Depending on who you talk to, Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication ranges from being number one in the world to being one of the top three in the country. A typical class includes students from China, Belgium, Brazil, Atlanta and Pittsburgh. They are the best and brightest students in the world, with a reputation for being highly competitive overachievers.
The building complex includes Newhouse I, II and III and takes up an entire city block. Newhouse I was dedicated by ex-President Lyndon Johnson; Newhouse III was dedicated by U.S. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. It is a school that calls attention at the highest level.
The Newhouse School —it used to be called simply the Journalism School —includes courses in magazine, newspaper and broadcast journalism. The professors clearly tell students that they are being prepared for top jobs at CNN, Newsweek and the New York Times. One newspaper professor said, “If you all you want to do is write for the Syracuse Post-Standard, go downtown and do it. You don’t need an education from us.”
In the 1940’s, Samuel I. Newhouse purchased the Syracuse newspapers, which then included the Herald Journal, Herald-American and Post-Standard. The Post-Standard is the only one that survives. Since 2001, I have brought half a dozen stories to the Post-Standard that I deemed newsworthy.
CPEP—the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program at St. Joseph’s Hospital—is a locked unit with eight beds. A 9-year-old boy was held there with a convicted killer; a 6’7”, 420 lb. man who’d threatened to kill his brother’s little boy, and a deranged housewife who took the child into her bed and wouldn’t let him out. No staff members were on the floor at the time; they refused to come out of the nursing station. The Post-Standard did not report the story.
CPEP serves thousands of people a year and is over-crowded, under-staffed and ill-managed. When I told a reporter all about CPEP, he said, “The story is too big. I wouldn’t know where to start,” and did not report it.
St. Joseph’s inpatient psychiatric unit had a fire at a time when there was such a shortage of beds that local patients were being sent out-of-county for hospitalization. The Post-Standard reported that a vice president at St. Joseph’s said the fire damage was minor and the unit would be fully functional within a few days. In fact, doctors were ordered to discharge patients prematurely and the unit lost twenty-five percent of its beds for six months. When given information that contradicted the official story, the Post-Standard did not follow up.
Loretto is arguably the largest geriatric center in Central New York. One of its facilities, the Bernardine Apartments, has 216 apartments that are mostly occupied by people in the Assisted Living Program. Residents were going for days without pain medication; the front door was frozen open; one tenant was trying to heat her apartment with the broiler in her stove. A woman fell and was left lying on the floor because “She’s independent, not in the program.” Despite repeated complaints over a period of months, the NYS Dept. of Health did not investigate. Neither did the Post-Standard.
Call-a-Bus, the paratransit division of Centro’s bus company, has a ridership of more than four thousand people. Its service was well below the standards set by the Federal Transit Administration and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Eligible riders were denied rides; riders with electric wheelchairs were told to take line buses; applications could take as long as six months to be processed; riders were left sitting out in below-freezing weather; complaints were buried and official reports were filed stating that there were no complaints. The Post-Standard did not report it.
The FTA Office of Civil Rights did an investigation. Their report was 101 pages with 15 appendices. The Centro executive director, Frank Kobliski, said the service got a B+; the rider who was interviewed said it was a D-. The Post-Standard reported it as a B+ without asking the FTA what letter grade they would give it. The government does not file a 100-page report to tell a CEO that he’s doing an above-average job.
St. David’s Court houses twenty-four severely disabled adults, half of whom are in wheelchairs. Their disabilities include muscular dystrophy, quadriplegia, spinal bifida, cerebral palsy, deafness and blindness. It is segregated housing; able-bodied people are not allowed to live with the disabled tenants at St. David’s. The property is under the management of Christopher Community and has had six managers in five years. The staff consists of one part-time manager and one full-time superintendant.
There was a fire when no staff were on the premises. People in wheelchairs were trapped on the second floor. The lobby was so clogged with wheelchairs that the firemen had trouble getting through. Thereafter, Christopher Community refused to have a fire drill, giving as their reason that they would be financially liable if anyone was injured. The Post-Standard refused to report the story.
When asked what criteria made a story worthy of reporting in the newspaper, a city editor said, “I really can’t tell you. I just know a story when I see it.” Subsequently, a Newhouse professor handed me the criteria that are taught to first-year students.
Medicaid transportation in Onondaga County carries 1500 rides a week and the vendors bill the state $8 million a year. The county let the quarter-million dollar dispatch contract to a company without putting it up for bid. After holding the contract for four years, the company came under investigation by the state Inspector General’s Office for failure to maintain adequate standards of service. The county continued to let the no-bid contract to the same company.
Patients sit all night in Emergency Department waiting rooms because they can’t get a ride home. Inpatients are kept in $1000-a-day beds for lack of a $27 ride to a nursing home. Patients needing rides are kept on telephone hold for up to half an hour. Retribution and intimidation have been visited on complainants. Vendors can’t hire competent drivers, and drivers work 60-hour weeks without lunch breaks, health insurance or paid holidays.
Stan Linhorst, managing editor of the Post-Standard, said, “We will not be covering this story in the foreseeable future.” At the same time, the Post-Standard published three lengthy front-page stories about one woman whose power wheelchair had been stolen.
Meanwhile, at the Newhouse School, a newspaper professor was asked why the faculty didn’t get together and do something about the lousy reporting in Newhouse’s Post-Standard. He replied, “Because the Newhouse Foundation just gave us $15 million for Newhouse III.”