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John Kominicki

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Stony Brook resident John Kominicki and his wife Marie on board a ferry in France. Photo from Marie Kominicki

By Warren Strugatch

In 2008, John L. Kominicki took the stage at a Melville event center and accepted the top honor a Long Island journalist can receive: the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Press Club of Long Island. Ten years earlier, Kominicki — many of us called him just that — had arrived as the new publisher and editor of the venerable Long Island Business News. Just one decade later he’d be gone, felled by cancer.

That night was prime Kominicki — adlibbing uproariously, tossing hair back from eyes, jousting with power brokers and musing about the future of journalism. Gently chiding his audience not to confuse technological advances with journalistic achievement, he evoked the spirit of Edward R. Murrow.

The latest computers, devices and means of electronic transmission — even the emergence of the internet — did not, he said, necessarily improve journalism.

“Readers, viewers and listeners expect — demand, actually — stuff that’s fast, stuff that’s splashy and stuff that’s free,” Kominicki said. “It will never end. The future is about change, however it plays out.”

“Our craft doesn’t change,” he asserted. “It is assuredly about excellence in reporting and writing and storytelling. It’s about how we inform and amaze and entertain. It’s always been about that.”

He paused, then: “Ultimately the change is no change at all.”

Flashing the slightest of smiles, he added, “Good luck with the change.”

The performance was vintage Kominicki — insightful and irreverent, articulate yet casual, a blend of media studies and rock ’n’ roll attitude.

“It is assuredly about excellence in reporting and writing and storytelling. It’s about how we inform and amaze and entertain.”

— John Kominicki

Now revered as a local journalistic icon, Kominicki had a background that was anything but conventional. Growing up in Keane, New Hampshire, he registered at Boston College as a theater major, and then dropped out and joined the U.S. Army. He served active duty not in a battlefield but as an editor of military community publications — a distinction he noted with his usual irony-laced good humor. He married a military newsroom co-worker, Marie. Next came a Hemingway-like stint as a foreign correspondent for Stars and Stripes military newspaper, where he covered among other events the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1992 he, Marie and their young daughter Anya repatriated.

Kominicki was hired as editor of a Fort Worth, Texas weekly. In 1995 Dolan Media Company hired him to helm their Oklahoma City business daily. Three years later he was transferred to Long Island. He bought a home in Stony Brook and became a Long Islander.

My introduction to Kominicki came in the spring of 1998 when he asked me to write a weekly front-page column for LIBN, as the paper is known.

“I’m going to turn this newspaper around,” he said. “Can you help me?”

It wasn’t an easy task. LIBN had fended off change for decades, deferring to advertisers and long-term subscribers and letting coverage languish. Kominicki immediately ended the favoritism to advertisers. He insisted reporters cover events and do interviews where possible in person. He demanded smart, lively writing. He edited out bias but encouraged writers to develop their own points of view.

Kominicki stayed on at LIBN until September 2013. He became a media entrepreneur, founding a website and business platform dedicated to fostering economic development. He did some occasional writing and fixed up the French farmhouse he and Marie had bought during his Stars and Stripes days as their retirement home. He was inducted into the Press Club of Long Island Journalism Hall of Fame in 2014.

We stayed in touch, sharing occasional early-morning cups of coffee at Starbucks. My wife Cindy and I cherish the memory of hosting them last summer over our backyard grill.

In April the Queens Courier newspaper chain bought the Long Island Press online publication. The publisher had heard about Kominicki and hired him to restore the Press as a monthly — almost exactly 20 years after his LIBN turnaround began. I was delighted and proud when Kominicki recruited me again to write a pair of columns. From his farmhouse in France, he edited my first four pieces then fell ill.

Kominicki showed a generation of Long Island journalists what it takes to practice genuine journalism. He demonstrated how to ask tough but fair questions, how to deflect editorial intrusions and how to deter editorial bias. Perhaps most importantly, he preserved the role of humor and decency in local journalism.

Our prayers go to Marie and Anya. John, you will long be remembered and are already sorely missed. If heaven has a newspaper, you’re editing it. May you rest in peace.

Kominicki died Dec. 5 at the age of 62.  A memorial is being planned for after the holidays.

Warren Strugatch is a journalist and consultant. He writes for The New York Times and Long Island Press, and is a partner with Inflection Point Associates in Stony Brook.

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Officials gather to see the cesspool at Alan Marvin’s house in Nesconset on Thursday, Sept. 24. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By John Kominicki

Cutting the ribbon on a new shopping center used to be an elected official’s most-prized photo op. Today, it’s unveiling a septic system install.

That’s real progress on a couple of fronts. First, there is scientific evidence that suggests Long Island will actually sink if anybody builds another shopping center here. More importantly, it shows that sewage has finally taken its rightful place, front and center, in the minds of local pols.

And about time. The region’s aquifers, which supply residents with almost 140 billion gallons of fresh water a year, are showing signs of real distress, with rising nitrogen levels from wastewater and storm runoff that’s laced with lawn, golf course and farm fertilizers.

Phosphorus is also on the rise, and new pollutants, from flushed pharmaceutical and personal care products, have been found in our drinking water lately.

I’ll pause for a collective, “Eeew.”

What’s so bad about nitrogen, you ask? Basically, that it thrives on oxygen, which, as you may remember from high school, is a pretty important part of H2O. Get too much nitrogen in your water supply and you have to worry about bad things, like methemoglobinemia, which is better known as Blue Baby Syndrome. The name pretty much tells you everything you need to know.

Nitrogen in our rivers, lakes and seas also fertilizes oxygen-sucking algae, which have been known to cause giant oceanic dead zones, completely devoid of other plant life or aquatic species. The algae can also choke out coastal grasses and other plant life that slow down the tidal waves associated with storms that have names.

Storms with names like “Sandy,” for instance.

Nitrogen levels are a problem for both our counties, but in different ways. Nassau’s issue is the outflow from its waste treatment facilities, which is discharged way too close to shore and is responsible for the spread of an especially foul-smelling, marsh-killing algae called sea lettuce. The county would like to shoot the effluent a couple miles out to sea, but it needs financial help – $600 million ought to do it – to get the job done.

Maybe some of our friends in Albany are reading this.

Suffolk’s problem is on the intake. With huge swaths of the county still unsewered – for more, do a Google search of “Southwest Sewer District Scandal” – residents rely largely on septic tanks and cesspools, which do little more than strain waste through the soil and, eventually, back into the aquifer.

Another, “Eeew” is appropriate.

Now, back to the photo op, where we saw Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) posing recently beside a large hole in the yard of Nesconset’s Jim Minet, one of 19 lucky winners of the county’s advanced wastewater treatment systems lottery. The prize: A $15,000 Hydro Action “extended aeration” system that keeps micro-organisms at the buffet longer, reducing exiting nitrogen levels by as much as 80 percent.

Nineteen advanced wastewater treatment systems are a nice start, but with 400,000 septic tanks in the county, the program obviously has a ways to go. What’s important is that Bellone and Nassau counterpart Ed Mangano (R) are proactively working the clean water issue and lobbying mightily for the state and federal financial aid needed to move local efforts along.

Good on them. Perhaps they understand that elected office is, itself, a lot like a sewer.

What you get out of it, after all, depends almost entirely on what you put into it.

The author works as the editor of www.InnovateLI.com and is also a columnist for the Long Island Index blog, a project of the Rauch Foundation.