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Hack Journalism: A Tale of Two Stories

How the Albany media fail at the most basic level to do accurate and straightforward reportage on matters of corruption within NY State government.

by G. M. Heller
WAMC Northeast Pirate Network
March 12, 2001
What follows to the left below, one underneath the other, are two recent news stories written by two well known reporters for two Albany/Hudson Valley area newspapers: Mark McGuire for the Albany Times-Union, and John Milgrim for The Times Herald-Record of Middletown. A critique of the two columns appears to the right. Incidentally, Mr. McGuire's and Mr. Milgrim's articles are reproduced on this Web site without permission from their respective publishers.

timesunion.comBy MARK McGUIRE, Staff writer
First published: 
Wednesday, March 7, 2001.
Attack on Chartock off mark 

Alan S. Chartock holds a fistful of jobs around town. In addition to running WAMC-Northeast Public Radio, Chartock teaches communication courses at the University at Albany (and a course, for free, at SUNY New Paltz); he appears as a part-time political commentator at WNYT Ch. 13, and serves as the unpaid publisher of the student-written Legislative Gazette. 

He's everywhere, and that omnipresence -- along with his pedantic personality -- has made him some enemies along the way.

Not many people know Glenn M. Heller. The Chevy Chase, Md., resident, formerly of the Berkshires, is circumspect about what he does for a living ("I'm a bum,'' he said), but Heller does have a full-time job: He's out to get Chartock any way he can.

Heller is single-minded in his efforts to take down Chartock. He runs a Web site that is all anti-Alan, and includes allegations that range from the mundane to the borderline defamatory.

Heller won't give an adequate explanation for why he hates Chartock. Chartock isn't sure why, either. The attacks have been steady since 1999, but date back more than a decade.

One Heller charge put Chartock and UAlbany in a very uncomfortable position. Heller uncovered a 1986 memorandum that suggests Chartock violated university policy for at least the past 15 years by working a second full-time job -- running WAMC.

State University of New York policy states that "no employee may engage in other employment which interferes with the performance of the employee's professional obligation.'' No problem there: Chartock's outside employment helps him deliver insight in the classroom.

But a recommendation by then-Provost Joseph Burke in 1986 remains in effect. That memorandum states in part: "No full-time employee ... may assume another full-time position or obligation either within or without the University while receiving compensation from the University.'' (For purposes of disclosure: For the past two years, I've been a part-time paid lecturer at UAlbany, teaching one journalism class per semester.)

The question: Is Chartock -- who makes more than $91,000 a year teaching -- in violation, as Heller claims?

Not according to UAlbany. It took several days, but UAlbany's interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, Carlos Santiago, said that Chartock was in the clear.

"As applied, and consistent with the underlying Board Policy, campuses have the discretion to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether, in fact, the outside employment actually interferes with an employee's professional obligation,'' Santiago said.

What does all this mean? Not much. There was no deception. There was no harm to the university. It's clear Chartock earns his money.

Heller's other complaint is that Chartock makes too much from WAMC, citing a figure of more than $99,000 a year with benefits. Chartock said the salary is closer to $93,000.

Is that too much? Very debatable. Keep two things in mind: For his first several years on the job, Chartock received no reimbursement, and as late as 10 years ago was making only $41,000 a year from his WAMC job.

Secondly, according to a report from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the average salary for a CEO at a public station with WAMC's operating budget was, as of 1999, $93,463.78 -- roughly the same as Chartock's today.

For a point of reference: According to several radio executives in the market, the average CEO salary at a commercial station in the Capital Region ranges from $100,000 to $250,000.

Again, Heller misses the mark. He hasn't really nailed Chartock yet. But he'll keep hacking away.

Public service, or self-serving?

Heller recently appeared on "Live From the State Capitol with Fred Dicker'' on WROW (590-AM) to air his grievances against Chartock. The venue made sense: The show is a great place to attack Dicker's competitors.

Like Chartock, Dicker holds many titles: state editor of the New York Post, political analyst for WRGB Ch. 6 and radio talk show host. Dicker and Chartock don't like each other. That's not surprising, since both rank high in terms of ego and influence among those in the Capital Region media.

For years, Dicker has used his radio show to take shots at this newspaper (Dicker was once employed for the old Times-Union) and its reporters, as well as other Capitol journalists. He also goes after Chartock -- a competitor on television -- although less frequently.

Dicker sees no conflict in doing so, even though his barbs have the effect of boosting his standing both with the general public and the sources for whom he and fellow reporters/commentators are competing.

"I don't bring these things up because I'm looking to grind an ax,'' Dicker said. "It's because I see something that is so foolish. I think it's nice to set the record straight.''

The difference between Dicker condescensions and a media critic is he gains a direct benefit from his criticisms -- belittling his direct competitors. The same could be said if I spent significant time or column space bashing the Daily Gazette's television and radio writer, or critics from other newspapers.

Dicker might be the most plugged-in reporter at the Capitol; between the guests he gets on the radio show (thanks to his column) and his standing at the Post, he arguably sets the news agenda for other reporters.

But using his radio show to wage battles against foes or competitors is beneath him. For someone who spends so much time talking about other journalists' shortcomings, he ought to be able to recognize his own.

Mark McGuire is the Times Union TV/radio writer. His column generally appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call him at 518-454-5467, or send e-mail to mmcguire@timesunion.com

Jeff Cohen is the Times Union editor-in-chief, Mark McGuire's boss.  Call him at 518-454-5040, or send e-mail to jcohen@timesunion.com

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logo4.jpg (20159 bytes) SUNY prof's radio jobs bring waves of static

By John Milgrim
Ottaway News Service
February 22, 2001

   Albany   Alan Chartock is a well-known Northeast Public Radio executive, a popular tenured SUNY professor and syndicated columnist who spent much of his career railing against the Republican political machine, cronyism and patronage.
    But now he's coming under fire himself for drawing two separate full-time salaries on the public and charity doles that alone add up to more than what the state pays George Pataki to govern.
   "First of all, there's nothing illegal or improper about it. There are a lot of people in the State University payroll who work other jobs, and that's the way it is," said Chartock, who's maybe best known for his weekly aired conversations with former Gov. Mario Cuomo. "I'm a workaholic."
   And several of those he's publicly taken on, in print or on the air, agree with him.
    "If the world was flat, he'd fall off the left side," said Joel Miller, Assembly Higher Education Committee member. But, "no one has complained about the performance of the radio station, and if the school isn't complaining about his performance as a professor, so be it."
   The recent criticism, however, isn't coming from the state Capitol's halls but instead from the World Wide Web and owner of the site www.wamc.net, a so-called "pirate" site to public radio's wamc.org.
   "How much is too much?" blare headlines on the site's home page, critiquing salaries Chartock and other station executives draw. "The more I started digging, the more the smell got worse and worse," said Glenn Heller, who put the site together. 
   Chartock, through WAMC in the Capital Region, also controls public radio stations 91.7 in Middletown, 90.9 in Kingston, and 107.7 in Newburgh.
   Heller's WAMC site, according to SUNY spokesman Dave Henahan, incorrectly states that full-time faculty can't moonlight.
   Chartock makes a base salary at SUNY of $91,584 and, according to tax records and Chartock, slightly more than $100,000 in salary and benefits from WAMC, which is federally subsidized. He said he volunteered his time to the Legislative Gazette, a weekly newspaper covering state government and linked to SUNY New Paltz. He wouldn't discuss his salary for his TV appearances in Albany. "All of these things allow me to bring perspective into a classroom." 

John Milgram is The Times Herald-Record state house reporter. Call him at 518-463-1157, or send e-mail to jmottaway@aol.com

Mike Levine is The Times Herald-Record executive editor, John Milgram's boss. Call him at 845-341-1100, 800-295-2181, or send e-mail to mlevine@th-record.com

Telephone 845-341-1100 or 800-295-2181 outside the Middletown area.
Copyright February, 2001, Orange County Publications, a division of Ottaway Newspapers, Inc., all rights reserved.

To go to The Times Herald-Record Web site,
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Journalism 101 --
Lesson 1:
Don't be a hack.
Lesson 2:
Don't mislead the reader!

by G. M. Heller
March 14, 2001
Rather than in-depth reporting, what we have here (reproduced immediately to the left and below) are two stories, written by two separate Albany-based reporters, for two separate, supposedly respectable publications. 

Yet, both stories fail to clarify anything. (Both seem even to come off a bit snide.)

Worse yet, both contain misinformation and statements that mislead the public.    It probably would have been better for the public's understanding of the issues had neither story been published at all.

In the course of preparing their respective columns, Mr. McGuire and Mr. Milgrim each contacted WAMC Pirate to inquire as to why WAMC Pirate was making the supposedly outrageous claim that the practice of full-time moonlighting by full-time SUNY staff was against University policy. 

This of course, was tied to WAMC Pirate's main allegation, as yet unrefuted by anyone in authority at SUNY-Central, that Alan S. Chartock, by moonlighting full-time at WAMC while collecting a full-time professor's salary at SUNY, has now been in direct violation of SUNY policy for over 14 years.

Both writers were then faxed copies of the so-called Burke Memorandum, the official SUNY policy on the subject of moonlighting.  That policy states in part, "No full-time employee of the State University may assume another full-time position or obligation either within or without the University while receiving compensation from the University." 

WAMC Pirate recommended to both reporters that, given SUNY's 14-year history of ignoring Mr. Chartock's obvious and blatant infractions of the University's written policy, and given Mr. Chartock's well-known political connections within both the University as well as the State legislature, it would certainly seem a good idea to get opinions from State officials outside of SUNY, preferably legal opinions from the offices of either the State Attorney General or the State Inspector General, or both. 

This would not only provide the reporter with an outside perspective as to whether Mr. Chartock was in direct violation of written SUNY policy, but also as to whether or not SUNY itself was applying its policies equitably and without favoritism

WAMC Pirate further recommended to both reporters that, rather than rely on middle level personnel from SUNY-Central's public relations office or spokespeople from the local campuses (most of whom likely would not be knowledgeable about matters of SUNY employment policies), it would be better instead to contact SUNY-Central's highest officers for comments straight from the horses' mouths, i.e., University Chancellor Robert L. King, Provost and Vice-Chancellor of academic affairs Peter D. Salins, or University Counsel D. Andrew Edwards.

Mr. McGuire, in his column, fails to quote anyone from SUNY-Central, relying instead upon the words of an interim provost at SUNY-Albany, Alan Chartock's stomping grounds.  Mr. Carlos Santiago claims, "As applied, and consistent with the underlying Board Policy, campuses have the discretion to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether, in fact, the outside employment actually interferes with an employee's professional obligation''.

Mr. McGuire apparently never follows up with the obvious question to Mr. Santiago to explain why, if it is SUNY policy to give local campuses such case-by-case discretion in matters of full-time moonlighting, then would not it be logical for SUNY-Central to state that to be the official policy concerning full-time moonlighting, rather than using language which instead specifically prohibits the practice?

Provost Burke is quite specific in the use of the word "No" in his 1986 memorandum. (Mr. Santiago's statement reminds one of the joke, "What part of the word 'No' didn't he understand, the 'N' or the 'O'?)

Mr. McGuire, the day after publishing his column, told me that he did not interview anyone outside of SUNY because his column would have ended up too long to print in the space provided.  Yet, two-thirds through his column he sidetracks into a lengthy discussion of radio talk show host Fred Dicker, as if that has anything to do with SUNY, moonlighting, and whether SUNY is playing favorites and covering for its politically-connected favorite son Chartock. 

Mr. McGuire claims that Mr. Chartock teaches for free at SUNY-New Paltz, as if the $91,000 plus that SUNY already pays Mr. Chartock for just 15 class hours of work weekly is somehow inadequate to cover that extra SUNY-New Paltz work.

(Oh, and don't you think that Mr. McGuire, after expounding so hard and long about WAMC Pirate's Web site, could have expended the energy and lineage to type in the 7 letters and one dot of the site's World Wide Web address - wamc.net - so readers could find it, log onto it, and decide for themselves just who is and who is not off the mark and self-serving?)

Meanwhile, Mr. Milgrim in his column fails to search out anyone higher than a mid-level spokesperson in SUNY's public affairs office, Mr. Dave Henahan, who claims matter-of-factly that the WAMC Pirate Web site "incorrectly states that full-time faculty can't moonlight."

It turns out that Mr. Henahan was shooting from the hip, and had never even heard of the Burke Memorandum.  That 'blonde moment' was corrected just a few days later when Henahan's superior Ken Goldfarb, under pressure to clarify the matter, announced that in fact, the Burke Memorandum was indeed still SUNY's official  policy. 

What this all boils down to is that here we have two separate, ostensibly professional reporters who are assigned by their editors to get to the bottom of pretty serious allegations, some rather nasty. 

Yet, rather than getting the story right, and rather than adding to the public's understanding by  interviewing the top people who would be held accountable, what we get is nothing.

Rather than interviewing outside authorities who themselves could cast light on the issue of whether SUNY is playing favorites and being fast and loose with its own policies affecting literally thousands of SUNY staff, we get even more nothing.

So rather than good reportage, we end up with two stories that fail to clarify anything, and that violate in almost cavalier fashion one of journalism's key Commandments: 'Thou Shalt Not Mislead The Public.'

One additional point: Both reporters asked the question of why WAMC Pirate is doing what it does?

WAMC Pirate's answer given to both reporters, an answer which failed to make it into print in either story: "Because the Albany media have failed miserably when it comes to investigating political and institutional chicanery in New York State government, and the Chartock matters are a perfect example of this, and of the Albany media's lackluster performance in doing its job."

To that we add the following observation: If the local media cannot nail a thief like Alan Chartock who steals right from under their collective noses, how can they hope to get other white collar crooks that prey on taxpayers, but don't bother to advertise? 

©2001 WAMC Northeast Pirate Network®/


The two articles to the left above are reproduced here without permission.

©2001 WAMC Northeast Pirate Network®/
All Rights Reserved.