Interesting stories to cover 2012

st josephs albany exterior

St. Joseph's is part of one of the stories mentioned...

With the end of the year coming up, we thought it'd be fun to ask a bunch of people about some of their favorite/most interesting things from the 2012.

Next up: a handful of local journalists on the stories that were most interesting to cover this year...

As we mentioned when asking people for their answers, we weren't looking for the biggest or most important story this year -- we wanted to know which story the reporters personally found most interesting to cover. It could be big, could be small, could be whatever.

Answers have been lightly copyedited, and links added.

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist, Times Union

The most interesting story of the year to me has easily been Albany's struggle to find the best, most fair way to regulate nightlife and entertainment in the city.

It isn't just one day's story. It encompasses a bunch of stories from the entire year -- from the controversial cabaret license system passed in March, to the formation of the Lark Street Area Quality of Life Committee, to the city's post-foam-party crackdown on the Armory, to the Lark Tavern burlesque brouhaha, and now even the brewery proposal for St. Joseph's Church.

The reason: The city is trying -- with good intentions, I believe, albeit sometimes clumsily -- to balance two completely legitimate competing interests: Those of tax-paying residents not to have their quality of life wrecked by drunken revelry in their backyards and those of the local arts and music community to foster the kind of scene that makes Albany the kind of place where people want to spend time (and money!).

Both are so important to the city's future. Albany needs to be the kind of place that people feel like they can comfortably live and it needs to be the kind of place that doesn't just say "no" all the time. That's what makes the tug of war so fascinating, and that's why we probably (definitely) haven't heard the last on the subject.

Here's a January story I wrote on the cabaret licensing system that unwittingly foreshadowed the drama that would follow, though of course I didn't know it at the time.

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist covers the city of Albany and Albany County government for the Times Union | @JCEvangelist_TU

Sara Foss, Daily Gazette

One story I particularly enjoyed working on was an update of Yassin Aref, the Muslim pizzeria owner convicted of terrorism charges in 2006. I covered Aref's arrest and some of his pre-trial hearings, but he wasn't giving interviews back then. Now he is able to email from a low-security prison in Pennsylvania, and quite willing to discuss his experiences and relate his opinions. Hearing his perspective, after so many years of not hearing it, was what made this story interesting to me.

Sara Foss is the Sunday reporter for the Daily Gazette and a resident of the city of Albany

Innae Park, YNN

It's been a tough few years in certain parts of Troy. In the past months Pastor Willie Bacote of Missing Link AME Zion Church and city officials collaborated to hold community forums where people could speak up about the tension between police officers and the public.

In the many times I've spoken to the community activist pastor, he was always cautious about his word choice.

Until November. It was another meeting, something a reporter would routinely cover. But that night, Pastor Willie used what he called "The 'R' Word." After he openly stated some members of the police force were racists, the word kept bristling and jabbing me. It's hard to swallow that this word is still in today's conversation.

I'm not immune. I realize that I live in a world where I've seen it, read it, heard it. Even so, it's always easy to brush under the rug. At least, until someone voices it.

I'm not commenting on whether the officers were racist or not. I don't have access to the full information in those situations. This story stuck with me because it was a reminder that the year 2012 is not the end of racism. And I don't know when that will be.

Innae Park is a reporter and anchor at YNN | @InnaePark

Julia Reischel, Watershed Post

Our biggest investigative story of 2012 was "Ski VIPS: Cops skied free at Belleayre." This story began with a source who used to work at the state-run Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, who came to us with documents that showed that county and state police from across the Catskills were given free ski tickets. Perks for police officers seem to have been a longtime policy at the state-run facility. For state police officers, receiving those perks is a possible violation of ethics law. The free tickets policy was also the subject of a secretive and still yet-to-be-released investigation by the New York Office of the Inspector General.

This was a big story because it involved an issue that the state operator of the ski center, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, didn't want to discuss. Nobody would talk to us about when or why ski tickets were given to cops, or whether the cops gave or were expected to give anything in return. The documents that our source provided were the only window into the machinations of a bureaucracy that is owned by the taxpayers and is theoretically accountable to them, but that in practice is a giant black box. The story came just as the DEC was handing over control of Belleayre to the Olympic Regional Development Authority, a delicate time for the ski mountain's future.

Julia Reischel is a co-founder of the Watershed Post.

Jimmy Vielkind, the Times Union

Roy McDonald's re-election campaign, and Republican Primary loss to Kathy Marchione.

This was an interesting race to cover because it combined by statewide concerns -- McDonald was one of four Republicans to back same-sex marriage, and raised many thousands of dollars from gay rights activists in New York City and beyond -- with local issues. When McDonald ceded the GOP line to Marchione, but left open the idea of a third-party run on the Independence line, there were even more interesting quandaries about who might support him, and what would become of the Democratic candidate, Robin Andrews. McDonald, who is quite blunt, is also a good character for any journalist to write about.

Jimmy Vielkind covers the state Capitol for the Times Union | @JimmyVielkind

Abigail Bleck, NewsChannel 13

Journalists are often directed to past court cases (referred to as case law) that judges use to make decisions on current cases. In October, however, NewsChannel 13 broke a story that will set the precedent for all future same sex marriage discrimination cases across New York State.

Liberty Ridge Farm, in Schaghticoke, told two Albany women that they couldn't book their farm for their upcoming wedding. The venue wasn't reserved -- the owner stated it's because they are gay.

The couple registered a complaint with the NYS Division of Human Rights. The women feel they are being unfairly discriminated against because of their sexual preference and the farm's owners maintain it's private property and therefore their right to decide who can and cannot marry on their land. The NYCLU is now representing the couple and briefs -- from both sides -- are currently being considered.

To our knowledge, this is the first case of its kind in New York. Not surprising, considering gay marriage has only been legal in New York State for about a year and a half.

This story isn't just interesting because it's a landmark case but also because the farm presented its side, on camera. More often than not the accused person/group/entity says "no comment" or doesn't even return reporter phone calls. But given their beliefs, Liberty Ridge told me they were compelled to explain their side.

{Note: it ALWAYS looks bad when a reporter has to end a story with "And XYZ didn't return my phone call" or "XYZ had no comment}

Even before the story aired in our 6 pm newscast, it took off (a result of our promotion of the piece). People who supported the women and those who wanted to defend Liberty Ridge made it go viral... it was the topic of many blogs, Facebook arguments, appeared in the Huffington Post, and was discussed by radio DJs and talk show hosts.

If I can submit a "feel good story of the year," this is it: Max, who has Down Syndrome, was voted prom king (almost unanimously) by his peers at Lake George High School. It's nice to see good news about young people doing positive things... especially considering recent events.

Abigail Bleck is a reporter with NewsChannel 13.

Susan Arbetter, the Capitol Pressroom

The short, bitter tale of SUNY's Shale Gas Institute.

Early this year leaders at the University at Buffalo thought-up, gestated, and gave birth to the SUNY Shale Resources and Society Institute. There was no announcement, no community outreach, and no website, so when one of the journalists at Art Voice, Buffalo's alternative arts weekly, stumbled across a reference to the Institute in a speech, he got curious.

After some investigating, Art Voice's Buck Quigley found SRSI was funded by the SUNY Research Foundation, and its top researchers all had considerable ties to the natural gas industry.

Its first study, on the impacts of natural gas drilling on the environment, quickly came under fire from anti-fracking activists, as well as a group called the Public Accountability Initiative. According to a headline on the PAI website:

"Data in UB Report Contradicts Its Own Conclusions About Fracking's Environmental Risks * Entire Passages Copied from Pro-Fracking Think Tank Report * Report Authors Have Extensive Ties to Natural Gas Industry"

The fall out climbed as high as SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, who stated on the Capitol Pressroom that she would call on UB to counter criticism of the report.

Soon after UB faculty demanded to know how SRSI came about, where its funding would come from in the future, and if whether the shoddiness of its first reportage might reflect poorly on the institution as a whole.

By November, the UB Shale Resources & Society Institute had been dissolved by UB President Satish Tripathi with this statement:

It is imperative that our faculty members adhere to rigorous standards of academic integrity, intellectual honesty, transparency, and the highest ethical conduct in their work ... Because of these collective concerns, I have decided to close the Shale Resources and Society Institute.

One side of the short tale of the UB SRSI can be found here.

Post Script: I have heard rumblings that the SRSI may only be "Freddie Krueger dead" as we say at the Capitol: That it may emerge from the ashes somewhere east of Buffalo quite soon. Binghamton sounds about right.

Susan Arbetter is the host of the Capitol Pressroom | @sarbetter

Michael DeMasi, the Business Review

I wrote a story in September about Vincent Zandri, a local novelist whose father, Dick, died suddenly in December 2011. Dick owned Zandri Constrution Corp. in Cohoes.

Vincent had no interest in following in his dad's footsteps, a decision that caused friction between them and resulted in no natural successor after Dick died. Vincent wrestled with the difficult task of shutting down the company, and ultimately decided it was the right choice despite the jobs that would be lost.

It was an interesting story for me because of Vincent's willingness to open up and talk about a personal struggle that affected many other people.

Michael DeMasi is a reporter with the Business Review | @AlbBizMikeD

Bethany Bump, the Daily Gazette

I'd have to go with a business feature I wrote on Bilinski's Sausage in Cohoes: "From Russia with a Love... of sausage."

I remember when my editor suggested I tour this sausage factory, and the first thing I thought of was that quote from Leo on The West Wing: "There are two things in the world you never want to see made: laws and sausages." As a one-time vegetarian, the idea was revolting. But guess what? Seeing how the sausage gets made is pretty... appetizing. If you ever take the tour, ask to see the smokehouse.

Bethany Bump is a reporter with the Daily Gazette | @BethanyBump

Andrew Beam, Troy Record

Witnessing approximately 200 people swarm to the "Say No to Drugs" mural under the Hoosick Street Bridge to watch an impromptu performance from the What? Cheer Brigade was one of the more interesting things I saw this past year. It was kind of awesome to see the police enjoying themselves across the street and not interfering, even offering to allow them to march through the city. Kind of reminded everyone how awesome Troy is.

Andrew Beam is a reporter with the Troy Record | @beam_record

Thank you to everyone for their answers!

Earlier on AOA: Favorite local foods 2012


Great post, AOA and contributors!

Great piece - I'd love to hear this group of local "luminaries" on AOA more often!

I'm not a big beer drinker, but I have been to the Pump Station many times for dinner and the crowd there is not a bunch of drunken rowdy college students. In fact, it's a place that my suburban friends are comfortable bringing their families to.

The brewery that wanted to go in to St. Joseph's church was targeting a similar demographic and was ready, willing and able to work with the residents so that the business would have very little impact on their quality of life.

I think it's high time for the residents of Albany to realize that they live in a CITY and they need to embrace good, sustainable ideas and the people willing to bring these ideas to fruition.


@Sara--Son of Mountain is one of my all time favorite books. I learned so much and had my heart changed by the time I was half way through the book. I don't read the gazette, so I missed the up dates on Mr. Aref. Now I'm going to have to go check it out. Thank you for following up on him.

If you havent' read the book, please please please read it.

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