Working in local media, it can be hard to keep up with the news beyond our coverage area. “Did you hear about ______?” my wife will sometimes ask after I get home from work. Whether it’s a natural disaster, a big splash in the sports world or something out of Washington, D.C., my response is often just, “I saw the headline. Wait. What was that about?”
So when I started hearing more, and then some more, about what was happening in the nation’s capital Oct. 1 — the “federal government shutdown” as it was being labeled — my interest was piqued. But still, local news called. Plus, the phrase “government shutdown” struck me as indicating that the entire conflict was being a bit overplayed. Will martial law ensue? I doubt it. Back to the grind.
While I have yet to see any ships storm the coast of the North Fork, plundering our fields and rip asunder our families, it turns out this national headline has affected us here in the Times/Review newsroom a little more than I expected. Which means it’s also affected you — the reader.
Perhaps most noticeably — at least for us at the paper — Newsday broke a story Oct. 1 about a drug sting in Riverhead led by the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Unit. Reporter Paul Squire worked hard to get some original reporting of his own done as soon as we heard about it, but his hands were largely tied.
When he arrived at the federal courthouse in Central Islip on Wednesday, just two of about a dozen desks were occupied, with no criminal complaint on the case to be found. Typically inputted in the federal court’s system by then, it was not made available until late Thursday night. Once he got it, Paul was able to put together a 1,350-word report detailing exactly how federal agents uncovered nearly 1,700 marijuana plants inside a nondescript Osborn Avenue home. The news was up two days later — which can be considered a long time in today’s news cycle.
Mug shots for the men — both currently facing 10 years to life on charges of distribution of a controlled substance — remain unavailable because the media contact for New York’s Eastern District Court is still out of work.
Pot busts weren’t the only story we were covering that reached the federal level, though.
Carrie Miller penned a front-page article recently about the immigrant workforce on the North Fork. Finding something as simple as U.S. Department of Agriculture data for a potential follow-up was no longer possible once that department shut down its website. And who knows when it will be available once — or maybe more like it, if — leaders in the nation’s capital come to an agreement.
The website simply states: “After funding has been restored, please allow some time for this website to become available again.”
It was the same message I got Oct. 1 while looking around for some background information on USDA sharpshooters.
And how about writing an actual news story about local impacts of the shutdown itself? It’s hard to get too much detail about something when the people whose job it is to relay information to the press aren’t working, our congressman’s spokesman being the lone exception, I’ve found. But even he couldn’t track down info for us relating to Plum Island — since nobody was there to receive his requests.
So on some recent evenings, it turns out, I’ve had something to say when my wife has asked me about national news.
Apparently 800,000 people losing their jobs is some kind of news story.