Tags Posts tagged with "editorial"

editorial

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It may be difficult sometimes for news consumers to decipher between a news article written by a journalist and a press release composed by a public relations practitioner, especially when the number of the latter outnumbers the former. In an era of websites and social media,  press releases are plentiful and can be easily shared. So, readers should take heed.

No offense to those in the public relations field. These are the people who play a valuable role in working with journalists to alert them about interesting stories in their coverage areas and connect them with important people.

However, during times when newsrooms are short-staffed and websites make it easier to post items, many times press releases may appear as articles, though they adopt a public relations position that aims to promote rather than inform. For many news outlets, the luxury of using a press release as only a starting point and digging in deeper with their own reporting has become more and more difficult. And with one quick posting, a story presented by a PR person is shared as news.

When it comes to some short pieces — say about an upcoming career fair, what’s going on at the local library or what awards students or people have won — sharing a short press release isn’t a bad idea. When applicable and appropriate, these pieces can be a valuable tool, because journalists can’t be everywhere.

But when it comes to articles that take on controversial subjects, such as where taxpayer money goes, or where an elected official or political candidate stands, it would be wiser to look for the pieces written by a bona fide journalist. Why? Simply because a press release is written to present the stance of a person or institution, usually from a positive point of view. News articles written by journalists look to represent the various sides of an issue, and when it comes to hot button topics, to find the information that wasn’t revealed. This information is also vetted and double-checked.

It’s important for readers to pay attention to what they are reading. When it comes to contentious events, does the article include all sides? Does it cite documentation that verifies the stated facts? Does it show different points of view and include the names of people who chose not to comment? Be sure to look for multiple points of view from credible, authoritative people with firsthand knowledge of a situation, such as an eyewitness or an expert.

It can be difficult at times. There are those contacts who are inaccessible — some even hiding behind their public relations staff — and with short-staffed newsrooms, a well-written press release can be a big help. But when it comes to articles about contentious topics and important matters, make sure that article you’re about to quote at the dinner table or party or share on social media has been carefully constructed by someone who attends the meetings, makes the phone calls and asks the important questions.

Sharpen your skills when it comes to interpreting information. The skill is essential at a point in time when the ways of democracy are being challenged.

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If you ignore prejudice, you invite prejudice.

Stony Brook University officials recently hosted a forum in Port Jefferson to highlight how, despite efforts to stamp out prejudice in the local community, its specter constantly lingers in the background. The catalyst for the panel discussion was a recent incident, where a Sikh man was essentially barred from entering a restaurant because his religious garb was misunderstood.

Presenters praised the more than 40 people, mostly business owners, who attended the panel for being open-minded. Many walked away with new insights and goals in mind.

It makes little economic nor moral sense to restrict who can buy your products or shop because of a lingering prejudice, so we agree that all North Shore businesses should be looking for ways to become more inclusive. 

Prejudice sits just under the skin of a community and surfaces regularly. Back in May, a gay couple were called “faggots” by a waiter as they left a restaurant in Smithtown. The restaurant wrote a long apology on its Facebook page, but not until after the news was carried far and wide. That incident not only looks bad on that one individual and the business where they are employed, but the stigma is transmitted to all surrounding businesses.

People can pretend that prejudice is contained as overt acts of aggression, yet the truth is less obvious. In reality, much of Long Island is dotted with areas of high wealth, situated alongside areas of upper and lower middle class. Consider Long Island school districts, which dictate their own boundaries. Segregation among school districts is such that the majority of Brentwood students, for example, are black and Hispanic, while a district like Three Village is comprised of more than 80 percent white students. To pretend that such overt segregation doesn’t lead to ignorance and prejudice is fooling oneself. The truth is that Long Island is regarded as one of the most segregated metropolitan regions in the country. 

Restricting somebody from entering a restaurant is overt in its ignorance. It’s wrong for a whole host of reasons, and in the small relatively insular communities of the North Shore of Long Island, those ideas are hard to wrestle away.

But those ideas must be torn away, ripped up and be jammed deep to the bottom of the garbage bin.

Our local shops have a lot they can do to help. The Stony Brook University panel suggested businesses talk about hiring people to become more diverse. Simply putting a sign in a store window inviting people of all races, religions, creeds, sexual orientations and genders to shop can emphasize inclusivity.

Learn to recognize prejudice and then take a stand when you see it, especially if it’s within your own thoughts and actions.  There are benefits to racial and cultural diversity. Let’s celebrate our differences.

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Sheriff Errol Toulon speaks at the Sept. 26 event. Photo from Suffolk County Village Officials Organization

The opioid epidemic is so expansive that it seems impossible that one individual can end the overdoses and deaths and the related crimes. But even in the smallest municipalities — the villages, fire districts, school districts, people have the opportunity to institute real change.

On Sept. 26, members of the Suffolk County Village Officials Organization met to hear from the district attorney, the police commissioner and the sheriff about the current state of the opioid crisis. Presenters reviewed a wide range of resources and programs available in the county, but also emphasized that we all need to think outside the box to collectively address the explosion of narcotic drug use, which has also led to a local increase in illegal gun crimes and sex trafficking.

Village officials should hold public information sessions on what was learned at this meeting and create committees comprised of residents committed to help.  People need to be better informed. In turn, other community leaders can invite speakers into local schools and religious centers to speak on the topic.

The facts are alarming.

In 2018, Suffolk police launched a sex trafficking investigation unit that has identified and interviewed over 200 local sex trafficking victims. County leaders say that the people behind these crimes exploit the young women by making them dependent upon opioids and demanding repayment through sex. Instead of calling it prostitution, law enforcement prefers that people now refer to these crimes as sex trafficking, and a modern day form of slavery.

An increase in narcotics-related, court-authorized surveillance in the county through search warrant and phone-line eavesdropping has translated into a 49 percent increase in illegal handgun seizures and a doubling of illegal shotgun seizures.

If you are an elected official in one of these villages, also consider opening a line of communication on the topic with residents. Submissions can be anonymous.

The county has outlined as its goals for the explosion of narcotic use and related crimes: prevention, treatment and recovery. Whatever your ideas are to better accomplish this, please let it become more widely known with your local elected officials, who can convey this to other branches of government. As a news publication, we also welcome your input.

Since 2013, an estimated 2,109 people have died of an opioid overdose in the county, according to its statistics. That toll would be higher, but thankfully Narcan, the opioid overdose antidote, is credited with saving lives and has reversed 599 overdoses so far in 2019.

Clearly, though, there still is ongoing, nightmarish trouble stemming from prescription pain killers and illicit opioid addictions. Action is needed.

For help, people can call these emergency numbers:

Suffolk County Substance Abuse Hotline: 631-979-1700

Suffolk County Police Department Crime Stoppers and Drug Activity Hotline:  631-852-NARC (6272). Messages can also be sent as a text to “TIP SUFFOLK” at 888-777, but investigators prefer the open dialogue of a telephone call. All calls are confidential.

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Long Island residents bear a tremendous tax burden. So, when the editorial staff at TBR News Media report low voter turnouts for local elections, we are constantly puzzled. Why are people not voting?

A recent example is the Sept. 10 special election in the Setauket Fire District where commissioners were looking for the go-ahead to buy four new pumper trucks. While the vote wasn’t one that would immediately result in higher taxes like a bond vote, the district was still looking for the community’s approval to spend approximately $2.5 million. The vote was a meager 85-65 for the new trucks. With over 11,000 voting age residents in the fire district, where was everybody that Tuesday?

In comparison, on Sept. 18, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket saw 416 residents approve its budget and 61 voting “no.” While not a huge turnout, more people showed up to cast their votes.

Looking at board of education votes in North Shore communities, the turnouts seem only marginally higher. Considering school budgets can be a big hit to taxes, why do so many people miss out on casting their votes?

In 2019, for example, the Miller Place School District proposed a $74 million budget, an $1.2 million increase from the previous year. Only 783 residents turned out to vote. The hamlet may be small compared to other districts in our area, but according to the 2010 census, more than 12,000 people live there. Again, where was everyone?

When it comes to elections, whether for a fire or school district or library, entities are required by law to post legal notices in their local newspapers, which they do. And while they are not legally obligated to, many send out letters and include information in their newsletters and on their websites, and spread the word through social media. Plus, many school districts and libraries hold events to go over budgets with the community, though the meetings tend to be not well-attended by residents. The current system and practices seem inadequate.

It may be time for elected officials to look into the possibility of combining all such votes on one day, either in November or on primary day. If that’s not possible, due to fire district boundaries being different to those of school districts, then maybe legislators can set up funds to help fire districts, schools and libraries cover costs to better advertise elections. With the most recent Setauket Fire District vote, no letters were sent out, due to cost.

Under the current arrangement, entities have more incentive not to promote elections, since low voter turnout often means a proposal is more likely to be approved by the few people in the know.

Perhaps it’s time to institute a requirement: A certain percentage of residents must vote before a referendum can become official.

But the onus must also fall on the electorate as well as the government entities organizing an election.

So, in the meantime: Vote! It’s the only way to be sure your voice is heard.

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When the National Institutes of Health funds scientific research, the government is investing in hope. The people with the purse strings believe the scientists have the potential for progress, whether from a fundamental discovery or a breakthrough translational finding. Work in these labs may save and extend the lives of our fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers.

On Sept. 12, a cancer scientist at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University was charged with seven counts of stealing state and federal funds, wire fraud and money laundering when he allegedly funneled more than $200,000 of his research money into his own pockets, in part to pay his mortgage.

Taxpayers are a victim in this alleged fraud. Fellow scientists, who might have otherwise received the funds, are also greatly harmed, along with patients awaiting medical help and the support systems for all those patients. In other words, most of us — in one way or another — have been pickpocketed.

So, what’s supposed to happen now? If Geoffrey Girnun is guilty — due process will determine that and he has pleaded not guilty — he will face prison time, fines and other punishments. Girnun allegedly was self-dealing his grant money into shell companies. Perhaps the system where potential conflicts of interest exist needs a closer look, both from funding agencies and from the university.

It’s also crucial that SBU and the NIH pay especially close attention to this criminal case. They need to know all the details of this alleged fraud so they can monitor other scientists and make sure they close any gaps in the funding process. We, the taxpayers, need to be confident that the money the government invests goes toward the hunt for scientific discovery.

What shouldn’t happen? The NIH shouldn’t turn off the tap for scientists at SBU or elsewhere, or create unrealistic hurdles, to receive funding or reimbursement. As it is, many researchers spend considerable time applying for funds and, once they receive them, justifying every penny. Slowing that process down would make them less productive, hurting their research and cutting back on their benefits to the whole of humanity.

Scientific studies seek to understand cause and effect — actions and reactions. When doctors treat cancer patients, they try to balance between the need to eradicate cells with cancerous programming and the potential danger of collateral cellular damage to avoid wiping out healthy and productive cells. The treatment for this alleged fraud should do the same, trying to prevent other such corruption without shutting down valuable science.

A child takes part in Book Time with a Dog at Sachem Public Library

Believe it or not, people still read books.

Despite the doom and gloom and often-reiterated refrain that young people today are illiterate, the world and its modern technology has not managed to cripple the long-standing literary institution: the local library. Libraries survive by the manic activity of their employees and the attention of patrons.

But it’s no longer just physical copies. E-books, available on tablets and phones, have become a mainstay in the way people read. People at libraries can rent tablets preloaded with several books. For people on the move, a tablet can be much easier to carry than a stack of 10 books each averaging at 300 pages and weighing a few pounds.

Clearly, it won’t be its patrons that ruin libraries for everyone, but the book publishers themselves.

Macmillan Publishers, one of the top five biggest publishing houses in the U.S., announced its intent to soon limit the number of copies of its published books to one per library for the first eight weeks.

While that seems like the corporation is cutting off its nose to spite its face, for Suffolk County’s library system, which handles all of the area’s e-book rentals, it means patrons will have access to one single copy countywide for rent.

Think about who uses a library. The highest levels of patronage are enjoyed by people living in the North Shore communities, according to Kevin Verbesey, the director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System. While there are plenty of people who use the library for its many events and other activities, many others use the system to gain insights on world events and better themselves as they enjoy free access to computers and books. They find solace during an escape into literature.

It seems cynical, ludicrous and downright greedy on the part of the publisher to limit access. It suggests the current library system, which has existed for more than a century, is now, all of a sudden, cutting into publisher’s profits. Meanwhile there is good evidence to suggest libraries help create buzz and interest for the publisher’s books. Data from the Library Journal suggests many readers will go out and purchase the same book they borrowed from a library, and even more buy a book by the same author as one they borrowed from the library.

The library system exists and is as natural as the written word itself.

Librarians across the country look at the publisher’s actions and condemn them, but their voices are drowned out by the scale of the overall operation.

While Macmillan may assume people will simply go out and buy the book instead of getting it from the library, this hurts all those who cannot afford a new book, in electronic or physical form. Even worse, other publishers will potentially copy what Macmillan has done, severely limiting access for patrons to their electronic literature.

Libraries are the backbone of culture in a community. We ask all North Shore residents show support for their local library. Start a petition. Other publishers are waiting in the wings to see what happens. Letting Macmillan’s model become the norm will only harm the collective good.

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In 2010, Suffolk County hired a contractor to install cameras at certain dangerous, traffic-light intersections with the expressed purpose of improving public safety, since running red lights is a major cause of crashes, injuries and death. Currently, 100 camera locations are used for traffic light enforcement in Suffolk County.

To say those cameras have been controversial is an incredible understatement. In theory, if people were automatically issued traffic tickets when cameras detect violations, then people would be less likely to run a red light. However, the effectiveness of the program is hotly debated, both nationally, as well as locally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, different research methods, when applied, have been used to draw different conclusions. This is the case in Suffolk County, where a recent $250,000 study showed accidents actually increased by about 60 percent at the intersections with cameras, while the number of crashes with injuries decreased, and the total number of fatalities remained the same.

Despite conclusive findings, the study’s author, L.K. McLean Associates of Brookhaven, has recommended that legislators continue the program, because the combined statistics of fatalities and injuries decreased overall. The Republican caucus disagrees. They call the program “a money grab.”

The issue, though, is not totally partisan. Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she was extremely underwhelmed with the report, saying it gave no indication that the cameras prevented crashes.

The county explicitly states on its website that making money is not the main purpose of the camera program: “The goal of photo enforcement is to deter violators, not catch them.”

But the program in nine years has generated about $190 million.

Under the current system, violators pay a $50 fine, when a camera catches them running a red light, plus a $30 administration fee, plus $25, if violations are paid late. According to contract terms, the county’s vendor Conduent gets 42 percent of citation revenue. In 2018, for example, the county is estimated to receive $27.5 million from the program with $8.8 million being fees for services, most of which are going to Conduent. The balance of the revenue is transferred into a police district account and is used to finance its operations.

The red-light issue should not be political — it should be about public safety. Without clear safety data to justify its existence, we at TBR News Media believe the program should be discontinued at the end of 2019.

If there is a financial benefit to the program for the police district, these interests should be made more apparent, so the public good is understood. If revenue is in fact driving support for this program, then the county needs to compare multiple vendor offers. A 42 percent share of revenue paid to an outside vendor seems incredibly high. So is the program’s administration fee, which is estimated at $9.5 million for 2018. It’s unclear what this fee is for exactly. The county needs more transparency on this topic.

The outcome of the Sept. 4 county vote was not available by press time.

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Parents across the North Shore are hoping their teenagers will soon get to sleep in — even during the school year.

Many studies now point to the benefits of teenagers starting high school later in the day, and some residents are delving into the research and discussing the issue with other parents.

It may take work, but we think the idea is important and we hope district officials will keep their minds open.

Studies have shown that teenagers do better when their first class starts after 8:30 a.m. Start times in our coverage area can vary with East Setauket’s Ward Melville High School’s first class bell ringing at 7:05 a.m. Many other high schools start well before 8 a.m.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 8 to 10 hours of sleep per day for teens “to promote optimal health.” The reason why many teenagers don’t get the recommended hours of sleep each night may have nothing to do with tons of homework, juggling activities and spending time on electronic devices. It may just be that children tend to fall asleep a few hours later when they become teenagers due to biological changes. The outcome when you add early school start times to late nights? Many teenagers walk around like zombies, constantly sleep deprived.

Insufficient sleep, which can cause drowsiness and impaired memory, can affect an adolescent’s academic and athletic success, as well as health and safety. Scientists have found that over the long haul, sleep deprivation in one’s younger years can lead to more severe problems in the future, including obesity and engaging in risky behaviors such as drinking and drug use.

It’s an invalid excuse to say kids need to get used to waking up early to prepare for the workforce. It’s equally detrimental to call out young people for spending too much time up late. The science says these rhythms are to be expected.

In the past, it was considered beneficial for high schoolers to come home after school earlier, so they could babysit their younger siblings. Today, most high school students are involved in sports and clubs, and aren’t available to help out with this task. And with the existence of after-school programs, there are many opportunities to make life easier for working parents.

An earlier morning for elementary students could also prove beneficial to working parents, who need to get kids on the bus before work. Furthermore, teenagers are able to get to the bus stop without the supervision of their mothers or fathers.

While it may be true that a change in start times can create issues when it comes to scheduling sports games, schools start at different time all across the leagues. Some student-athletes are already waiting around for games to start after the last bell rings. The most important thing, beyond both sports and academics, is a kid’s mental health and well-being.

While it may not be possible for all high schools to start at the same time to create the perfect scenario for sporting events, it is feasible for each district to listen to parents and, more importantly, find a start time that will help their students reach the fullest potential.

The ways of the past don’t always pave the way to future success.

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As local journalists, we spend many hours attending meetings. Many, many meetings. Our goal is to know what’s happening in our communities at every level of government, from county to town to village.

A good way for people to become better engaged in community affairs is through civic groups. These groups, which are often overlooked, serve as the bridge between local government and residents.

They are the closest to the ground, with their ears toward local developments, both public and private. They are meant to represent the community. They ask businesses looking to develop the tough questions, mainly how the new Starbucks or Popeyes or hotel, just to name a few, will impact people in their daily lives.

Sadly, though, these civic groups often struggle with lack of participation. Groups like the Shoreham Civic Association publicly asked in a local Facebook group for people to show up, saying without participation their capacity for change goes out the window.

“Without Shoreham citizen participation we can do nothing,” the group wrote on Facebook.

If one were to get very Disney with their analogies, civics and civic participation are like … well, fairies. If one says out loud, “I don’t believe in fairies,” then the fairy dies.

Still, it’s clear why civics lack participation. Despite reports of a strengthening economy, people continue to work long hours and, in several cases, multiple jobs. Civic meetings often take place on weekdays and, understandably, the last thing one wants to do after getting home at 5, 6 or even 7 p.m. is rush out again to sit in another hour-long-plus meeting to discuss, for example, road issues.

When we attend these meetings, we see the demographics. Most people who attend are older and likely have the time to sit and discuss the issues.

That’s not to say the younger generations don’t attend solely because of time constraints. In all likelihood, many community members don’t even know who their local civic leaders are, and when or where they meet.

If you are asking yourself: How can I have a hand in designing my community? Or, how can I keep taxes down? Well, it starts with the civics, so reach out to your local civic group.

It may also be time for civics to reach out more to their community residents, as well.

As reporters, we have noticed times when local elected officials, like in the Village of Port Jefferson, have actually become active in local Facebook pages. Some of these pages are full of comments, and often facts get misrepresented. If civics would take videos of their meetings, then upload them directly to these Facebook groups. It may be a means of bridging the knowledge gap. Civic leaders need to reach out by every means possible, including social media.

The issues aren’t going away. The only way to have your voice be heard is to get involved.

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On Wednesday, Aug. 14, New York’s Child Victims Act took effect. Under the law, people have one year to file a civil suit related to childhood sexual abuse, regardless of when they say the molestation occurred.

After that, victims will be able to file a case any time before they reach 55 years of age. For a criminal case, victims can now file a complaint up until they turn 23 years old.

It’s unclear exactly how many people will come forward to file charges from past abuse or how many people and organizations will be impacted by the temporary removal of the statute of limitations on cases. But, the new law promises a legal remedy for past abuse that aims to institute more sensitivity toward victims, while holding perpetrators accountable.

The website www.BishopAccountability.org lists 68 documented offenses by priests in the diocese of Rockville Centre, which includes Catholic churches on Long Island’s North Shore. One victim came forward and shared his story in the pages of our publication on Feb. 21, 2018, which is still available online at http://tbrnewsmedia.com/diocese-compensation-program-help-clergy-victims/.

But, whether it’s been in church groups, schools, Scouts or other organizations or perhaps in a family settings, children have been in situations where they were vulnerable. Offenses typically occur, experts say, in scenarios where adults are entrusted with the care of children without the supervision of parents.

Part of the solution to address childhood sexual abuse going forward will be through prevention. This means adults, organizations, parents and children have certain responsibilities. If you see red flag behavior, such as an adult ignoring boundaries and exhibiting secretive behavior with a child, this is a warning sign, and adults should respond with confronting the individual. Circumstances can be nuanced, so trust your instincts, say something and remove the child from the situation and otherwise respond appropriately.

The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is a confidential resource available 24/7 that offers crisis intervention, support services and information on social services. Counselors there can help you decide what to do next. The telephone number is 800-422-4453 or 800-4-A-Child. The website is www.childhelp.org/hotline.

If victims need legal help, they can reach out to the Suffolk County Bar Association for a referral to a qualified attorney who can evaluate their case. Its website is www.scba.org and the telephone number is 631-234-5577.

With an estimated one in five people becoming victims of childhood sexual assault by the time they’re 18 years old, according to The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a new era of accountability may be at hand.

Take the time to familiarize yourself with what predatory activity looks like. Talk with your children and learn about age-appropriate lessons on body safety. Good resources on these topics include www.nyspcc.org/resources/.

With the window open, people should feel comfortable coming forward. We all need to give them support when they do.