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By David Staba

It was, in many ways, a typical delivery of the Niagara Falls Reporter.

A friendly restaurant manager looked at the cover of the new issue, chuckled, and placed the stack of newspapers next to the cash register. A customer walked over, picked one up and started flipping through. A group of four people sitting at a booth, learning there was a representative of the paper present, invited him over to share a story tip.

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This kind of interaction makes every Tuesday something of an adventure for the staff of the Reporter. The weekly feedback provides a healthy serving of satisfaction, more than a few stories and the occasional portion of colorfully worded criticism.

Usually, though, such a scene plays out in downtown Niagara Falls, or on Pine Avenue, or in LaSalle, or out in Lewiston -- someplace near the more than 500 locations where the Reporter has been distributed since it became a weekly venture in September 2001.

The diner in question here was on Main Street. Main Street in Buffalo, that is.

Not that the Oct. 5 edition of the Reporter marked a true Buffalo debut. We've regularly dropped at least 100 copies at a couple of coffee shops and taverns there. We even upped circulation on a couple of occasions specifically for Western New York's largest city.

The biggest splash resulted from an issue we did when Kaleida Health's board of directors was trying to figure out a way to shut down Children's Hospital while paying its executive staff unbelievable salaries and bonuses.

That's one thing we love about Buffalo -- the place is rife with the same sort of greed and ineptitude that gives us so much to write about in Niagara Falls. And since it's a much larger city, there's exponentially more material.

So while we've had something of a presence there for years, as well as drawing a large chunk of traffic to our Web site (www.niagarafallsreporter.com) from our neighbor to the south, last week marked our first regular large-scale distribution effort in Buffalo.

Every Tuesday, we're delivering the Reporter to about 40 places around the city (see ad, Page 12). They're the same sorts of establishments where our Niagara Falls-area readers find us -- coffee shops, restaurants, bookstores, sub shops and the occasional tavern.

"It's good to see a new paper around here," said one first-time reader. "We certainly need one."

Which is the No. 1 reason we're going there. Like all sage business people, one of the first things we did before expanding into a new market was to size up the competition. And we found there isn't any.

There are several weekly pennysaver-type publications centering on particular neighborhoods, but only one free weekly paper available throughout the city. Most of its heft stems from its voluminous listings of upcoming musical, theatrical and artistic performances and showings, which are great if you like that kind of thing.

The "news" pages, though, are filled with syndicated blather that you could find in any other city with an equally precious publication. Last week's cover story, on President George W. Bush's antagonistic relationship with science, was a reprint of a story first published on a Web site. Most infamously, one syndi-cover last summer courageously exposed the pressing problem of people selling flawed Chihuahua puppies -- in San Diego.

On the rare occasion when the weekly offers anything approaching local news, you can rest assured it will deal with Elmwood Avenue, the Chippewa Strip or the Theater District. The rest of the city only rates mention when reviewing a Vincent Gallo movie.

To be fair, though, most of the cartoons are pretty good. Of course, they're all syndicated, too.

Then there are a couple of biweeklies.

Every other week, one of them attempts to bore its readers into submission while cramming as many obscenities as possible onto each page.

Meanwhile, the other attempts to bore its readers into submission with relatively clean language.

I'd say, "Take your choice," but judging from the pristine stacks of unfolded copies of each at many stops on our new Buffalo route, it's clear that not many people even bother.

Then there's the Big Boy of Buffalo Media, the Buffalo News.

You can't possibly put the News in the same category as the chain of dailies in Niagara County that we at the Reporter so love to smack around. Management there has steadily squeezed payroll and expenses to make sure Warren Buffett can pay his cable bill each month. Still, the size and the abilities of its editorial staff would embarrass the higher-ups at Greater Niagara Newspapers, if they hadn't long ago lost their ability to feel shame.

The Buffalo News, though, shares one trait with the Niagara Gazette and its rather simple siblings in Tonawanda, Lockport and Medina. They all behave as if Buffalo and Niagara Falls were 200 miles apart and separated by a mountain range, rather than 20 miles down the 190 from each other.

The News sporadically covers Niagara Falls, missing key stories such as the lawsuit recently filed by angry taxpayers over the Great Hyde Park Golf Course Giveaway. GNN treats Buffalo as an exotic, distant land to be covered by the wire services, rather than a major city whose future is directly intertwined with its own.

The decision-makers at the News also have an odd fascination with the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, consistently quoting Partnership CEO Andrew Rudnick as if he were an authority on anything other than creepy-looking mustaches and parroting the group's viewpoints on just about every topic.

The Partnership wrapped its tentacles around the Niagara USA Chamber several years ago, installing Bobby Newman as CEO of the newly formed group. Like most everything the Partnership tries, that ended in disaster.

Which brings us to the single biggest tie that binds Buffalo to Niagara Falls, Erie County to Niagara County.

Whether it's Main Street in Niagara Falls or Main Street in Buffalo, people repeatedly ask, "Why are things like this around here?"

There are plenty of lengthy socioeconomic explanations, but there's a very simple one underlining all of them.

The people who run the show like it this way. If you own the only business of its kind -- say, a fuel company with dozens of gas stations and an exclusive contract to provide jet fuel at the region's only functional airport -- why would you want to risk a competitor moving into town?

So the people who run the Partnership, billed as some sort of highfalutin' chamber of commerce, busy themselves with make-work studies and odd advertising campaigns that never amount to much.

When it comes to the basics, like helping people who might want to do business in Western New York, Rudnick and company are too busy figuring out theoretical ways to break unions to be bothered.

Last month, when officials from Radio City Music Hall were looking for a place for the Rockettes to rehearse in preparation for their annual Christmas tour, they turned to the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise.

The BNE, a wholly unnecessary offshoot of the Partnership, quickly proved its utter lack of worth. In a city rife with empty buildings, plenty of underutilized theater space and a half-dozen colleges boasting large auditoriums, BNE officials shrugged and sipped espresso while the Rockettes headed to Columbus, Ohio.

Such fiascos are the reason we're here, and there.

The people who pass for movers and shakers in these parts get away with such bungling, deception and outright fraud because they don't think anyone is paying attention.

For too long, no one has.

Well, the free ride is over.

But free distribution of the Reporter in Buffalo is just beginning.

David Staba is the sports editor of the Niagara Falls Reporter. He welcomes e-mail at dstaba13@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Oct. 12 2004