For seven-plus years, many of you have opened up Yorktown News, flipped to the opinion section and read the columns of Andy Bazzo and Jim Martorano.
With their own unique voices and different ideologies, they served to bring balance to our opinion section. What I mean by that, of course, is that Andy was our conservative columnist while Jim represented the liberal side.
For the most part, it worked. Though they sometimes weighed in on local and county issues, they kept mostly to state and national politics.
Over time, the point-counterpoint formula we had set out to create fell by the wayside. Though Jim’s ideologies remained the same, he would often find himself returning to some of his other favorite topics: history, philosophy and science. He would also interview Yorktown “gems” and some candidates for elective office.
Andy, though, continued with his usual column, which created a bit of a dilemma. We heard from many readers who would say Andy was too conservative while Jim wasn’t liberal enough. Because of that, our opinion section didn’t truly have balance.
So, about four years ago, we brought on a second Jim—Jim McKean—to play foil to Andy. This arrangement was good until it wasn’t. In one of my first weeks after being promoted to editor of the paper, I perhaps let the second Jim go a bit far in his criticism of a local elected official, which put us in hot water, forcing us to part ways. Talk about trial by fire!
Many viewed us as a paper with conservative leanings, so this only added fuel to the fire. We were now seen as the paper that censored a liberal columnist while Andy’s columns would now go unchecked.
We heard this criticism a lot, and we offered some of our biggest critics the chance to fill that void, but nobody took us up on the offer. Writing a weekly political column is quite a commitment. Not many people want to invite what writing for a newspaper brings into their life, especially when it comes to a polarizing topic like politics. I still never get used to the hate mail.
So, we went back to the drawing board, looking for a Yorktown-based, thick-skinned, well-written liberal who would take strong positions on current events and didn’t mind making enemies of their neighbors.
Well, for the last three years, we never quite found Andy’s true opposite in the paper, and the criticisms persisted. I occasionally published columns from Bernie Kosberg, who fits the bill and writes for sister paper Mahopac News. However, Bernie would often write about Mahopac and Putnam issues, so it wasn’t a perfect fit.
Everything changed about three months ago when a reader wrote to us and told us that Andy had lifted portions of his column from Rush Limbaugh’s website. We investigated that specific claim and, regrettably, it was true. We continued to investigate other columns going back several months and we discovered other instances where Andy had passed off other people’s ideas as his own, sometimes verbatim. Sometimes it would be the whole column, other times it would be a paragraph or two.
In short, he plagiarized, which is an unforgivable sin in this industry.
We had no desire to embarrass Andy, who is a person I’ve gotten to know very well in my five-plus years working at Yorktown News. He’s not a bad person and I believe people deserve second chances, even if it wouldn’t be with us.
However, we knew his absence would be noticed. So, in a one-sentence note on the lead page of the opinion section, we related what had happened and said that Andy would be indefinitely suspended. Apparently, based on the dozens of you who have called, emailed and stopped me in person, that note was so small that most of you missed it.
Well, Andy is gone and will not be returning to Yorktown News. So, I set out to find his replacement, which proved difficult. As I said earlier, it’s not easy to find someone who’s willing to share their political views on a weekly basis. In this climate, doing so can cost you more than your friends. If you’re a small business owner, it can take food off your table.
Luckily for me, Jim helped me prolong my decision-making process because he generally kept to writing about other things. When he did touch on national issues, I borrowed a conservative columnist from North Salem News, another sister paper.
In the absence of Andy, though, we’ve gone from being a conservative-leaning paper to being a “liberal rag,” according to some of you. I realized long ago that I shouldn’t take these labels too personally (even though I do). We’re whatever people need us to be. We’re an easy target because we generally don’t hit back.
I’ve been called a “carpetbagger” even though I’ve lived in Yorktown for 28 of my 31 years. I’ve been accused, by both parties, of being in the pocket of the other party. I’ve been accused by one business organization of favoring another business organization. I’ve even been accused of favoring one school district over another. My corruption knows no bounds.
My point is that there are no perfect solutions and people will always find flaws in our coverage, fair or not.
Regardless, in my struggle to find Andy’s replacement, I had an epiphany. What if we stop writing about national politics altogether in the opinion section of Yorktown News? Instead, I would have my columnists focus on issues paramount to Yorktown and Westchester. Believe me, there is no shortage of topics in those areas.
I wasn’t naive enough to think national politics would never come up, of course. Some things have far-reaching implications and are too big to ignore. However, no longer would we have thousand-word columns dedicated to Russian election-rigging, Trump tweets, InfoWars, Planned Parenthood and so on. There are a million and one other publications that publish information and opinions about those topics and, as a hyperlocal paper, we have the opportunity—not the restriction—to write about our community and our neighbors. If you want to write about a national topic, find a way to make it relate to Yorktown. I believe when people get our paper in the mail, that’s what they expect. We are Yorktown News, after all. You wouldn’t expect our sports writers to cover the Yankees, would you?
Additionally, as I said before, seeking “balance” is tough business. It’s an ideal that, for the reasons I just said, is not necessarily attainable by any media organization, no matter how hard they may try. Balance is in the eye of the beholder. If we did add a conservative columnist, he or she might not be conservative enough or they could be too conservative.
I make no bones about my preference. I would prefer my columnists to write with a focus on local issues. When I expressed this to Jim Martorano, he disagreed. I asked him to write his rebuttal here:
I have been asked to write an argument supporting the idea that columns in the Yorktown News may contain on occasion references to national issues. Any newspaper has the right to structure its format as it sees fit. So it is with the Yorktown News. However, when Yorktown News or any newspaper chooses its columnists, it is hoped that these choices are based on the ability of the columnist to present cogent, well-thought-out ideas on matters that a reader may find interesting or even compelling.
As for politics, during my seven years of writing a weekly column, I have never endorsed a candidate. I feel it is not my place to promote one candidate over another. Consequently, I have given equal time to candidates of all political stripes in the hope that by so doing I provide a service to the reader who must make the ultimate judgment.
My columns have delved into philosophy, science, personal experiences, history and a whole host of other matters in a manner that I hope was respectful, insightful and for me intensely personal. I have no interest in trying to persuade anyone to any particular point of view, but rather I have attempted to write a memoir-type column, which I pray has been enjoyed by at least some of our readership.
Now it is proposed that the columnists restrict themselves to local issues since national issues are covered elsewhere. I object on a number of levels. First, it is unhealthy in a democracy to begin restricting what can and cannot be written. Second, national issues affect us locally. We do not live in a vacuum. Third, who’s to say what is “national” and what is not? Local laws, local budgets, county laws, county budgets are reflective of policies and politics which often have federal fingerprints on them. In short, putting “blinders” on columnists is ill-advised and deprives our readership of what may be a new and refreshing point of view.
I would like to humbly continue my columns constrained only by my personal demand to write in a humane, erudite and respectful manner. I have never said an unkind word about any member of our local political community and I intend never to change that. We are blessed in Yorktown with wonderful citizens and civic leaders of all political perspectives who although they don’t share the same political philosophy do recognize the fact that we are all Yorktowners and therefore deserving of mutual respect and courtesy. Let us continue that tradition.
So, there you have it. Jim thinks my ideas are practically Orwellian. Maybe the rest of you also think I’m nuts. That’s why I wanted to ask you about the future of our opinion section before we made any firm decisions. We don’t have all the answers so we need our faithful readers to guide us.
What should we do? Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or participate in our poll at surveymonkey.com/r/yorktownpolitics.