Friday, January 23, 2015

Sometimes it really is sunshine and roses

Most journalists are cynics. It comes from years of practice.

It comes from countless occasions of being told that the world is sunshine and roses only to be mired in experiences that say otherwise. It comes from being told a putt putt course in Niagara Falls is akin to Disney World. It comes from assurances of a year-round Christmas village being built in Lockport — that never happens. Or a Wizard of Oz theme park in Wheatfield — that never happens. It comes from lawsuits and scandal. It comes from an endless cycle of hope followed by disappointment.

Basically journalists are cynical because they see a lot more than the general public — and it’s not pretty. They’re cynical because they’re sick of having their hearts broken by politicians, businesses, athletes, etc.

So when a cynic like me gets excited about something, there’s probably something to it. And when a cynic like me gets annoyed with other people’s pessimism, that pessimism is probably way off base.

A week ago today kicked off a three-day hockey tournament in Lockport. It featured 10 teams, scores of players and a gleam in the eyes of Lockportians that I haven’t seen in a while … if ever. It featured the culmination of a decade-long plan to do something on a grand scale.

I spent nearly every waking hour from Friday afternoon through Sunday morning at Cornerstone CFCU Arena watching some world-class people put on a world-class hockey tournament. I was excited.

I ran into friends, neighbors, business owners, politicians. Almost all the people I’d hoped would come out and support the Lockport Express and the arena did so. Everyone was buzzing about how great the arena looked and how great the hockey was. People were proud to be from Lockport.

Over the course of the next few days, the buzz remained. The NA3EHL 2K15 Showcase Tournament (and Cornerstone Arena) was the talk of the town. There were some minor (legitimate) gripes here and there, but it was mostly sunshine and roses. Frankly, it deserved to be sunshine and roses.

I did run into a few people, however, who had nothing good to say. I also read some comments on social media that made me wonder if these people had actually bothered to A) visit the arena or B) take the time to learn how it all came together. Some people must really hate sunshine and roses.

I had one conversation with a prominent city resident who was harping on the cost of the arena and how long it will take to pay off the debt. To hear him tell it, the weekend showcase was a flop, and the arena will be bankrupt and boarded up by summer. I had to wonder in this man ever balanced a checkbook in his life because he seemed to have no concept of math.

Another conversation I had revolved around the fact that the City shouldn’t be in the hockey business. How dare they do away with the concerts that everyone loved and then spend $15 million on a hockey arena for some rich kids? — was the gist of the conversation. He couldn’t seem to grasp that the city didn’t spend $15 on the arena, let alone $15 million.

I know that Lockport’s been kicked while it was down. I know that things don’t always come up sunshine and roses here. But it’s nice when we can stand up and be proud. It’s nice when we can feel the sunshine and smell the roses.

For those of you determined to be doom and gloom, please keep your pessimism to yourself. Or start a club for like-minded people. You can call it the “He-man Lockport-haters Club.” You can hold meetings at that bar that you’re always talking about that went out of business in 1978. But please don’t invite me. I’m not interested.

Scott Leffler is a hockey fan who actually abhors sunlight and flowers but likes metaphors … and loves those who do love sunshine and roses. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post

Friday, January 09, 2015

We are all Charlie

Having done small-town news for the entirety of my news career, I sometimes forget what a dangerous profession it can be.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked in Ashland, Mansfield and Shelby, Ohio; as well as Cheektowaga, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, and Lockport. In that time, I’ve had a few threats — mostly of the non-violent kind — and I did have a pair of semi-automatic rifles pointed at me one night last March, but I’ve never actually been worried about going to work.

Some journalists, however, live under the constant threat of violence and even death. They do their job anyway.

You may not see my job as a noble profession. In fact, maybe to you I’m just a rabble rouser. But I’ve always looked at journalism as a necessary cog in the machine of freedom. And I’d like to think I do my part.

This past week offered two examples of the importance and danger of journalism.

The first was more humorous than anything, frankly, when a councilman in Maryland threatened to sue a newspaper for printing his name without permission. Kirby Delauter got a very public lesson in the First Amendment, later offering an apology along with a statement that he knew that it was the reporter’s job to print his name when it concerned county government.

The second was the Wednesday terrorist attack in Paris of the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly satire magazine that dared to print cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed despite threats against their lives and a prior attack in 2011.

Eight members of the Charlie Hebdo staff, two police officers and two bystanders were killed in the attack when three radical Muslims shot them during a weekly staff meeting.

In response, editorial cartoonists around the world proclaimed “Je Suis Charlie,” in one manner or another, including Adam Zyglis of the Buffalo News, whose illustration on Wednesday showed a depiction of the Statue of Liberty with an ink pen in place of the torch, along with the statement “Our sacred gift from France.”

Even though I work in Lockport, New York, I, too, am Charlie. I hold the responsibility of standing up for freedom through my pen … or keyboard, as they case may be. The tragedy in France served as a humble reminder of that.

The staff of Charlie Hebdo, which in French means “Charlie Weekly,” continued on this week, vowing to put out a new edition on time and increasing the planned circulation of their magazine more than tenfold. A bold move in the wake of the senseless tragedy and in light of the fact that the terrorist suspects were still at large when they made that declaration.

Some people may want to politicize the tragedy, using it to condemn Islam. Others got on their high horse, upset that President Barack Obama didn’t use the right phrasology (“terrorist attack”) fast enough. In their pettiness, they lose sight of the fact that 12 people died defending free speech everywhere.

Just as first responders across the country stood in solidarity with their fallen New York City brethren on Sept. 11, 2001, I stand in solidarity with the slain journalists who senselessly died on Wednesday. As an American — and a defender of free speech — I hope you would, too.

Scott Leffler is the news editor of East Niagara Post. He is Charlie. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler. 

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.

Friday, January 02, 2015

New Year's column ... take two

Holy cow! It’s 2015.

I usually wait until the last minute to write my column — for a variety of reasons. For one, I want to be able to touch on the latest news if something happens that I want to comment on. I hate talking about one thing if everyone is talking about something else. Second, I want my column to reflect my mood at the time of publishing it.

For the sake of expediency, I pre-wrote today’s column. I sat down at my kitchen table Tuesday night and wrote about New Year’s and resolutions and things I want to change and blah blah blah. It was decent … as my columns go.

About half way through Thursday I became concerned that my pre-fab column might not do. My mood was changed. And there were fun things I wanted to share. But I wasn’t sure. Who knows what my mood might be this morning. Well … as you can tell, I’m telling you about the column I *had* written, so … that should tell you I decided to make the change.

See, the column you’re not reading was kind of vanilla. It was absent any real personality. In retrospect, it was almost a column for the sake of a column. “You can’t not have a New Year’s column, Scott,” I said to myself. Yeah. I talk to myself. Most geniuses do. And so do I.

Nothing in “old column” is untrue. It just wasn’t exciting. And really, I can sum it up quickly: I want to be the best me I can be in 2015. Every hat I wear, I want to make it look good. Blah. There were also some tidbits about news people doing the news because we want to make the world a better place. All true. But … blah.

Instead, let me tell you about my first day of 2015. It was fun. I was happy. And if every day could be like Thursday was, I’d gladly “Groundhog Day” it.

Ignoring the fact that Wednesday night was an absolute blast; There were five bars, french fries, chicken wings, about 483 glasses of Coke (or Pepsi, depending on the bar), and one accidental sip of some drink at a bar. To the girl whose drink it was, I’m so sorry. I should have bought her a new one. She just sat there staring as I drank it. We left that bar soon after. (Sorry!)

Then midnight strikes. I enjoyed the strike of midnight at a place I’m comfortable — with people I like. We watched the ball drop on television. Then saw 24 minutes of credits on Channel 7, including some super slo-mo action at the end of the credits, no doubt to get the local affiliate clock synched with the network. But it was odd. Most people might have not noticed it or written it off to the alcohol, but in my sobriety, it was obvious. And oddly funny.

We waited until closing time and then cashed in our golden ticket to the 21st Amendment. We had been there earlier in the evening and got a personal invite to return from Jon George, owner of the bar.

Walking in, it looked like everyone in Lockport was already there. A lot of people I knew. A lot of people I didn’t know. Business owners, emergency responders and an elected official who bought us a drink despite my insistence that we pay for our own. (Drinking Coke, I didn’t feel *too* guilty, I guess, although Journalism 101 taught me never to accept “gifts” from sources.)

It was nice to be out. Lockport was fun. Everyone was in a great mood, save for one guy who was sleeping on the bar. He was asked to “celebrate” the rest of the night elsewhere. We left around 3:30 a.m. Not bad for a Wednesday night.

Skip ahead eight hours or so and we’re back out and about, grabbing our first coffee of the new year. A check of the police blotter, some photos of ice skaters at the arena, a fire, some stories posted, etc.

And then Heather and I shuffled off to Buffalo for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s inauguration at the Buffalo and Erie County History Museum. And what happened next totally made my day.

We walked into the museum around 4, when press was asked to arrive. In the foyer of the museum were a handful of press people, including a cameraman for Channel 2, one for Channel 4 and one for Channel 7. This was the queue. Where media waits to have their credentials checked. It’s standard operating procedure at political events.

So we walk in and are prepared to wait when a former colleague and friend who was working the event says, “Hey Scott! Come right in.” We walk by the “major media” outlets and into the event. Sometimes knowing the right people is key.

Heather got a great vantage point for photos and I sat with the rest of the press ready to live tweet the event. Byron Brown, Kathy Hochul, Andrew Cuomo, etc. Read the story … or read the tweets if you want a play-by-play.

After the inauguration, I went home, drank some more coffee, wrote some stories and eventually went to bed … but not before posting to my Facebook: “The first day of 2015 was damn near perfect.”

And after a perfect day, a pre-fab column just wouldn’t suffice.

Happy New Year everyone. May all your days be as good as my Thursday.

Scott Leffler is thrilled to be news editor of East Niagara Post. And generally pleased with life. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler

This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.