With 2016 about to end, we're talking with a bunch of people about the past year.
Next up: We asked a handful of local reporters about which stories were most interesting to cover this year...
A quick note about what "interesting" means for this question. As we said to the journalists, we weren't looking for the "biggest" or "most important" story that they covered, but rather one that, for whatever reason, ended up being especially interesting to them personally as they covered it.
Katie Eastman - Time Warner Cable News
I wanted to do this story the very first week I moved to Albany. It only took me two years to finally tell it. Friends brought me to the bar Stout, and as soon as the music began, a guy started dancing. We all know how terrifying that is to be the first person on the dance floor, but this guy had no fear. My friends told me he was there every single weekend. Two years later, I walked into Stout and handed him my business card. I'm so glad I did, because photojournalist Steve Kameka and I got to know "Patrick the Dancing Machine."
Patrick Kivlen is the definition of the saying "everyone has a story." I loved getting to tell his because so many people have seen him dancing, but no one knew the man behind the moves. I hope you all enjoy meeting him!
Katie Eastman is a reporter for Time Warner Cable News. | @EastmanTWCNews
Mark Robarge - The Record
While there may have been a lot of "bigger" stories this year (especially the city budget), the story I found most interesting personally was a Record Store Day preview I wrote about the River Street Beat Shop, an old-fashioned downtown Troy record store keeping the legacy of vinyl alive in the digital age.
For an old guy like me to even find a record store still open was amazing enough, but it pleased me to see a new generation embracing LPs and the store experience. I spent many hours in shops like the old World Records on Central Avenue in Albany and the people I met while flipping through bin upon bin of records (and a few bootleg concert tapes) expanded my musical tastes and helped me discover favorite bands like Metallica long before they reached the mainstream.
Mark Robarge is city editor for The Record. | @mark_robarge
Melissa Hale-Spencer - Altamont Enterprise
The most interesting story I covered this year was about Walter Cieszynski, a Guilderland man who had battled cancer for 34 years.
I had written in September an in-depth article about anaplasmosis, a little-known tick-borne disease that can be fatal. It is on the rise in New York State and often missed by doctors. It almost killed my husband.
Walter's wife and constant caregiver, Martha Cieszynski, had seen the Enterprise story and called me. Her husband had been given a blood transfusion in the hospital to revive him after chemo and became very ill. He lay in a fetal position, going through chills and sweats. Finally he was diagnosed with anaplasmosis.
I discovered that donated blood is not screened for anaplasmosis. I editorialized on the subject and urged screening be developed for the disease and, in the meantime, that donors refrain from giving blood if they have anaplasmosis.
This month, I wrote Walter Cieszynski's obituary.
Melissa Hale-Spencer is editor The Altamont Enterprise & Albany County Post. | @@theAEnews
Geoff Redick - Time Warner Cable News
The UAlbany/CDTA bus assault case. This case has pushed the limits of everything I've learned in my young journalism career. For example: How quickly should I question a narrative? When does a victim become a suspect? How hard should we push to get "exclusive video" of a drunken bus brawl? Where is the line between a legitimate investigation and a racist pursuit? Nothing has made this case any easier to cover, and perhaps no story I've ever covered has been more polarizing.
I'll observe this much: There have been people accused of far, far worse actions... whom we've covered far, far less. But this case continues to generate interest -- and with a trial expected in 2017, I'll continue to be there.
Geoff Redick is a reporter for Time Warner Cable News. | @Redick_TWCNews
Abigail Bleck - WNYT NewsChannel 13
Our main role, as journalists, is to act as a checks and balances to bring corruption to light and effect change. But some days, we simply take our viewers to places they'd never go and introduce them to people they'd never meet.
That's what I did, in October, when I walked with Stacey Kozel on the Berkshire County portion of the Appalachian Trail. The word "inspiring" doesn't do Kozel justice -- she hiked 2,190 miles through 14 states to complete the Appalachian Trail in seven months without the use of her body (paralyzed by lupus) from the waist down. In the pieces about Kozel from other media outlets around the country, I noticed there was a lot of focus on the technology that assisted and that's definitely interesting, but what struck me most, after meeting her myself, was her determination, positivity and spirit. We should all strive for that, every day.
Abigail Bleck is a reporter for WNYT NewsChannel 13 | @ABleck_WNYT
Amanda Fries - Times Union
I'm willing to bet most people didn't pay this story any mind. Perhaps they glazed over it, or maybe didn't even notice when it ran. Despite that, the insider perspective I received from one Albany County caseworker allowed me to write what I feel was my most interesting story this year. It didn't break news or offer any earth-shattering revelations, but it did allow me to get to know one woman who is working a tireless job and provide a glimpse into a world that I know little about (aside from what is portrayed on television shows).
The county's 2017 budget including additional caseworkers to help with retention and caseload numbers provided the launching point for me to dig a little deeper on what it all means. By no means does this story provide the encyclopedia into casework, but it gives you a taste. Oftentimes, it's these stories -- the stories about people within our community -- that get lost in the churn of daily news, and I was happy to give one person a voice.
Amanda Fries is a reporter for the Times Union | @mandy_fries
Chelsea Diana - Albany Business Review
Earlier this year, we published a cover story I worked on for months about private employers that hire the formerly incarcerated: How to make it from prison to paycheck.
It was incredibly difficult to get CEOs to talk on the record about hiring people with criminal records. The stigma is part of the problem. The state's prison population is down about 28 percent (around 52,000 people) since 1999. In total, there's 2.3 million people in the state with a criminal conviction on their records. The number one way to decrease recidivism is employment. That's 2.3 million people who desperately need jobs.
In Albany, Trinity Alliance does a lot to help the formerly incarcerated find jobs. The nonprofit finds these people safe housing, education opportunities, helps them with their resumes, filling out applications and framing their stories.
The companies I visited had a variety of reasons for hiring former convicts. Some businesses just did not ask about criminal history on applications. Other companies actively hire the formerly incarcerated for personal or business reasons. What everyone I spoke with had in common was their passion for building the local economy.
It's still hard for both private businesses to hire the formerly incarcerated, and for people with criminal convictions to find jobs. There was some progress on the issue this week at the state level. Governor Cuomo introduced a new regulation to prevent insurance companies from refusing to provide commercial crime insurance coverage to New York businesses that employ people with criminal convictions.
Chelsea Diana is a reporter for the Albany Business Review. | @AlbBizChelsea
Chris Churchill - Times Union
Two columns, and they both involve the same phenomenon: Small upstate places caught in the glare of national media attention.
I had some fun traveling out to Whitesboro to talk to people about the village's infamous seal, which seems to depict town founder Hugh White throttling a Native American visitor. (Amazingly, most people in Whitesboro found the seal A-OK.)
The second column was about a much more difficult subject: The murder of 12-year-old Garrett Phillips in Potsdam and the subsequent trial of Nick Hillary, a black soccer coach. (He was acquitted.)
Both stories involve prejudice, and in neither case was the national media/social media portrayal of upstate New York flattering. In each case, that's understandable. But as I said in the Whitesboro column, people seem to love mocking small places while ignoring the injustices in their own big cities.
Chris Churchill is a columnist for the Times Union. | @chris_churchill
Jon Campbell - USA Today Network's Albany Bureau
It's an easy choice this year: The ongoing battle royale over the seemingly ubiquitous I Love NY highway signs.
If you've spent even a little time on New York highways in recent months, you've seen 'em. There's 514 across the state. They're blue. Generally they're grouped in five, in rapid succession, all touting various New York tourism programs. There's a set on I-90 near Schenectady and another on I-87 near Exit 24.
The short story is Governor Cuomo's administration put the signs up despite the feds explicitly denying the state's request to erect them in 2014. And the state and the feds have basically been feuding behind the scenes ever since.
Why'd I find this battle so interesting? Because it's not really about highway signs. It's about power, jostling for position. If the signs come down, it's an embarrassment for Cuomo -- who has personally advocated for them -- and taxpayer dollars are wasted. If they stay up, the feds look weak; the tail wags the dog.
Matt Driscoll, the state transportation commissioner, met with Federal Highway Administrator Greg Nadeau earlier this month. I'd bet we'll see some sort of resolution early next year.
Jon Campbell is a reporter for the USA Today Network's Albany Bureau. | @JonCampbellGAN
Nia Hamm - WNYT NewsChannel 13
I think the most interesting story I did this year was about Hudson police breaking into the car of someone who owned a mannequin and left it in the front seat. Passersby thought the mannequin was a real person who had frozen to death. Hudson police were not happy when they realized it was in fact a dummy.
This story was interesting to me personally not because it was necessarily fascinating but because of the reaction that it garnered. People in the community of Hudson had various reactions and this story actually made national news. It just goes to show you that Americans really do care about odd and quirky things. Trying to get them to care about legislation that is really impactful can be difficult at times. But getting people to care about a mannequin that looks like a real person: easy.
The other interesting thing about this story was that the owner of the mannequin never spoke to anyone on camera. So his motivations for leaving a life-like dummy in his front seat still remain a mystery. Someone who knows him said that he was getting the mannequin ready for a photo shoot. But without actually talking to him, we'll never really know.
Nia Hamm is a reporter for WNYT NewsChannel 13 | @niahammwnyt
Michael DeMasi - Albany Business Review
The most interesting story for me was one I didn't plan to write, nor is the usual coverage in the Albany Business Review. Yet, I received more feedback from readers than any story I've ever written in my 25 years as a reporter. The story was about Marv Cermak, who died in December at age 84. Cermak had worked as a reporter and columnist for 62 years at The Schenectady Gazette, Knickerbocker News, and The Times Union. He was an old-school reporter and great friend who was honest, funny, tenacious and unsparing in his views about life, people and death.
Michael DeMasi is reporter for the Albany Business Review. | @albbizmiked
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