What Should Syracuse Dot Com Cover?

As a subscriber to the paper (the Sunday paper only) and a daily reader of the local online news at Syracuse.com, I recently received a February 7, 2020 “Letter From The Editor” written by Trish LaMonte–the Editor and VP for content of the paper. (excuse me for being so dead tree-centric but I generally refer to all local coverage as “the paper” and/or “the Post-Standard.”)

The Letter From The Editor posed the following question: With 2020 under way, I wanted to reach out to all of you, our most loyal readers, and make sure we have your input in our coverage plans for the year ahead.  What topics and issues matter most to you in your town or at a regional or even statewide level?  What have you noticed in Central New York that you’d like us to dig into?  Perhaps an individual or a business that’s doing something great and worthy of media attention, or an institution doing something that needs to be exposed.

This is my response. I’ll let you know if I get a response.

1) Bring back the MetroVoices column

When first Maureen Sieh and then Maureen Nolan wrote this column, this was the golden age of coverage for marginalized voices in low income communities and communities of color. The column provided profiles of people and events in these communities and opportunities for input on community-wide issues from people who might have opinions that are not in line with the conventional wisdom. Both Maureens frequently contacted me when I worked as a community organizer for Syracuse United Neighbors to find out about issues we were working on–and this wasn’t limited to SUN–many organizations, churches and community groups received coverage that the Post Standard did not usually provide–and does not provide now.

I remember when Maureen Sieh did an in-depth profile of the work that SUN was doing on the incredible number of vacant houses on the southwest side of the city. Maureen accompanied myself on a tour of our neighborhoods, stops at several of the more “picturesque” of the vacants and wrote up a front page SUNday (pun intended) P-S article with pictures from Peter Chen. This was the most extensive pieces of coverage on the issue and helped us in eventually convincing the city, county and state to set up a Land Bank. Maureen would routinely stop by our S. Salina St. office just to find out “what’s up.” I’m sure Maureen had a long list of similar stops throughout our neighborhoods. 

 I also remember when Maureen Nolan accompanied our group on a direct action protest at the M & T Bank downtown to protest redlining of southwest side neighborhoods in the provision of mortgage and home improvement loans. The story helped spur negotiations with the banks under the Community Reinvestment Act. It also attracted over 250 online comments–almost all overwhelmingly condescending, stereotypical and racist–spurred on no doubt by the photo of the people who went on the protest: low income African American residents of the south and west sides of the city. It gave us a sense of what we are up against in our fight for justice. Maureen also wrote an in-depth profile of SUN for the organization’s 30th anniversary.

Every article that was written about issues SUN worked on became a part of the local conversation. Some of that spark still exists–but it is not regularly scheduled. For instance, Tim Knauss recently interviewed me for background information about the issue of the skewed assessment of property taxes in the city. SUN came to be as a result of a 10 year struggle to get the last citywide assessment that was done in 1994. He remembered that I had pitched him on this idea in the past. If there had been regular coverage of this issue by the P-S, it would not have been a shock to learn about the de facto collapse of the real property market in low income Syracuse neighborhoods. And despite the recent uptick of assessment corrections, there is absolutely no plan for another citywide reassessment–something that some communities do annually, but Syracuse has done only twice in the past 35 years.

2) Bring back the “non-profit beat” that was last filled by Frank Brieaddy (sp?) 
I have moved on from SUN and currently work for ARISE Independent Living Center–helping people with disabilities live on their own with appropriate supports. I work on a lot of the same issues I worked on with SUN–better housing conditions, more affordable housing, better public transit. In addition, I now work on making sure that housing and public acomodations are accessible.

All non-profit organizations could benefit from a reporter who was plugged in to the issues we deal with every day. Groups like ARISE have a large coalition of over 70 groups in the Human Services Leadership Council of CNY–and there are scores of smaller organizations. All of us face many of the same issues–how state and Medicaid funding are changing and squeezing organizations’ funding, recruiting talented personnel despite paying less than for profits etc.

I remember Frank Brieaddy’s column well. Once he called me–then a relatively new employee of SUN. He was doing a survey of how non-profits dealt with public requests for IRS Form 990. All non-profit organizations are required to provide copies of them upon request. He asked me and I said I would find out about them and get right back to him. We responded later that day after we researched the rule and offered him a copy. We were cited as one of the few to acknowledge our obligation. 

But Frank Brieaddy covered all kinds of things–fundraisers and new programs being launched by non-profits. I believe that if this kind of coverage was standard in the Post-Standard (couldn’t resist) people’s knowledge about our issues wold be magnified.

3) More direct coverage of the issues of the disabled–one of the largest and perhaps the poorest minority group in the nation–as well as CNY. 

According to the most recent U.S. Census data, 12% of the population in Onondaga County has a disability. People with disabilities in Onondaga County also face dire economic realities:

  • 16% unemployment rate for those able to work.
  • 61% of those with a disability are not in the labor force
  • 33% of those with a disability live below the poverty line

I remember when a coalition of disability groups requested an editorial board meeting with the P-S on the event of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I remember being cordially received by Marie Morelli in your office and her very first question–why did you request an editorial board meeting? She seemed unsure about its necessity.

However, we outlined the importance of what is the most important Civil Rights Act passed after the two passed in the sixties on racial equality, the gains we have made–but also the incredibly steep climb we still face on issues such as employment and enforcement of the provisions requiring action under the A.D.A.  

The ensuing editorial was paired with a very well reported article on the legal aspects of the A.D.A. by a law professor at S.U. We also received in depth coverage of that year’s (2015) A.D.A. celebration. The event has been held in Syracuse every year since the act’s passage in 1990, but has received spotty coverage since the 25th edition–despite drawing crowds of over 400 people for the rally and culminating with a parade through downtown Syracuse of a majority of that crowd. 

Beyond the one day of the ADA celebration where over 15 organizations put on our event–all of our organization’s issues continue, and we would benefit from the coverage of our struggles to save our health care, find jobs, educate our children and ensure community-wide accessibility of everything from curbs, to buses, to housing, to transit. 

We have very successfully worked with the county to make sure that the needs of the disabled are heard by its Emergency Management department–to avoid the kind of disparate impact on people with disabilities that disasters have had throughout our nation. 

Our coalition puts on an annual Community Forum on Disability Issues for all local candidates running for public office–city, county, state and federal. This event has been running since 1978, but receives little coverage. 

This is not an endorsement of any candidate–but I was struck by a recent pronouncement from Elizabeth Warren:  “All policy issues are disability policy issues. That’s why I make sure each of my plans addresses the disability community’s concerns. And when I built my disability plan, I reached out to the disability community to help build it.” https://twitter.com/ewarren/status/1225498436323172352

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