Friday, December 12, 2014

Now that's what I call news

The other day the local television stations all reported news that we here at East Niagara Post chose to ignore. I stand by that decision and I'd like to tell you why.

The news event that we decided you didn't need to know about? A "winter weather advisory" was in effect for the northtowns and all of East Niagara. I considered writing something up about it and then changed my mind.

Weather stories, believe it or not, are some of our most viewed stories here at ENP and deciding against running the "winter weather advisory" story probably cost of several hundred page views for the day. But I felt it wasn't newsworthy. And I don't want to post flashy "Danger-Will-Robinson" headlines for non-news.

Basically, the National Weather Service was advising the greater-Buffalo area that there was likely to be winter weather, including snow. Not a lot of snow. Not heavy snow. Not blowing snow. Just, ya know, snow. In December. Not news. And we respect you too much to try to blow it out of proportion for the purpose of propping our statistics up.

Inversely, sometimes we are questioned about why we run certain items that others feel aren't newsworthy — specifically certain police items. The answer to that question is actually pretty simple: because a report was generated.

We decided at the very beginning to run every police item. Every one. If the Niagara County Sheriff's Office or Lockport Police Department makes available an incident or arrest report, we report it. Even the things that I personally think are trivial, like aggravated unlicensed operation and possession of marijuana.

So why do we report them if even I think they're trivial? Because we don't want to be accused of picking and choosing. Our credibility with our readers is of the utmost importance. And while a blanket policy of "publish everything" might not make the accused (or their friends and family) happy, it's considerably easier to adhere to than deciding on a case-by-case basis of what arrests are important and what aren't.

On a personal note, I might not have a fancy car or a mansion, but I have my reputation and our "publish it all" policy means I'll never have to worry about being accused of "playing favorites" with arrest reports. Because I assure you, I've known several people whose names we've published in the police reports — some who I consider to be friends.

To summarize: Snow in December is not news. Getting arrested is.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Rights and wrongs: a.k.a. 'Never read the comments'

General stupidity is at an all-time high. Thanks to the Internet — and fueled by Facebook, idiots have found that they’re not alone and so they’re coming out of the woodwork, propped up by other idiots. They’ve learned that they can say the most ludicrous, hateful things and someone will applaud their “bravery” in taking on such a position.

Worse than that, certain sentiments that have been hidden in society have bubbled up to the surface, feeling the time of their revival is now.

I’m a news junkie. I read the news all day. From other local media to the New York Times, Fox News and USA Today. I’m constantly scouring the web for information. It is my addiction. Well, it’s one of my addictions.

I need to learn to leave well enough alone, though. I need to learn to read the story and close my browser window. Instead I find myself scrolling down. Because just like the other idiots out there, I want to see that people agree with my particular take on things. I want my own position to be validated.

Almost without exception, it is. There are always people who say in the comment section pretty much what I was thinking. But then there are also people who say the opposite.

Now, I’m not talking about a story about ponies where someone says they like white ponies and someone says they like brown ones. Well … actually, maybe I am.

When did it become OK to be racist again? Racism has never quite gone away. But in my lifetime, I’ve never seen it so popular. I’ve never seen it so accepted.

The recent acquittal of Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner has given the dumb masses a license to proudly trumpet their white pride in a manner I’ve only seen on old newsreels from the 1960s. Some of it, of course, is thinly veiled.

And some of it isn’t racist, it’s simply authoritarian: the belief that those in power can do no wrong. Statements like “he shouldn’t have broken the law if he didn’t want to die” and “if he hadn’t resisted arrest, he’d still be alive” anger me as much or more than the blatant racism that I’ve seen.

I think we’ve all grown accustomed to the phrase “the United States is a nation of laws.” And that it is. But it’s also a nation of rights. In fact, it was a nation of rights before the first law was ever passed by Congress. One of those rights should be the right to not get choked to death by a police officer over a petty violation on a New York street corner — or anywhere else. We could simplify it by calling it the “right to breathe.”

Personally, I’m not a fan of laws. Well, mostly, at least. Laws are written to the lowest common denominator. I can’t talk on my cell phone while I drive because some people are incapable of multitasking. Because other people have drug problems, I can’t sit in my basement and smoke pot while watching Star Wars. And because some people can’t control their dogs, I have to keep mine on a leash wherever we go. Rather than punishing those who actually do something wrong, we have criminalized things that could lead to something bad happening. Lowest. Common. Denominator.

Maybe we should replace the word "illegal" with "wrong" — as in "not (a) right." I'd be OK with that. Shooting someone is wrong. Killing someone is wrong. Hitting someone is wrong. Taking someone else's property. Harassing someone. Choking someone out. Pretty much things done to "wrong" someone else should be "wrongs." Then instead of "law enforcement" being asked to "enforce laws," they could be asked to "right wrongs." And since there's really nothing "wrong" with selling loose cigarettes on a street corner, Daniel Pantaleo would have had no reason to choke Eric Garner.

Our elected officials have taken police and asked them to control the people. They have no time to protect and serve. They're too busy enforcing laws. Laws with loopholes and silly reasoning.

So while I could be arrested for talking on the phone, walking my dog or smoking a joint, a New York City cop was absolved of any wrongdoing when his actions resulted in the death of another man. Because he "hadn't broken any laws."

That's just not right.

Scott Leffler doesn’t talk on his cell phone while driving, smoke pot in his basement or walk his dog without a leash. But mostly because Scott seldom drives, doesn’t have a basement or a dog. He also can’t breathe. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.