I got into journalism for the exercise.
A couple of times over the decades I’ve gotten paid for hiking in the Adirondacks or exploring a nature preserve, but that’s not what I mean.
Nothing beats the satisfaction of taking a complex situation or topic and wrestling with it. Using observation, interviews and other research, and mulling and mulling it all, until I can explain it — explain it clearly and simply — to someone else. That someone else is you, the reader.
Most of the stories on this list got there because they gave me a chance to go eyeball to alligator’s eyeball with some of the meatiest and most complex topics of my multi-decade career. In a couple of others, I summed up complex lives at their end — in one case, of a regional political giant; in another, someone who wouldn’t have gotten a news writeup if she wasn’t an early victim of the terrible worldwide pandemic.
I’m not saying these stories are perfect. But researching and writing them gave me the kind of challenges — the mental exercise — that I love about being a reporter.
Within 48 hours after the horrific stretch limousine crash on killed 20 people in Schoharie on Oct. 6, 2018, I was looking into the gaps in federal regulation that allowed a clearly unsafe stretched vehicle to be on the road. A full two years later — after writing dozens of stories about the crash’s emotional, legal, criminal and regulatory implications — this story written when the National Transportation Safety Board issued its final report sought to sum it all up.
I knew state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno for 35 years, from before the Rensselaer County Republican was one of the powerful men in the state and the Capital Region’s economic development Santa Claus. I watched him imagine computer chip plants amid pine plantations, and re-imagine a backward airport — then make both happen. I covered both trials when the federal government tried and ultimately failed to pin corruption charges on him. Bruno was a proud man with the power to carry out grand visions, but he had human flaws. In his obituary I tried to fairly sum up an outsized and complicated legacy.
This story began in early May with an assignment to find out how the nature of police calls was changing during the pandemic. Many of the police I spoke to cited the tensions they sensed from the public, from people dealing with an unprecedented situation. Tensions that lay just below the surface of ordinary life. I thought of the story often over the summer, as Black Lives Matter protests — and counter-protests — drew on that suppressed energy and brought some of it into the streets.
Too many people continue to die of COVID-19 to tell all their stories. But one of the first local people to succumb last April was the Schenectady gospel singer Regina Dix Parsons, one of the stalwarts of the Hamilton Hill church founded by her mother, Rev. Georgetta Dix. I spent a day searching out friends and family to help tell her story. Plus I discovered the joy of “The Lord is Holy,” a gospel choir classic Regina loved.
I wrote this story in mid-March, an early warning that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to have a huge and negative financial impact on local governments. The predictions in the story came true. To date, Washington D.C. seems quicker to fill stockings with coal than with money, but for mayors and county executives, just like for the Red Sox and Yankees, “there’s always next year.” Can’t come soon enough!
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