Wednesday, October 13, 2010

OK. Here's one of the things I have wanted to write.

In the August 26 issue, the Olive Press featured an article entitled "An Appeal to Readers." (Can't link to it because that archived issue returns an error message.) It was basically reaching out to readers to find something -- I couldn't really decipher exactly what. I think it was either investors / advertisers or volunteers to help with production, or maybe all three.

On September 8, I read a cryptic post on facebook that suggested "our hometown newspaper" was "fading away." I posted a comment about what that meant which did not elicit a response from the elusive FB group owner.

An issue or two later (can't check whether it was in the next issue because that archived issue also returns an error message) there was an announcement that the October 7 issue would be the last one.

Finally, in the October 7 issue, the demise of the paper, and its slightly older sister, is chronicled in many articles, the editorial, etc.

I take no joy in having newspapers fold, but I see the handwriting on the wall even for major dailies, so it isn't exactly a shock. The OP could be a fun read, the letters column in particular. I think over the years it did improve, particularly the web presence, when it added PDF of the full version.

But I would not be honest if I didn't mark the occasion by ruminating a bit on my feelings about the alleged "hometown newspaper." Frankly, it never could be described with those words by me or a lot of folks I know. I recall being disgusted by both the POV and incredibly sloppy errors when it debuted. It seemed to be just another snarky take on the town, but instead of the frame being a swanky cocktail party, it was in print, the assault sent directly to everyone's mailbox.

Until recently, the website was an abbreviated version (and there are many issues that return error messages sprinkled through the archives), so I can't link to this either, but I remember a photograph feature in the early issues labeled "Eyesores of Olive." The pictures were of falling down houses, barns, shed, stores - places some remembered before they started leaning, and others that had been piles of wood with nature returning for many years. It was so insulting. Those places are not eyesores, they are memories, graves, time marching on, our collective experience. That's something that the OP always insisted they were providing - the veiled suggestion being that we had not been an insightful community before their sage commentary.

Does that seem like a reckless assertion on my part? Take a look at this editorial, from the January 4, 2004 issue: "In our very first issue, we told you our agenda was about building community, and we think we’ve been pretty successful doing that. A community isn’t a bunch of people who happen to live near each other. It’s a place where people understand that part of their lives is a partnership with others who share all the positive things that give them reason to be where they are, and whatever problems are also their neighbor’s problems. We’ve frequently heard comments to the effect that many folks barely realized Olive was actually its own town before the paper came along. While there is a certain humor to that, it does tell us that something very much like what we’re doing was overdue."

I wonder who barely realized Olive was actually a town before the OP came along?

In the first issue (January 2, 2003), the editorial says: "Call us impatient, but we figure after 179 years of being a town, it's time Olive had a regular newspaper of its own." That irritated those of us who now don't mourn the OP. We had newspapers before. Granted, the Onteora Record wasn't exclusively Olive focused, but you could hardly call the OP exclusively about our town, either. It was essentially the Phoenicia Times with a different masthead, and a couple of unique articles. The majority of content was identical. The Ulster County Townsman was Shandaken based, but in many ways, it covered the spirit of the town better than the OP. Its demise was sadder. Then, in the "olden days," the Freeman had columnists that covered town highlights. Sure, it was mostly social happenings...but it reflected our character.

That same OP editorial lists a bunch of names that were unfamiliar (and a couple that were known from their association with the Woodstock Times) and then this incredible assertion: "Anyway, the point's only that while this may be the very first issue of The Olive Press, we're already up to speed, and hardly anyone knows the neighborhood or the territory better."

Really? They knew the neighborhood and territory better than people who actually lived in the town? Or were elected officials in town government? Or ran a general store for years? Or had every single family member graduate from the school district? Or had hiked every mountain? Or had been writing things about Olive for longer than any of the listed writers had even known the town existed? Huh.

Oh, I know! They knew the neighborhood and territory better than those people who barely knew Olive was a town before the OP graced us with its appearance.

The following year, in an article about the movie Wendigo, the filmmaker is quoted "I mean, in 1912 New York City phoned the mayor up here and said, 'We want to take over your towns.' The Ashokan deserves more attention than I gave it in the movie. It was incredible. They bought your house, but they gave so little to people for their homes, considering their families may have come over on the Mayflower."

Now I understand this is a quote, so maybe the reporter didn't feel the need to fact check it. I also understand the filmmaker thought he was being empathetic toward town residents. But it is so incredibly lacking in veracity that it jumps off the page in its ignorance. That isn't how the Reservoir construction played out, at all. First, Olive has never had a mayor, not now, not then, not ever. Second, in 1912, I doubt the NYC mayor could have phoned anyone in Olive, mayor or not. Third, in 1912 the Reservoir was already under construction. Negotiations had concluded years before. Fourth, I suppose there are some families who could trace ancestors back to the Mayflower, but it is such a simplistic myth; it neglects the Dutch and Palatine roots.

This article, from the April 10, 2008 issue, really left me shaking my head. In a story about the NYC-owned bridges in the town, there are numerous quotes from people recollecting when the Traver Hollow Bridge was suddenly declared unsafe and closed while a new one was built during the 1970s. From the article "Anyone who has gazed down into the rocky canyon below the Traver Hollow Bridge can readily appreciate the dimensions of the feat of racing down and back up that terrain, lugging a heavy oxygen tank. "John and I ran it from there, switching (the oxygen gear) back and forth up to the house..."

Now, I can only assume the quote was either incorrect (very likely) or was intended to pull the reporter's leg and see how gullible he was (in that case, very) - because there is no way anyone ran oxygen tanks down and up the Traver Hollow. It's true that the bridge was closed to motorized traffic, even emergency vehicles. Yes, we rode the school bus from West Shokan to Boiceville by going across the reservoir in Shokan, and yes, it was a long hassle. I remember it well, the bus turned around on 28A at the bridge. I fell asleep every day on the bus (always an owl) and missed it entirely probably 2-3 times per week. But you could walk or bicycle over the bridge. I did it many times. If oxygen was needed on the opposite side, I'm sorry - it was carried across the bridge on foot. Not as fast or easy as driving it - but certainly not a mountain hike.

You could open up any issue and be greeted by a dozen howlers just like the Reservoir make believe and the bridge revisionism. Spotting them was almost a game, sort of like the scavenger hunt in Highlights magazine.

This site has a longer version of the "It's Over..." piece from the October 7 edition. What has been edited out is interesting.

This: "(A rival independent Shandaken-based newspaper, the Ulster County Townsman, died last year after half a century of publication.)

This: "Throughout their short lifespans, the Phoenicia Times and Olive Press have earned a reputation for anti-establishment leanings and lefty politics. (In 2006, a cameo appearance by Powers in a cranky New York Times column about Phoenicia propelled the paper into a brief war with the right-leaning Ulster County Townsman.)"

I guess the OP was uncomfortable about reminding readers of their disdain at that time for the Townsman.

How about this: "The two newspapers have gotten in trouble for not taking stands, too. (As every reporter finds out sooner or later, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.) 'They were angry about the way I kept describing [the Large Parcel debate] in these flat terms that didn't take sides."

Oh yeah? I call BS. This, from a January 20, 2005 editorial, sounds like taking sides to me: "It is fundamentally unreasonable that similar properties in adjacent towns pay wildly different taxes to support the same school system."

Or this, from November 11, 2004: "Even in Olive, some of the anger and the militancy surrounding the large parcel issue is beginning to soften, as, we think, it should."

This "memoir" would not be complete without mentioning my interactions with the letters column over the years. I've created a label for my posts about those occasions. The letters column was usually quite lively. There were some serial writers, unfortunately, and they came off as obsessed nutjobs - I was careful to not become one (although it was tempting at times).

In the last issue's editorial, it says: "For our occasionally imperfect coverage and whatever errors and omissions we're managed over nearly ten years, I apologize." Is this me wearing a red dress to a funeral? I guess so. I apologize.

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