice vetting of the controversy regarding a town’s continuing ability to avoid a test for its police chief,” wrote the judge.

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