Pinciaro Column: A public statement on public relations

Here's a low-resolution photo that came out of the Brookhaven Town press shop in 2013. It's Councilwoman Connie Kepert congratulating engineers on an award. Notice the date stamp.
Here’s a low-resolution photo that came out of Brookhaven Town’s press shop. It’s Councilwoman Connie Kepert congratulating engineers on an award. It was taken on April 6, 2013, if you couldn’t tell from the time stamp. I imagine this got printed nowhere.

Public relations firms: News organizations can’t live with ’em.

And life would sure be a lot harder without ’em.

That might not be the first thing you’d expect an editor to say, but it’s the truth. Relationships with people in the PR business — and spokespeople for many elected leaders — are an important part of the job and can be very helpful at times.

Other times, though, I really just have to shake my head.

Take state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s statement that he’s standing with Israel, calling for the punishment of whoever killed the three Israeli teens who were kidnapped weeks ago. In late May, he also offered the press his thoughts on the passing of poet Maya Angelou.

It’s nice that he cares about these things, don’t get me wrong. And they’re serious matters. I hesitate to sound like I’m making light of them.

But I thought he was elected to keep an eye on the state’s finances.

I wonder how the headline for a story based on those quotes would read: “Bean counter: Renowned poet touched lives.”

Thanks, Tom. Oh, by the way, how is the state going to pay for that medical marijuana plan you guys just passed? You’ll figure it out in the next 18 months? Sounds good!

Another head-scratcher came through this week from the county exec, Steve Bellone. Apparently, he is encouraging Fourth of July safety this year. Just in case you thought he was encouraging danger.

“It just makes sense to take precautions and avoid tragedies,” Mr. Bellone said.

Indeed, Steve. Tragedies should definitely be avoided. I’ll cancel those plans for the fireworks show in my living room.

I’m going to take a serious turn for a minute here, while we take a look at a recent item from the private sector.

Now, in case you’re one of those pesky residents who live right next door to Gershow Recycling and have complained about the constant noise the operation generates, fear not. I know you’ve been voicing your concern in Town Hall for over a year about banging and “sonic booms” and the fact that your mobile home vibrates when the company crushes cars.

Well, guess what?

The company just gave a local high school grad a $1,000 scholarship!

Even-steven, right?

Some quick background, for those who are unaware:

• Gershow Recycling purchased land on Hubbard Avenue from longtime junkyard owner Fred J. Gallo Used Auto Parts in 2012.

• Gershow told the town at the time that it would use the property the same way its previous owners had — in legalese, a “de minimis” use.

• Neighbors have since complained to the town that this hasn’t been done —  and that Gershow’s use has been much more intense and loud.

• Riverhead Town sued Gershow after hearing these complaints.

• The courts pushed the case back to the town Planning Board, which has to decide whether the current use at the site really is the same as its previous use.

So, Gershow Recycling has basically been in the news for the past six months — the complaints actually began a year ago — for being too loud. In recent months, the News-Review has received calls and letters — even a group of individuals who came in person — expressing concern that the operation has diminished their quality of life, and continues to do so.

And then comes news that Gershow gave a $1,000 scholarship to a Riverhead High School graduate.

I really do think it’s great that a student (who, as an aside, had a perfect high school attendance record and I’m sure deserved the recognition) got some extra cash for school from a company with absolutely no obligation to provide the donation. But we really have to ask ourselves here: At what cost is this donation coming?

Answer: Way too much for us to pay any attention.

Message to Gershow: Want to give back to the community? Want to get some positive ink on these pages? Listen to the residents living within a stone’s throw of your company and respond to their concerns. Installing a couple of huge metal containers as noise barriers doesn’t count.

Being a good neighbor — and getting our attention in the newsroom — takes more than a check and a statement.

I don’t mean to lump everyone who solicits a story together in the same broad group. Our relationships with PR company reps, government flacks or spokespeople — whatever you want to call them — range from distant and new (hey, I’m on that person’s email list!), to friendly or just part of the job, to much deeper (former colleagues who went the PR route come to mind).

However deep the relationships, though, I’m sure there will always be statements and requests that make me shake my head at — and there will be those that truly offer us as a news organization, and our readers, a meaningful glimpse into our community.

Though I have to admit, it sure is fun every once in a while to poke fun at some of those that don’t. It probably makes for a better column, too. As one colleague of mine asked: “Did Gershow’s scholarship go to the loudest kid in the classroom who didn’t give a $#@% about his fellow classmates?”

Now that would make a good article.

R1226_Staff_Pinciaro_C.jpgJoseph Pinciaro is the managing editor of The News-Review. He can be reached at [email protected] or 631-298-3200, ext. 238.