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Village Times Herald

Recently I received a voicemail message asking me if we were planning to cover fairly a contentious issue currently in the community. The speaker cared deeply about one side, and said he understood that we had friends on the other side of the issue. As a result of those ties, were we going to favor them or, at the least, bury the story in the back of the paper where no one would read it?

Forty-two years ago this week, a handful of us started The Village Times in a tiny office but with great ambition. We promised to serve the community according to “the highest ideals of a free press.” It was 1976, the bicentennial year. We were well aware of the singular role the press played in the American Revolution and the sanctity with which the Founding Fathers viewed the press. Today, we acknowledge other forms of free speech and press by putting them all together and calling them “media.”

But the press, specifically the printed word on newsprint, will always be where my heart is in this business, no matter that we now have a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a place on YouTube and are called TBR News Media. We’ve gone viral on the internet, with over 17 million views for our story and video dealing with school safety in Rocky Point, and to have that kind of reach certainly impresses me. Nonetheless the printed story, the elegance of crafting exactly the right words to describe a scene or an issue or emotion, laid out efficiently and attractively, and most especially truthfully and fairly on a page, with pictures to drive home the information, gives me enormous professional satisfaction. Words as precision tools are not respected the same way on the more frenetic media.

Nor are truth and facts always respected there. Because there is little or no vetting, some people take advantage of the lawlessness to write the most astonishing things, slanted or even untrue as they may be, and others willingly believe what they read. Right now, Facebook, which was started in 2004, is facing the consequences of publishing unmonitored content presented as news or advertising, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg tries to answer hard questions put to him by the U.S. Congress.

Not to revel in another media’s troubles, but everything printed in a newspaper is vetted, even the ads, the sources of the ads and, to the extent possible for facts, the letters. That does not mean everything you might read in our papers is correct. We can and do make mistakes. But those are, or should be, immediately acknowledged and corrected in the next edition. Nor are we without bias, however hard we try. But if we try for a truthful and balanced presentation in every story that we print, to a large extent we can succeed. We reserve our opinions for the opinion pages.

At least, so I believe. With such a long track record, I was quite surprised to hear that question on my voicemail. The caller left his number, and I was able to return his phone call. We had a heart-to-heart talk, and that, along with the story we wrote, I trust, persuaded him that we had dealt with the matter fairly. If he were trying to encourage us to lean in his direction on the issue, his strategy clearly didn’t work.

Here are some of the other things newspapers don’t do. We don’t compile personal information about our readers and then sell that information to potential advertisers. We don’t even sell the names and
addresses of our subscribers, although we have been asked a number of times. Your privacy is not for our profit. We don’t write stories about businesses in order to get their advertising. Our newspapers have never been hacked. But I wouldn’t mind having a couple of their billions. And forgive my pride if I suggest that there is some kind of old-fashioned honor that underpins a good newspaper serving its community. That’s not a sentiment I associate with the internet.

Residents brainstorm during the Community Vision Forum. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

North Shore lawmakers are gauging the public’s opinion as they revisit what Route 25A should look like.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) gathered residents, business owners, community leaders, teachers and elected officials at a forum at the Kanas Commons of The Stony Brook School on Monday, June 30, to discuss the future of the section of Route 25A between Main Street in Stony Brook and Bennetts Road in Setauket.

“As your councilperson, I thought it was important to engage in a community discussion regarding this issue,” Cartright said to the 95 residents gathered. She said that many members of Stony Brook, Setauket, Centereach and the greater Brookhaven area had been vocal about creating a discussion on this issue.

The public was divided into groups once they arrived at the forum and each group represented a different issue facing the road. The various issues included uses and zoning, traffic safety and transportation, design and aesthetics, impact on nearby businesses, Stony Brook University, community relations and infrastructure.

Each group was given a list of questions to discuss and then present to the entire forum. These questions were designed to get an idea of the changes the community wanted, the problems they thought this zone needed to address and what things the community wanted to preserve.

“This is a precursor to a land use plan,” said Brenda Prusinowski, the deputy commissioner for the Town of Brookhaven. “There are many steps to go once anything has been discussed here.”

Prusinowski said she was encouraged by the high number of residents that came out, and expected that everyone would come up with a great discussion to make the community better.

“This should be a gauge of what the majority wants, but also what every individual feels is important as well,” Cartright said.

Cartright urged that everyone keep an open mind and accept that conflicting opinions will arise. However, as the night unfolded, it seemed that a majority of the community members were on the same page.

Major issues that were brought up, in terms of improvement, were safety measures for pedestrians and bicyclists, the architecture and look of the downtown shops and better parking options near the Stony Brook Long Island Rail Road station.

Residents expressed a desire for a more cohesive look, while still maintaining the historical nature and heritage of the town, which leaders in attendance also support.

“We have a great sense of place, and that is important to all of us, that we maintain that,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). “We want people to see the historic and charming feel of this community.”

Groups also said that although students from Stony Brook University can rent bikes to ride downtown, they still needed more safe paths to take. If students felt safer to go for a bike ride, residents argued they would be investing more into the area businesses by shopping there more frequently.

Many people said they felt there was almost an “iron curtain” between the students of Stony Brook University and the towns of Brookhaven and Stony Brook, and that more needs to be done to integrate the students.

Yet, other residents said that they feared the towns are losing their identity to the university.

“We were not brought together tonight to react to a problem, rather to look at our values as a community,” said state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

Englebright said that this community is host to a large economic engine with the university and that keeping the community great benefits the university and vice versa.

Preserving local small business was also very important, as no one said they were interested in seeing a national chain pop up anywhere near Route 25A.

 

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Umbrellas, usually necessary to ward off blazing sun, protected spectators from light drizzle as Ward Melville High School honored around 600 graduates Sunday.

Graduating seniors took their places in bleachers set up alongside the high school’s entrance, which still featured the “Journey to Neverland” backdrop from Thursday night’s prom.

Salutatorian Jayne Green told the women in the audience to remember they were not alone and that as half of the population, women should unite and work together. If they did, she said, “Nothing can stop us.”

Valedictorian Eric Wang shared his moment at the podium with his classmates by mentioning many of them and their contributions by name.

From state athletic champions to talented performers, innovators, “extraordinary leaders,” “patriots serving the country” and those always ready to offer a lending hand, “Each and every one of us is exceptional,” Wang said.

He then urged his classmates to “pay it forward” and channel their energies into their future endeavors.

Following student government president George Zenzerovich’s presentation of the class gift were words from Principal Alan Baum and school board president William Connors. The rain subsided in time for Baum and assistant principal Rosanne DiBella to hand diplomas to the members of the Class of 2015.