05/11/13 8:00am
05/11/2013 8:00 AM

An outfit named CareerCast recently released a list of the “worst jobs” for 2013. To earn a spot on the list, a job had to feature “low pay, high stress, challenging work requirements and a poor employment outlook.”

The top 10 list included such jobs as lumberjack, enlisted military personnel, oil rig worker, dairy farmer and meter reader. And can you guess the very worst job of all? Newspaper reporter. Yes, newspaper reporter.

To borrow a phrase from comedian Steve Martin: E-x-c-u-s-e me!

[Click here to read the complete list from CareerCast]

Having been in and around the newspaper business for some 50 years now, I would agree that the job of reporter is challenging and often unappreciated and under-compensated, but the very worst job? Verily, I must demur.

Just off the top of my head I can think of plenty of worse jobs — like garbage collector or tunnel attendant or president of the United States. And I also suppose it’s now up to me to defend the newspaper industry and the job that is its most fundamental building block: reporter.

Here’s the basic challenge: Attend a three-hour Zoning Board of Appeals meeting at which dozens of applications are debated, taking notes while trying to stay awake. Stop at 7-Eleven for a 16-ounce cup of java on the way back to the office. Sit down at your computer, sift through what’s important and what’s not and, in the space of an hour or so, transform those notes into a compelling, informative and succinct 500-word story, posting it to the newspaper’s website before bedtime.

That requires a skill set, I would argue, that 99.9 percent of the population does not possess. Nor do about three-quarters of the candidates who walk into a newspaper office thinking they can do that job. It requires raw intelligence, astute powers of observation and organization and, of course, writing ability. Again, it’s something very few people can do at all, let alone do well.

I would also argue that it’s very important work. Whether it’s exposing the Watergate scandal or trying to make sense of a pending school budget vote, the work newspaper reporters do is fundamental to our essence as a nation. And if someday, as some naysayers suggest, there’s no such thing as a newspaper, as we presently know it, then reporters will be doing this vital work via platforms beyond our imagination.

Back when I was working as a newspaper reporter, I do remember thinking from time to time that I was under-appreciated and underpaid. (How does a starting salary of $112.50 a week in 1969 translate into 2013 dollars?) But never did I consider the work trivial or unimportant. Each day (for I worked on a daily newspaper back then) I could look at the work product with a sense of accomplishment and pride — and a sincere belief that it made a difference.

That was back in the days of hot lead and manual typewriters, but little about the fundamentals of the job has changed in the ensuing five decades. And as long as that holds true — no matter how hard the work, no matter how the pay scale compares to other industries — being a newspaper reporter will remain one of the best, not one of the worst, jobs.

04/13/13 7:00am
04/13/2013 7:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Joe and Roe Czaluda's memorial to the Sandy Hook victims on their front lawn on Sunrise Avenue in Riverhead.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Joe and Roe Czaluda’s memorial they created in December to the Sandy Hook victims on their front lawn on Sunrise Avenue in Riverhead.

Yes, it’s true: I’m a crybaby. I cry at movies (“Shane,” “Cast Away,” etc.), I cried for two weeks straight as an 11-year-old at summer camp and I cried again Sunday night as we were watching “60 Minutes.”

But I wasn’t the only one crying Sunday night. Many of those being interviewed by CBS News correspondent Scott Pelley were in tears, too. And for good reason.

They were the parents and loved ones of the students and teachers who were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.

You remember Sandy Hook, don’t you? That’s no wisecrack; it’s a legitimate question as the days, weeks and months begin to pile up in the wake of yet another mass shooting for which our nation has become so well known.

And, as one of the Newtown parents so eloquently stated Sunday night, it will happen again, because it always happens again, particularly if the National Rifle Association has anything to say about it.

At this point in the discussion, I would like to yield the floor to my fellow columnist, Carl Hiaasen of the Miami (Fla.) Herald, who recently took to task the NRA in general, and its executive director, Wayne LaPierre, in particular, as follows:

“LaPierre insists that background checks will lead to a ‘national gun registry,’ which will then lead to mass confiscation of firearms by the government.

“Oh sure. The same government that can’t afford to deliver mail on Saturdays is poised to send armed agents to every single house in the country to search for weapons.

“The notion is ridiculous, and Wayne’s well aware of it. The NRA isn’t aiming for the mainstream support. The fringe is what they’re after — the spooked-out guys who were lining up to buy assault rifles after the mass shooting in Newtown.”

I know from reader comments on my previous columns in favor of more stringent gun control measures that I stand accused of belaboring the subject. And to that charge I plead guilty, and furthermore vow to keep writing about guns until we as a nation wake up to these inescapable truths:

• No one should be allowed to purchase a gun without undergoing a background check.

• No one but military or law enforcement personnel should be allowed to have an assault rifle.

• No one but military or law enforcement personnel should be allowed to have an ammunition clip that holds more than 10 rounds.


Word this week out of Washington is that an increasing number of our esteemed members of Congress are beginning to lose whatever resolve they may have had for meaningful gun control reform immediately following the Newtown tragedy. Apparently the NRA and Americans’ collective short memories are conspiring to prolong, once again, our national shame.

And to that reality I can think of no more powerful rejoinder than these exact words of Newtown parent David Wheeler on “60 Minutes” Sunday night:

“I would like every parent in this country — that’s 150 million people. I would like them to look in the mirror. And that’s not a figure of speech, Scott. I mean, literally, find a mirror in your house and look in it and look in your eyes and say, ‘This will never happen to me. This will never happen in my school. This will never happen in my community.’ And see if you actually believe that. And if there is a shadow, the slightest shadow of doubt about what you’ve said, think about what you can do to change that in your house, in your community, in your school, in your country, because we have an obligation to our children to do this for them. It’s gonna happen again. It is going to happen again. And every time, you know, it’s somebody else’s school, it’s somebody else’s town. It’s somebody else’s community until one day you wake up and it’s not.”


03/30/13 12:00pm
03/30/2013 12:00 PM

TROY GUSTAVSON PHOTO | 8-month-old George Hazard Boardman.

This is one of those columns that’s pretty much going to write itself, I think. Sometimes I struggle to find a worthy subject (and sometimes I don’t find one), but this week there’s just one thing on my mind: the continuum of life.

That subject is unavoidable due to the confluence of two events: a long-awaited family vacation combined with the death of a family member who was our family’s last representative of the pre-Depression generation.

My wife, the former Joan Giger Walker, lost her 86-year-old stepmother on Sunday. Ann “Rusty” Walker lived a long and fruitful life. She was orphaned early in life, raised by a loving aunt and uncle and instantly became the mother of five when she married Joan’s father, a widowed doctor, at age 37.

As you might imagine, that was no easy assignment.

Rusty dropped in from outer space, so to speak, and it’s safe to say there was a period of adjustment for all concerned. But that adjustment period was a distant memory by the time of her passing, when her stepchildren opted to remove the word “step” from the obituary submitted to her former local newspaper.

Joan and I visited Rusty in her home recently, and her mind was as sharp as ever. It was her body that was failing her, and she had come to accept the reality of her condition. She knew her time was near.

And now that it’s come, we can celebrate her life with comparatively little regret. What’s more, her passing is softened by the close proximity this week, during the aforementioned family vacation, of the youngest member of our family, 8-month-old George Hazard Boardman.

Can the passing of Ann Walker really overwhelm our spirits when we look into the pure blue eyes of baby George? Speaking personally, the answer is no. George and his brother and sister and cousins, also on vacation with us this week, bring undiluted joy and hope into every day of our lives.

Yes, one generation passed from the scene this week. But it is generation next that makes us so hopeful about the future.

This week also marks the passing at age 77 of Orient resident and S.T. Preston & Son owner George Rowsom. We’ve known George since we first moved to Orient 35 years ago, and I’ll always remember him as one of the first Greenport business owners to truly accept us as the new owners of The Suffolk Times. In fact, he was a key member of an informal management group that helped advise us through those first shaky months (or was it years?) running the paper.

I’ll always remember him as a soft-spoken gentleman who was nevertheless firm in his convictions, and Joan and I extend our deepest sympathy to his wife, Andrea, and the entire Rowsom and Preston’s families.


01/20/13 8:00am
01/20/2013 8:00 AM


The former Joan Giger Walker and I have not been seeing too much of each other recently. She’s been in one room reading books and doing crossword puzzles; I’ve been in another gorging on the NFL playoffs.

And let’s get one thing straight from the get-go: Football is a dumb sport that probably deserves to be supplanted by books and crosswords. It’s indefensibly violent and, at the professional level at least, populated mostly by muscle-bound, overweight, tattooed millionaires. It often seems to be a sport wherein the outcome of games depends largely on the skills of the medical personnel who treat the legions of bone-crushing, brain-deadening injuries that result from every game. (Recently, in upstate New York, I saw an entire broadsheet newspaper column devoted to the “NFL Injury Report,” all in 7-point type. That’s a lot of injuries.)

And yet … And yet I remain a fan of the sport some 47 years after I walked away from it in college. Then, it wasn’t a case of rejecting the violence or the coaches’ obsession with winning. It was a question of not being good enough to make the team and of having discovered an alternative sport, rugby, where beer drinking on the sidelines was allowed — nay, encouraged. (Rugby was, you see, a club sport at my college, and thus not overseen by the intercollegiate athletic department.)

But I remain a football fan with reservations. Surely, the excitement, athleticism and, yes, the violence attract, but no longer is it possible to sit on the sidelines and observe this sport without acknowledging the mounting evidence about football-related head injuries.

Just last week there was a report about the suicide death at age 43 of Junior Seau, the former All-Pro linebacker with the San Diego Chargers. According to ABC News, “A team of independent researchers who did not know they were studying Seau’s brain all concluded he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease typically caused by multiple hits to the head.” And then he shot himself in the chest, leaving behind his wife and four children.

And it’s not an isolated case. More and more former football players are being diagnosed with CTE — and even the NFL has started to take notice, slowly adjusting its rules to forbid helmet-on-helmet collisions, below-the-knee cut blocks and other actions deemed likely to cause serious injury.



There’s even been talk of modifying or perhaps even eliminating punt and kick-off returns, the two football plays that result in the most serious injuries. And there’s another type of play that causes me to cringe every time I see it, whether it’s in a professional or college game, wherein a wide receiver runs over the middle of the field, keeping his eyes on the incoming pass, and is blindsided by a 220-pound free safety running at full speed in the opposite direction. It is precisely the sort of “hit” that turned New England Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley into a quadriplegic when he was tackled by Oakland Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum on Aug. 12, 1978.

Several years ago, I wrote in this space about my 9-year-old grandson’s decision, seconded by his parents, to give up Pee Wee football after two years. By the time he quit to concentrate on less violent sports like baseball, basketball and soccer, he’d already suffered a concussion that sidelined him for a game or two. And the only dissent expressed about his decision came from coaches and other parents associated with the youth league.

Assuming football — even in a modified, less violent form — is here to stay, I would advise parents to keep their children away from the sport at least until they’re in junior high school. By then, their bodies have matured to the point where they’re better able to withstand the punishment. And before then, they can learn the fundamentals of the game by playing touch or flag football, neither of which allows tackling.

So, OK, by this point you’re probably asking yourself how I can remain a football fan at the same time I’m decrying the violence and dangers of the sport.

That’s a very good question. Can I get back to you on that after the Super Bowl?


09/23/12 10:00am
09/23/2012 10:00 AM

A confession: I recently drove a car when I shouldn’t have.

It came at the end of a long and beautiful day of showing off the North Fork to friends visiting from out of town. It began with a midday vineyard tour and ended some eight hours later at a dinner party at our home in Orient. In the process we consumed more glasses of wine than I care to count.

Under normal circumstances, I would not have gone anywhere near a steering wheel after a day like that. But our out-of-town guests insisted on getting back to their boat in Stirling Harbor, Greenport, and they doggedly declined our invitation to spend the night in our spare bedroom. So, here are the keys to our car, I said, drive it yourself. Oh, no, they responded, we’ve had too much wine to drink.

Now I’m a big guy — Refrigerator Perry size, as faithful readers of this column may recall — so presumably I can handle more alcohol than most others without ill effects, and I honestly did not “feel” intoxicated at the time. Still, I should have called a taxi for our friends, but instead I drove them to Greenport and returned safely to Orient.

Without incident. At no time during the drive did I consider myself impaired, but if I had been stopped by the police I do not know if I would have passed a Breathalyzer test.

The recollection of this dubious round-trip to Greenport came to mind recently when a friend challenged me about this newspaper’s policy of publishing the names of all persons arrested for driving while intoxicated. (Even a Suffolk Times police reporter once had to include his own name in the weekly police report after he was arrested for DWI. At another time, an editor ran the account of his own son’s DWI arrest.)

Even though there’s a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and the paper routinely publishes a disclaimer to that effect, my friend thinks there’s an unfair stigma attached to the publication of the original arrest. What if the cops were mistaken, he asks, or the court reduces the charges or issues a verdict of not guilty?

I, as you might expect, beg to differ. If I had been stopped and arrested during that recent ill-advised drive, my name would have appeared in this paper just like everyone else’s. And the inevitability of that publication, I believe, has a deterrent effect.

If for no other reason than the certainty that your name will be published if you are arrested for DWI, I believe the majority of drivers would surrender their car keys to someone else. That’s what I should have done after that recent dinner party, and I solemnly vow that’s what I will do if I ever find myself in that position again.

So, what do you think, dear reader (other than the fact that I’m an idiot for drinking too much wine, getting behind the wheel, then publicly admitting it)?

Should the newspaper publish the names of all those arrested for DWI? Does the inevitability of that publication have a deterrent effect that keeps drunk drivers off the roads? Or does publication prematurely and unfairly stigmatize those who have been arrested?

To answer any or all of those questions, please send an e-mail to tgustavson@timesreview.com, or, please add a new comment below.

08/24/12 12:00pm
08/24/2012 12:00 PM

Back in June, I wrote a column about local businesses, such as North Fork Potato Chips, that have established a national reach. Among the businesses I neglected to mention (Preston’s, Widows Hole Oyster Co., etc.) is one that even has the word “national” in its title: the National Scrabble Association, which, like Preston’s and the oyster company, is based in Greenport, right there in a quaint white building at the southwest corner of Front and Fourth streets.

And if you were paying attention you may already know that the National Scrabble Association and the popular board game it oversees were in the national (and international!) news last week, in a very large way. And that means the executive director of the association, Greenport’s own John D. Williams Jr., was very much in the news, too.

If you missed it in The New York Times, NBC-TV’s “Rock Center,” ABC-TV’s “Good Afternoon America” or one of the hundreds of media outlets that covered the story, it originated out of the National Scrabble Championship in Orlando, Fla., where 342 top players gathered to flex their X’s and O’s. The $10,000 top prize was won, by a scant 13 points, by four-time national champion Nigel Richards of New Zealand, but that news was greatly overshadowed by a cheating incident involving an unidentified — and more on that below — youth who was caught red-handed “palming” both of the blank tiles that can be the difference between winning and losing in tournament-level Scrabble.

By all accounts, the incident was handled properly. The boy was observed cheating by more than one player, questioned by a tournament official, admitted to cheating and was promptly banned from the competition. And the Scrabble judicial process is just beginning. Based on past incidents, the youthful offender is looking at suspension from tournament play for three to five years and probation after that.

In the past, before the Worldwide Web and social media, the Orlando Cheating Incident might have ended there. But that’s not how it went down.

While tournament officials still were discussing the incident moments after it happened, John Williams took a break to check his laptop. And he found that three tournament players — two of whom were not even there in the hotel — had already posted something on the Internet! “We’re talking within 10 minutes,” John recounted in an email message this week.

“I knew then that this thing was probably going to go viral,” John continued. “I had to act fast to both control the story/information and to try to protect the boy’s identity. The Scrabble tournament world was frenzied. Most were demanding blood, a quick and severe punishment. Unfortunately, they knew the kid’s name and were using it.”

What John did then was call a friend who works for the Associated Press, who referred him to an AP reporter in Florida. “He did a great, quick piece based on our conversation,” John wrote — even mentioning John’s own Scrabble book in the process — “and the story was picked up worldwide immediately.”

Within 15 minutes “it was as if the boy had been vaporized, had never been there,” John wrote. “His record was erased, his name and photo removed from all online event materials. His parents were called and they immediately left the hotel, left Orlando.”

It was then that John’s phone began ringing off the hook — CNN, ABC, NBC, New York Times, CBS, Atlantic Monthly, BBC, London Times and a dozen more. And despite the mounting pressure, John refused to reveal the name, age or state of the cheating player because he was a minor.

A network talk show even called to ask what the chances were of getting the boy on the show the next day. “Less than zero,” John told them. “Go back to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.”

To date, the incident has spawned over 500 news stories worldwide.

The great irony, of course, is that the most exciting National Scrabble Championship in the 30-year history of the event was eclipsed by the story of the boy and his palmed blank tiles. John Williams and his Greenport-based staff — most notably his wife and business partner, Jane Williams — get paid in large part to keep the name Scrabble in the news, but they’d just as soon not do it like this.

“Believe me, I know the kid did wrong and so did he,” John wrote in his email. “And he needs to be punished. Hey, I take Scrabble fairly seriously. And, arguably, there are thousands of people who by conventional behavioral standards take it too seriously. But I do not want to be a part of knowingly screwing up a kid’s life.”


09/29/11 7:00am
09/29/2011 7:00 AM

MELANIE DROZD PHOTO | An empty newsstand at the 7-Eleven on Route 58 located in the same shopping center as the Department of Motor Vehicles.

My friend Paul had a pretty good idea when he heard about the folks who went from newsstand to newsstand buying thousands of copies of last week’s Riverhead News-Review and Suffolk Times.

“Why don’t you call them up,” he suggested, “and ask them how many more they’d like you to print.”

I’ve been in this business for 50 years and never have I experienced what we experienced this past week: a run on the newsstands by someone involved in a truly monumental school project; someone really proud of their grandchild on the honor roll; someone with a great deal of precious glassware to pack; or, as I suspect, someone intent on suppressing the dissemination of a particular news story.

Here, in her exact words, is the account provided by Times/Review circulation manager Laura Huber:

“They went all the way from Calverton to Shelter Island to get papers. We figure they started around 9:30 a.m. on Thursday because I received a call from a woman in Riverhead looking for a copy of our delivery manifest because she wanted to know where to get a paper in Riverhead. She claimed that she went to Riverhead 7-Eleven and that there weren’t any copies there. I didn’t give it to her, but told her where she could get them and the types of businesses that sold the paper. I also called the 7-Eleven and they informed me they had plenty of copies.

“Many of the newsstands said that people came in around 5 or 6 p.m. on Thursday, and we figure based on the fact that there were people buying copies on Shelter Island, Aquebogue and Flanders at around the same time that there were at least 2 to 3 teams out at one point.

“I had reports that there were at least two women and two men and they were still out Friday afternoon trying to buy up papers. Apparently what would happen is that two people would go in one car and if one was told they couldn’t buy everything, the other person would go in and try to buy up the rest.

“Initially the story the woman told was that she was trying to move, but I think that sounded suspicious so they switched to a ‘school project’ story. Many of the newsstands believed this story and were willing to give up the majority of their copies.

“One of their last stops was a bagel place in Calverton. I had previously called there to let them know that someone may come in claiming that they were purchasing copies for a school project, but that we believed that may not be the case. I told her in the interest of preservation for her regular customers, she may want to put copies aside and not sell everything to the buyer(s). This was about 1:00. Around 3:30 the woman showed up, attempting to buy all the copies. When she was told she couldn’t buy them all, she offered [to pay] above cover price for them.”

In a Monday update, Laura reported that we printed and distributed 3,000 extra Suffolk Times and 2,500 extra Riverhead News-Reviews prior to the weekend.

So now, dear reader, let us speculate as to who and what was behind this unprecedented run on newsstand copies of your local paper. Please select from one of the following:

A) Proud members of the 125-year-old Southold Fire Department.

B) Proud members of the Shoreham-Wading River varsity football team, which beat Greenport, 19-0.

C) Local political operatives concerned about the opposition’s attack ads.

D) Associates of the Riverhead doctor charged with Medicare fraud.

Alternatively, let’s see what stories appearing in both papers last week might have caused enough concern to prompt this buying frenzy. County accused of wrongfully diverting money from preservation fund? (As far as I know, none of the insatiable paper purchasers sported a Snidley Whiplash-style mustache.) Hey, look! Isn’t that Charles Barkley? (Doubtful.) Feds arrest Riverhead doc? (Hmmm.)

Until we review the security tapes from one of the 7-Elevens where these bulk purchases were made, this statement from Times/Review publisher Andrew Olsen must suffice:

“We do have our suspicions as to who is behind this and if it’s someone attempting to somehow silence our coverage or make an uncomfortable story go away, they’re wasting their time and their money. We will not be silenced.”


07/21/11 4:28am
07/21/2011 4:28 AM

If you had asked me before last week, when the 2010 census data was released, I would have said Fire Island is Long Island’s “gayest” community. But Fire Island incorporates several municipal jurisdictions and thus does not show up in the census as an entity unto itself.

But Dering Harbor (Shelter Island) and Orient do, and they turn out to be the two hamlets with the highest percentage of same-sex couples in either Nassau or Suffolk. (Credit Newsday with first reporting this story in its editions of last Thursday. Go to newsday.com/table-same-sex-couples-on-long-island-1.3023709 to see where your community ranks.)

But wait! A closer look at the data reveals that Dering Harbor’s No. 1 ranking is a statistical aberration. And that’s because one of New York State’s smallest (in terms of population) incorporated villages has only 11 full-time residents living in its 35 households, with one out of the four households with couples living in them indicated as “same-sex.” Thus the census shows 25 percent of Dering Harbor’s “couple households” as same-sex. But with such a small sample, that’s obviously misleading because the village has just one same-sex household.

Orient, however, is another story. It has 21 same-sex households (13 female, eight male) out of a total of 196 households with couples living in them. And that translates to same-sex couples in 2.7 percent of the 772 total households and 10.7 percent of “couple households,” making it the “gayest” community on Long Island, according to the 2010 census.

Having lived in Southold Town’s easternmost hamlet for some 34 years now, I am not surprised. It’s been apparent for years that our lovely little village of 743 residents has a substantial number of same-sex households — and is decidedly the better for it.

Let us count the ways:

Leadership. An inordinate number of our community institutions have been headed by lesbian and gay individuals, and are the better for it. And, to be perfectly honest, the women have significantly outstripped their male counterparts in this regard.
The arts. Theater groups, chorales and cultural organizations here have benefited greatly from the leadership of, and participation by, members of the lesbian and gay community.

Political life. Some of my Tea Party-sympathetic neighbors might not like it, but Orient is arguably the North Fork’s most progressive (and, yes, most Democratic, with a capital “D”) hamlet, and the lesbian and gay community can take a significant amount of credit for that.

Environmental activism. Here, again, leadership by members of the lesbian and gay community has been instrumental in the debates over farmland preservation, ferry traffic, public water systems and the like.

Real estate. Lesbian and gay couples have renovated and improved a significant number of properties here — helping to increase the property values of their straight neighbors in the process — and a statistically significant number of North Fork real estate professionals are openly gay.

So, how and why did Orient specifically, and the North Fork in general, become places where same-sex couples settled?

First, there is the “end-of-the-line” phenomenon, whereby communities like Key West, Provincetown and Fire Island became gay enclaves. Orient is, quite literally, the end of the line on Long Island, and thus its geographic location could be a factor.

Then there’s the Jane Chambers factor. Acclaimed lesbian playwright Jane Chambers was a resident of Greenport at the time of her death at the age of 45 in 1983. And her play “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove” is viewed as a elemental work in lesbian theater history. According to a recent web search, “It is the story of a dissatisfied straight woman who leaves her husband to spend some quiet time by herself and who unwittingly and naively wanders into the midst of a group of seven lesbians at the beginning of their annual beachside vacation.” Some say Ms. Chambers and her play helped identify the east end of the North Fork as a place where gay individuals could find comfort and acceptance.

And let us not forget the pastoral attractions of Orient and the North Fork — particularly when measured against the glitzy attractions of the South Fork — and the comparatively affordable cost of housing here. A lesbian friend of mine said it was largely a function of “word of mouth,” as more and more of her friends opted for the quietude of Orient over the nightlife of, say, the Hamptons.

My voila! moment in this regard first came about a decade ago, when I observed an all-women’s softball game taking place behind the Oysterponds Elementary School in Orient. When I later learned that the majority of players were lesbians, I realized that the face of our little village had changed forever.

Not to mention for the better.