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ANALYSIS by Sean P. O'Neil

Have you ever seen those "Crazytown" commercials on TV?

They are the anti-smoking ads that put people in an amusement park and describe some of the chemicals that are in cigarettes, and then show the stunned faces of the audience. When watching these commercials, it's hard not to think of North Tonawanda's own version of "Crazytown," located at 435 River Road.

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That is the home base of the lowly Tonawanda News, once the pride of the Tonawandas. The financially struggling daily newspaper now bleeds money and has become the biggest drain on the Greater Niagara Newspapers chain, which includes the Lockport Union-Sun and Journal and the Niagara Gazette. The folks in Alabama that run the GNN chain would close the North Tonawanda-based paper tomorrow, were it not for the fact that all three papers, as well as one in Medina, are printed there.

As if their financial problems weren't bad enough, the ethical lapses the News regularly practices have turned the paper into an embarrassment.

For example, take "associate publisher" Terry Shaw.

The man who took his demotion from managing editor of all four GNN newspapers to the "associate publisher" of the bush-league News in stride, Shaw now sits on the Lumber City Development Corporation (LDC) board. That means he has a say in whether a business looking to move into or expand in North Tonawanda could get grants or loans from the government.

The man who runs the Tonawanda News serving on a board that will soon hand out out tax dollars to local businesses?

It sounds like "Crazytown," but it's not. It's North Tonawanda, and no one within the GNN hierarchy seems to have a problem with this.

Some members of the LDC, however, do have a problem with a journalist serving on the panel. One LDC insider, who asked to remain anonymous, said other board members are afraid to say anything at meetings that might end up in Shaw's Sunday column. So, many are just mum and avoid any conversation that might be important for the meeting, but might be taken out of context and printed by Shaw.

That's precisely the opposite effect the people who appointed Shaw in the first place intended. City Council members Sue Hempel, Russ Rizzo, Larry Soos, Cathy Schwandt and Council President Brett Sommer reluctantly voted to put Shaw on the board after North Tonawanda City Attorney Henry Wojtaszek suggested the move might get more positive coverage for the LDC.

For his part, Shaw says he's only on the panel to make sure no funny business is going on.

That's not the only ethical blunder this man and others who work at the News have inflicted on the community. Consider:

  1. Shaw has recently begun to demand that News reporters sell newspaper subscriptions while conducting interviews with subjects. This is one of the biggest no-no's in journalism, and any reputable reporter would never put up with this kind of demand. Even worse, from time to time, Shaw forces reporters onto the streets with news carriers to go door-to-door to sell subscriptions after they have worked a full day. It's a practice called "crewing."

    Imagine eating dinner one night and Bob McCarthy or Lou Michel knocks on your door to sell you a Buffalo News subscription. The Buffalo News' union would drop on the floor in hysterics if the paper's management ever cooked up such an idea.

  2. Then there is Shaw's hiring more than a year ago of managing editor Tim Schmitt. At the time of his promotion from Tonawanda beat reporter to managing editor, his only claim to fame was being a sports reporter for nearly a decade and having his name on the front page of the Tonawanda News when he was a sports intern for running away from cops after being pulled over for a DWI.

    Schmitt has become Shaw's golden child, and can do no wrong. He even got his girlfriend a cushy editing position at the News while others with more experience and talent were passed over. Schmitt has openly written about his dislike for politics, and proudly proclaims that he has never voted and has never even registered to vote.

    Still, Schmitt serves on the GNN editorial board, and last year made all the endorsements in the Tonawanda City Council races. Of course, he had no knowledge of the issues or the candidates, so he chose to "endorse" all the incumbents.

So Shaw's serving on the city's LDC shouldn't be much of a surprise to anyone. In fact, it's business as usual at what locals affectionately refer to now as the "Tonawanda Snooze."

Sean P. O'Neil is a freelance writer who has been a reporter and editor at various local newspapers for more than six years. He can be reached by e-mail at Oneils2000@aol.com.

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