While the biggest news stories of 2014 interested me somewhat, I am more interested in those that were not reported, or reported but given scant attention.
Often these overlooked stories lack the murder, mayhem, sex and scandal that play a large role in the news business.
For example, the U.S. Census Bureau stated in December that Florida surpassed New York state in total population. While one more spectacular house fire will have little effect on the future of New York state, the news from the Census Bureau is of great import to it.
The continuing decline in our population vis-a-vis other states means fewer representatives in Congress and less financial remuneration by the federal government, while increasing our reputation as a state in decline.
When the Oneida Nation announced a few weeks ago that it was opening a $20 million, 67,000-square-foot Wizard of Oz-themed casino in L. Frank Baum's hometown of Chittenango, I only found out about it through Facebook.
As casinos go, the Yellow Brick Road Casino will be a small one. Nevertheless, it will further saturate the casino market and it sends a message to Gov. Andrew Cuomo that Native Americans are not going to let whites encroach on their territory without a fight.
Turning to Fulton County — duly noted was news that the state funded 59 projects of the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council, which covers a six-county area. But it did not fund a single Fulton County project. Collective yawn, except in Fulton County.
Why would the state fund projects in five of the counties but not the sixth, something that has never happened before? A friend of mine thinks the funding was political. Maybe. Maybe not.
Another friend said Fulton County got so much last year, it wasn't given anything this year. Not true. No county got less than Fulton last year. Whatever the reason, after scrutinizing all 59 projects, I found myself not only bewildered by the lack of funding for Fulton County, but also by the number of projects that have little or nothing to do with economic development.
I am surprised that Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have not peed their pants over the $373,590 grant to Utica's Tabernacle Baptist Church to rehab its building.
And you have to stretch the meaning of economic development to the point of meaninglessness in order to comprehend a grant of $412,500 to Herkimer and $159,835 to Cobleskill to rehab municipal swimming pools. Ditto for $484,000 to Little Falls to upgrade a baseball field, justified because the Diamond Dawgs and the school district “use the park for nearly 40 baseball games, attracting hundreds of residents and visitors to the game.”
The state awarded the Baseball Hall of Fame, and indirectly, Google, $750,000 to digitize its collection of artifacts and create a virtual hangout for baseball celebrities and enthusiasts. In spite of the hype about this project, I have a hard time believing it will bring more people to Cooperstown. Nor do I think the Baseball Hall of Fame needs public money.
The craziness goes on and on. There's $80,000 to bring famous Impressionist paintings to Utica's Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute so that people don't have to travel to NYC to see them. Most of those going to see them in Utica will probably be of the class that can afford to travel to New York City. And the $64,600 grant to the Glimmerglass Opera Theatre also seems like subsidized art for the comfortable and well-heeled.
One grant that fits the definition of economic development but nevertheless is corporate welfare is the $2 million grant to Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance, Inc. to develop a way to keep drones from crashing into commercial aircraft.
This grant will also benefit the Hancock AFB's drone program. Unfortunately, no money was given to solve the problem of drone strikes killing civilians.
Nearly a quarter of a billion dollars from our pockets was given to Mohawk Valley counties, cities, businesses and non-profits over the past four years. It would behoove the media to forgo coverage of the next murder or the next feel-good story and analyze and report on how, why, and to whom this money was given.
What contractors were hired to do the work and why? Have the recipient organizations lived up to their promises?
Such stories may not titillate readers like police chases, drug busts and sex scandals. But, I contend, they affect our lives more in the long run, and reporting them better fulfills the mission of the Fourth Estate.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.