Long Story Short: Less News is bad news

5/14/18



Illustration by JP Thimot

 

The News faces digital age realities

Buffalo News subscribers and readers, especially those who remember the newspaper back in the heyday of print journalism, will likely soon be longing for that bygone era. After experiencing the first substantial quarterly loss in more than forty years, The News is about to take dramatic cost-cutting measures that will radically alter the paper as we know it.

 

The details:

In an internal memo sent to the editorial staff last Monday, News Editor Mike Connelly outlined a series of unprecedented steps the paper will take to get back in the black. Though he admits, “Like the horse and buggy and the typewriter, the newspaper is in an inevitable decline.”  That memo was revealed to Buffalonians through local filmmaker/professor Bruce Jackson’s Buffalo Report, which is regularly emailed to a wide list. (The Buffalo Report usually focuses on national//international issues.)

 

Here are some salient quotes and details: 
• The News will be “aggressively reducing legacy costs” (presumably meaning that there will be efforts to mitigate economic commitments entered into in the past, which might conceivably include negotiated salaries).
• The News staff will be “aggressively reinventing our products, our coverage, our definition of news.” The newspaper will be altered “in ways that we wouldn’t have imagined even a year ago.”
• The News will “say goodbye to valued colleagues.” This point—repeated several times—foreshadows an imminent staff purge, which will include editors, clerks and reporters. Most of the remaining staff, says Connelly, “will do different jobs or do [their] jobs differently.”
• Items and features slated for elimination include: newspaper sales boxes, the Western New York edition, TV Topics, Niagara Weekend, weekday features sections, Next, Life & Arts, and Home & Style Friday. Other familiar features will be consolidated into three remaining daily sections.
• Local reporting and pictures will become the focus of the paper.
• There will be a new emphasis on digital media, which means reconfiguring the paper to accommodate the demands of an online audience, and convincing the public to pay for the service.

 

Another problem the paper has encountered was addressed by Connelly earlier this month. Newsprint paper is getting more difficult and costlier to obtain. Part of the reason is that Canadian companies are responding to President Trump’s tariffs by selling their products overseas. Paper shortages and rising costs have become critical.

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The takeaway:

Despite the dire tone, Connelly attempts to put a positive spin on the future by framing the changes as an opportunity to reinvent the paper. The News was slow to embrace digital media, and it's now playing catch-up.

 

The memo makes no mention of arts coverage, which the News has been reducing for years. The Buffalo “renaissance” we hear so much about is in no small degree indebted to the cultural community. City newspapers play a vital role in nurturing this essential component of a healthy city. A rich cultural environment is an economic asset, especially when attempting to attract businesses to the region. 

 

For decades, I’ve heard people complain about the Buffalo News, because well, Buffalonians like to complain about their sports teams, government, weather, and their sole daily newspaper. This is no time to abandon the News. Subscribe online. While you’re at it, let them know you value arts coverage. 

 

 

I think that I shall never see…

Frederick Law Olmsted is considered America’s greatest landscape architect. Along with his partner, Calvert Vaux, he designed Buffalo’s park system, which is all connected by a series of parkways. Olmsted wanted these to be like long narrow parks, so that people walking along them would be “in the midst of a scene of sylvan beauty, with the sounds and sites of the ordinary town business, if not wholly shut out, removed to some distance and placed in obscurity.” In other words, he believed the purpose of a park is to block our view of the city as much as possible. Regretfully, the parkways were modified by modern development, causing them to lose much of their original beauty.

 

…A city that is blocked by trees

Ironically, contractors working in Niagara Falls State Park last week were going for the opposite effect as Olmsted when they cut down seventy-three fully grown trees. According to Parks spokeswoman Angela Berti, who spoke to the Buffalo News, the trees in America’s oldest park obstructed the view of the city. Olmsted would say that is precisely the point of a park, but state planners feel that if people can see the city, they will be drawn there and spend their money. So instead of parks being a haven away from the city, their now thought of as a gateway to urban spending. Cutting down park trees so you can see the city is kind of like removing the muffler from your car so you can hear the engine better. The former densely-treed section of the park will now become open lawn.

 

The tree removal is part of a $70 million-dollar parks renovation project, which Berti says will make the park better than ever when completed. New trees will be planted that will be “strategically placed,” for a “more natural” effect, she explains.

 

More natural, because everyone knows that when left unchecked, nature always favors cities.

 

 

Underground tourism

While Niagara Falls State Park is being renovated, it’s a good time to visit the Cataract City’s newest tourist draw. The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is the first new cultural attraction in the Falls in thirty-five years, and it’s a perfect location for it. Niagara Falls is the last place in the United States many runaway slaves saw before crossing over to safety in Canada.

 

The details:

The center is located inside the U.S. Customs House at Depot Avenue and Whirlpool Street. There you’ll find a recreation of the Cataract House, a hotel with an all-African American wait staff that was instrumental in helping freedom-seekers make it over the border. There is also a recreation of the International Suspension Bridge, where Harriet Tubman and others led slaves to freedom (though some critics challenge Tubman's role here). But what makes the museum a truly immersive experience is the many riveting stories told through a variety of media, displays, and character voiceovers.

 

The takeaway:

This is an extremely fascinating chapter in the region’s history, which is finally getting the attention it deserves (it should be noted the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University had a smaller UGR exhibit for years). Falls Mayor, Paul Dyster, says the project started with as many detractors as supporters, but now that it’s open, the hope is that it will attract tourists to the city (which will soon be visible from the park).

 

For more information, visit the the center’s website

 

 

Server wars

There is a raging debate going on across the state, and last week it made its way to Erie Community College. The question on the table is whether food servers should be paid minimum wage, rather than the sub-minimum pay they receive now. Surprisingly, the debate is largely being waged among servers themselves.

 

The details:

Upstate New York’s minimum wage is $10.40 an hour, but servers make only $7.50, and depend on tips to make up the rest. The New York Department of Labor is considering raising server’s wages to minimum, and they’re holding hearings across the state to gauge public opinion. Last Tuesday, a four-member panel led by Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, came to Erie Community College’s City Campus.

 

You might expect servers to be unified on this subject, but that’s not the case. Servers who spoke at the meeting offered fiery arguments for and against the increase. Passions ran so high that the audience became raucous at times. Here’s how the debate broke down:

Pro – Server tips are inconsistent, and often based on circumstances beyond the servers’ control, including the fickleness of customers. Some restaurant patrons are cheap tippers. Servers sometimes even put up with harassment so as not to blow a potential tip. They want a reliable income.

Con – If the minimum is raised, restaurants will pass the increase onto customers, and customers will then tip less. This group worries that restaurants will cut staff, and some might even close. People on this side of the debate argue that if you’re good at what you do, you’ll earn good tips.

 

Thoughts on the matter

Servers handle roughly between three to eight tables an hour, depending on the restaurant. That means, at the very most, the extra cost per table to cover the proposed server raise is under a buck, and often much less. That’s per table, not per customer, not per dish. Customers would likely not even notice the increase.

 

How much servers make on tips is dependent more on the cost of the food than anything else. At a place like Sophia's Restaurant (749 Military Road), where a couple can eat for $30 dollars, a fifteen percent tip is under five bucks. Servers there might really need that extra $2.90 per hour. But at Buffalo Chophouse (282 Franklin Street), where a meal with wine for two can easily add up to $200, a server handling three tables per hour would likely collect roughly $30 dollars per table. This server will not miss the extra $2.90.

 

The takeaway:

It’s hard to imagine how less than a dollar increase per table would cause a decline in tips, or drive customers away.

 

 

Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.

 

 

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