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Guest Column: Leslie Danks Burke

“Local Media Matters: Now More Than Ever”

Leslie Danks Burke is running for New York State Senate in the 58th district, which includes Schuyler, Chemung, Steuben and Yates counties, and part of Tompkins. Her office is at 700 N. Franklin St., Watkins Glen.

WATKINS GLEN, May 20, 2020 -- On April 28, the Elmira Star-Gazette put the pieces together: Even though “no Steuben County nursing homes appeared in data released by the state on nursing home deaths,” it still seemed that “26 of Steuben's 35 coronavirus deaths were linked to nursing homes.”

Steuben County officials had been trying to get a policy change to address the spread of COVID in local nursing homes for weeks, said County Manager Jack Wheeler.

Finally, on Wednesday, April 29, after more media attention, New York State announced that nursing home staff without symptoms who test positive for COVID-19 are no longer allowed to work, even with COVID positive patients.

Local TV station WENY reported that, “Even though this policy change is a win, Wheeler is troubled with how long it took for it to happen, especially since lives of nursing home residents were lost during this pandemic. It took numerous media outlets to get the spotlight put on the issue before the state made the change.”

"We had a number of joint calls with our local elected officials and the state department of health and governor's office ... but unfortunately ... nothing changed until last night," Wheeler told WENY News.

In other words, it was reporting by our local press -- the Star-Gazette, WENY, and others -- that made this change happen, and it’s a crystal clear example of how local news outlets execute their important role. When they see a problem that our local politicians can’t solve, they shine a light, amplify the dialogue through reporting, and force government to respond.
While many folks have gotten used to 24-hour news channels as a prime source of information, those channels can’t report on our local communities like this, and we here in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes depend on local papers like the Corning Leader, the Elmira Star-Gazette, the Ithaca Times, and the Hornell Evening Tribune -- plus online outlets like the Ithaca Voice, FingerLakes1 and The Odessa File -- for vital information about our towns and cities.

Local journalists were the first to report on the deaths sweeping through our Upstate nursing homes, not Fox News, CNN, or the Washington Post. Never has the value of our local media been clearer than over the past three months as the COVID pandemic sickened and killed so many of our neighbors, even while decimating our regional economy.

Like most folks I know, I start my day by turning to our online and print media to track COVID statistics and to learn how our elected officials are grappling with the pandemic. I believe that our journalists are essential workers whose reporting knits us together. We owe them our true thanks.

But at this very moment when we need the press more than ever, our newspapers face enormous economic challenges. The loss of advertising funds has devastated news outlets that have laid off, furloughed or reduced the work hours of around 36,000 employees.

Ironically, because so many local newspapers are owned by large entities, they could not apply for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to keep reporters on staff. Senator Chuck Schumer, as well as a bipartisan group of House members, have asked that local news outlets become eligible in new COVID legislation.

I urge everyone who is able to reach out and support your local news media however you can. While many of us never thought twice about paying for a local paper, we gripe about on-line paywalls even though reporters, editors and production staff still need to make a living to bring us the news we need. If you can, think about purchasing a subscription to your town’s paper or giving one as a gift. Write to representatives in Washington in support of Senator Schumer’s legislation to support local news outlets. Write a letter to the editor praising a reporter for a story that especially moved you.

The press remains a bulwark of our democracy. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The only security of all is a free press.”

Photo: Leslie Danks Burke

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Carl Blowers, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp

Bottom row: Gary Gray, David Reed, Phil Barnes, Mark Rondinaro


Legislature Chairman

Carl Blowers, 535-6174 or 237-5469

Legislature Members:

Gary Gray, 292-9922

Van Harp, 329-2160

Jim Howell, 535-7266 or 227-1141

David M. Reed, 796-9558

Michael Lausell, 227- 9226

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482

Mark Rondinaro, 398-0648

County Clerk: Theresa Philbin, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Holley Sokolowski, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano-- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791


© The Odessa File 2017
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869