04/18/15 8:00am
04/18/2015 8:00 AM

baby column

Kids, by nature, are scorekeepers. Meaning they’re constantly comparing what they have — or more specifically, what they don’t have — with other kids, and keeping track.

I know this because I was a kid and I knew plenty of other kids, too. We all kept score, whether it was a blockbuster movie another classmate got to see first, a neighbor’s vacation to Disney World or trip to Action Park, or everyone having Reebok Pumps except for you. (more…)

12/05/14 2:31pm
12/05/2014 2:31 PM

Clay Bennett editorial cartoon

You wouldn’t want to see your teenage nephew’s life derailed. You’ve watched him grow up. You know he’s a smart kid with a ton of potential; he’s just run into some trouble at home lately.

At this point, an arrest for, say, buying a case of beer with a fake ID — technically a felony — could ruin his chances of getting into college.

Now imagine you’re a cop and that kid behind the wheel of the car you just stopped reminds you of your nephew — or son, or younger cousin. Maybe you try to do right by him.

I’ve benefited several times from what I’ve long called the “nephew” effect. Many of my friends have, too. We were often together when police would stop us back in the 1990s, whether it was for using a fake ID or some other stupid thing teenagers do.

There was one time we got pulled over, still under age, in a remote area upstate (don’t ask) and were questioned by two officers who found bottles of booze in our trunk. They scared us a bit, sure, but we weren’t arrested. We weren’t even ticketed. In fact — though maybe this might not have been the best call — they let us keep the booze.

I’ve often thought about these times in my youth and how fortunate I was. But at some point, I realized, I probably would have been arrested — I might even have a criminal record today — if I were black.

It appears I’m not alone in my thoughts.

After a grand jury declined to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the killing of Eric Garner, a profound conversation started in the social media world, specifically on Twitter. The site erupted with people using the hashtag #crimingwhilewhite to highlight posts about their own personal experiences as white people committing crimes and how their experiences with the cops differed from those of so many black people in the United States.

Here are some examples:

I also chimed in on Twitter, calling the leniency shown toward white people the “you remind me of my nephew” effect.

It’s just easier to understand and sympathize with someone who looks like you and your family members — maybe even resembles you as a young person. I think it’s fair to say that, growing up,most white cops didn’t have many black teenagers at their family parties or barbecues, so their experiences with them might be mostly negative.

Racism, conscious or unconscious, doesn’t end with policing. I know this firsthand from watching hours upon hours of arraignment proceedings in courtrooms throughout the region, mostly when I was a writer with the Daily News. In Suffolk County Criminal Court especially, the racism on display became a sort of sad running joke among the reporters as we observed black suspects being treated differently from white ones.

And the differences were stark.

“Speak up!” the judges barked at the scared black teenagers.

The white kids were often spoken to like wayward, well, nephews.

For example: “I really hope I don’t have to see you again here, Charles.”

In my experience, everyday white privilege has much more to do with human nature — and the occasional Police Benevolent Association card — than with money or powerful connections, though I don’t doubt the latter play a huge role in higher profile cases.

But here’s the thing: The type of common sense approach to policing that I experienced as a youth was not just better for me; it’s better for all of society. So long as no one’s getting hurt, keeping as many people as possible out of the criminal justice system is an overall benefit. Whether you share my opinions or not, I’d like to think I’m a productive member of society today. Same for my friends. My one buddy is a police sergeant. Another is a dedicated youth hockey coach. Two others each found success in the financial world.

Many young black kids don’t get the same breaks early in life that white kids do (or worse) and there’s no doubt that a few arrests as a young person can interfere with living productive, fulfilling lives as adults. Black or white, once you’re arrested or convicted of a crime, it’s hard to get any leniency during subsequent traffic stops.

From slavery to terrorism to Jim Crow to discrimination in banking and real estate, inequitable policing remains today a very effective form of repression, even if it’s not deliberate.

If the rest of us can begin to acknowledge this problem now, it will only make for a better, safer society moving forward.

As Neal Taflinger wrote on Twitter as @NealTaflinger last Thursday:

“#CrimingWhileWhite is like introducing yourself at AA. Self-awareness is a huge hurdle, but it’s just the first step.”

Michael White, editorMichael White is the editor of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at 631-298-3200, or email him at [email protected].

07/19/14 8:00am
07/19/2014 8:00 AM
Migrant farmworkers at a North Fork vineyard. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Migrant farmworkers at a North Fork vineyard. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

It was a sunny August afternoon last year when we at the paper got word of police activity — a possible drug bust — in Mattituck. It turned out a 2-year-old boy had fallen from a second story window, dropping through open Bilco doors and landing in a basement below. He was airlifted to Stony Brook University Medical Center and, miraculously, escaped any major injuries.

Who wouldn’t say Aug. 27, 2013, was a good day for our area?

Well, plenty of people, apparently.

You see, the boy’s name was Javier Cruz. (more…)

06/07/14 8:00am
06/07/2014 8:00 AM
The namesake Great Rock at the 10th hole of the course in Wading River. (Courtesy photo)

The namesake Great Rock at the 10th hole of the course in Wading River. (Courtesy photo)

Last year was a tough one for golf courses in Riverhead Town. Three closed, including Long Island National, which was purchased in a bankruptcy sale. The other two were Calverton Links and Great Rock. While the courses might have all had their individual problems, it’s clear the bold predictions that were made more than a decade earlier for the town’s golf industry are falling way short. This was back when News-Review coverage of course openings carried headlines like these:

“Myrtle Beach North?”

“Scotland west?”

“National pride” (more…)

12/12/13 3:30pm
12/12/2013 3:30 PM
FLICKR PHOTO/cogdogblog

FLICKR PHOTO/cogdogblog

Personality. There used to be a lot of it in local radio. It wasn’t just about the music, but the jocks, the people between the tracks. They shopped at the same stores we did. Went to the same clubs. We drove by their offices. They were like pals. The “people” were what differentiated the stations from the mix tapes.

Michael White, editor

Michael White

There was plenty of news to be had as well. WGBB, for instance, was one of the biggest players in the Long Island news game, I’m told. Based in Merrick, the AM station had a packed newsroom in the 1970s, long before Channel 12 or the Internet.

“Election night was always a long haul,” recalled former WGBB newsman Gary Lewi. “We were logging 23-hour days but for us we were at the center of the action. The station only had 1,000 watts, but with the population density the way it was, you had an audience.”

Gary has fond memories of working with guys like Ed Grilli and Larry Barr. The three called their little news crew “Lewi’s Barr & Grilli.”

But something happened in the early 1980s that changed the landscape. Those in broadcasting know it as deregulation.

“It used to be that stations were mandated by the FCC to carry a certain amount of locally originated material.” Gary told me. “These were public airwaves and you had to demonstrate you were filling the mandate of a public good.”

Deregulation stripped away those rules, he said, with the idea that market forces would define what’s aired. Most stations stopped spending money on local content.

“You had collateral damage,” he said.

For Gary and many others, that meant their jobs.

But the changes also robbed whole communities of a voice. Sure, no one’s getting rich interviewing the head of the Lions Club, but it helped satisfy the FCC and contributed to the greater good. What’s that worth?

For Cindy Clifford of Riverhead, co-host of the WALK Breakfast Club morning show on 97.5 FM, the bigger blow to radio through deregulation came in the form of increasingly relaxed rules that allowed huge conglomerates to gobble up more and more stations.

“Rather than it being local radio, suddenly you’ve got a guy from California telling the stations what to do, and it changes things,” she said. “And a conglomerate can have one person doing the job at five or six stations. There’s a lot of stations in the country where you could tune in and hear the same guy. But you miss that local connection. It changes the relationship between the audience and the voice. Most of these stations don’t even have any people in on weekends.”

Yet two East End stations are exceptions to the rule: WLNG in Sag Harbor and WRIV in Riverhead. (And, unlike conglomerate-run stations, the locals produce local content on weekends.) At WRIV, Johnny Niecko, who announced recently that he’s retiring, has been hosting “Sunday Polka Time” for 31 years. Pat Kelly, who just completed his 26th season broadcasting Riverhead football games for WRIV and will now move on to basketball, has come to be known as the voice of the Blue Waves.

There’s also a connection between the stations. WRIV general manager Bruce Tria, who hosts the weekday morning “Dawn Patrol,” got his first radio job at WLNG, where he learned what “works” from local legend Paul Sidney.

Gary Sapiane started at WLNG in 1966, when he was still in high school. He never left, and he now runs the show as president and general manager. This year, WLNG celebrated 50 years on the air.

“We never deregulated during deregulation,” he said. “For us, being live and local works. That’s what Paul Sidney always believed in when he was alive. People want to tune in to hear that kind of stuff — birthdays, lost dogs. With the big conglomerates, what happens is that they move to voicetrack all day and there’s nobody in the building.”

Local content is also something satellite radio and streamers like Pandora can’t compete with, the experts point out.

As for news, Long Island radio could be coming full circle. The owners of rock station WRCN 103.9 FM announced last month a coming change in format to Long Island news and talk.

“Long Islanders are starving for local news and information,” John Caracciolo of JVC Media, which owns the station, wrote on his Facebook page. “Why should we have to wait 22 minutes to hear about the world when all we really want is Islip to Southampton?”

The experts tell me there’s a market for this, but to be successful, JVC Media will have to commit to the locally originated content and not rely on syndicated shows.

“If they do the right thing and work hard and diligently,” said Gary Sapiane, “why shouldn’t it work?”

“A lot of people still rely on radio,” assured Cindy Clifford. “We still have a lot of people tune in to school closings when they can easily get that information from five other sources. We still have people asking for happy birthdays.

“There’s just something about hearing it on the radio.”

Michael White is the editor of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at [email protected] or (631) 298-3200 . Follow him on Twitter at @mikewhite31.

04/14/13 7:00am
04/14/2013 7:00 AM
MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | The Whig editors weren't sure what to call me, so they went with Whig Correspondent.

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | The Cecil Whig editors weren’t sure what to call me when I was showing up every day without ever being hired, so they went with ‘Whig Correspondent.’

I wasn’t sure if the young people in the classroom were going to get the “Seinfeld” reference. I figured the St. John’s University journalism students I was invited to speak with Monday had to be 5, maybe 6 years old when that show went off the air.

I was in Queens to talk about the art of interviewing, which I did, and the students gave me their undivided attention. But they appeared most interested in how to land a job. I didn’t blame them; they know they’re entering a competitive field in a down economy.

What I told them was pretty simple, and it probably applies to most things relating to building a career and a happy life: They have to take chances — and, I guess, be a little nuts.

I first got into journalism my junior year of college, when I took a Reporter 101 course and began writing for the school newspaper, fittingly called The Review. Although I was passed over for a city editor job at The Review the next year, I had compiled a bunch of decent clips come graduation, and the paper’s editor-in-chief referred me to a small daily newspaper in neighboring Cecil County, Md.

Soon after graduation, I interviewed at The Cecil Whig — which covered a rural and suburban area not much different from Riverhead Town. There were no jobs open at the time, the Whig’s editor told me, but he asked if I would be interested in freelancing and gave me a story about gypsy moths to work on. (I now realize the assignment was probably a tryout.) The editors liked my story and told me I did a good job; it even ran on the next day’s cover.

After that — like Seinfeld’s neighbor Kramer, who started showing up for work at a company called Brandt Leland, even though he’d never been hired there — I began arriving at the Whig’s newsroom every morning in a suit and tie. I figured I would sit at one of the empty desks until I got an assignment. And if I didn’t, I would go home at 5 p.m. I can still recall the surprise of managing editor David Healey when he saw me that first day.

On Monday, the St. John’s students quickly got the Kramer comparison. Many were laughing and a few even yelled out some memorable quotes from the episode. I went on to tell them I “worked” every day at the Maryland newspaper for three or four months. The students continued to laugh.

Later in life, I came to realize that the editors there probably had little choice but to keep giving me assignments as if I were a staffer. They were nice people; how could they tell a kid who showed up every morning in a suit and did a decent job to leave — even if my weekly freelance pay wasn’t in the budget? (At $40 a story, it started to add up.)

Sometime that September, when the Whig staff’s political reporter left for a job elsewhere, editor Terry Peddicord said something along the lines of, “I guess this is your position; you’ve already been doing the job for months.”

My faux job didn’t end like Kramer’s, and that was a good thing. As Kramer was being fired, he famously explained, “I don’t even work here.” But I needed to pay my back rent, and I managed to make a career out of my own goofy stunt.

I also told the St. John’s students that back in college, when I finally chose to study journalism, people came out of the woodwork to discourage me — most likely not on purpose. People, I found, just loved to point out how competitive a given field is and how it’s so tough to break into. But I was pretty good at newspaper writing. Besides, there were people in every city in the country working in journalism. What did they have on me?

I was fortunate enough to ignore my classmates and even the misguided adults, but I know that more often than not, students and young people get discouraged instead of sticking to their dreams. So I was glad to be able to offer some words of encouragement on Monday.

And provide a laugh.

Michael White, editor

MICHAEL WHITE

Michael White is the Riverhead News-Review editor. He can be reached at [email protected] or (631) 298-3200, ext. 152. 

@mikewhite31

12/07/12 7:30am
12/07/2012 7:30 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Reko, a 5-year-old male American Staffordshire Terrier, when he was in the shelter in 2010.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Reko, an American Staffordshire Terrier, at the dog shelter in 2010. He was later sent to the Kent Animal Shelter for adoption.

Animal lovers. Animal activists. Cat ladies. Dog zealots. Nut-jobs.

Michael White

Call them what you want, but the people who have been condemning the town’s animal shelter are not going anywhere. This is a virtual sit-in, being waged with constant phone calls, letters and emails to the town’s elected and appointed leaders, as well as to the media.

You can also call these people bullies and ask why they’ve set up shop in Riverhead Town while demanding its taxpayers give up more of their hard-earned money to care for animals when other troubles warrant more attention. But dismissing the animal advocates won’t do any good. They’re activists, and this is their cause. Whether you deem it worthy or not.

And they can bring the heat. Just look what happened to the previous animal control officer/shelter head. He’s gone now, having resigned because he couldn’t take the constant criticism, second-guessing, name-calling and public humiliation.

But it wasn’t his fault. The town’s antiquated system of having dog catchers run the pound and answer to a police chief is what set him up to fail. It’s not the 1950s anymore and this dog pound needs to become an actual shelter — that’s basically the zealots’ demand — complete with properly trained and experienced management, an organized adoption mechanism and a community outreach program to help educate the next generation to properly care for pets, and thus prevent more abused dogs from ending up in shelters. Only then will the activists leave us all alone.

In a system of government controlled in large part by special interests, there are plenty of less worthy causes to cave to.

The pet industry is constantly evolving. (Remember when you could buy a puppy in the mall?) And today’s model shelter operation, described above, is just the latest piece of the puzzle, so to speak, as we strive as a country to treat animals more humanely. Simply put, how we treat animals is a reflection of our overall “goodness” as a society.

The philosopher might say positive treatment of animals is a good in and of itself, and thus begets more goodness, which benefits everyone.

Some have argued, through letters to the editor and our online comments section, that spending so much time and money on animal welfare is a waste because so many human beings are going hungry and homeless. Stop. Certainly a town and its people can strive to help human beings and animals alike. Some advocates prefer to help people, others are more suited to helping animals. In the end, that’s their call.

To me, the argument that we should forgo helping animals because some people are in need holds as much water as saying it’s wrong to build parks, or for someone to buy a Rolex or go skiing, when so many people are starving in this world. Many people value and care for animals.

The town should strive to do the same to the best of its ability, as other towns have done. But doing so takes money, and it all boils down to priorities. Simply put — judging by the dollar figures alone — Riverhead’s dog shelter is not a priority.

A News-Review special report in 2010, found that neighboring Southampton Town spends about $500,000 a year in taxpayer money to fund its shelter operations. Southold Town spends about $360,000, not including debt service on a fairly new building, and Riverhead spends about $200,000.

The inadequate funding here means problems keep arising, like a mauling and a sudden staff exodus that leaves the entire shelter to one part-time worker. That’s why the zealots are constantly up in arms.

Both Southold and Southampton have enlisted nonprofit groups to run their shelters. Riverhead could do the same, but town Councilman James Wooten has said it will take about $300,000 to get a group like the North Fork Animal Welfare League, which runs Southold’s shelter, to take over Riverhead’s operation. The challenge is to come up with that extra cash, and during tough times.

Here’s my idea. As was mentioned in a recent News-Review editorial, the town has been swatting down proposals from hobbyist groups looking to use some open space at EPCAL to do things like hold autocross competitions, fly model airplanes and operate a paragliding school — to name a few.

We’ve all seen with the car-storage operation at the former Grumman property that things can happen there, and quickly, without state interference. So let’s let some of these smaller groups rent space at town-owned land at EPCAL, then earmark the proceeds for the shelter; $20,000 here and there can add up quickly. One way or another, there’s no doubt the town must act to get its dog shelter problems under control.

If not for the activists, then because it’s simply the right and decent thing to do.

Michael White is the News-Review editor. He can be reached at (631) 298-3200, ext. 152 or at [email protected]