Sunday, March 1, 2015

My local paper went tabloid.

  In response to the link below, I wrote this to the editorial desk at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. If you're not from Pgh it isn't going to make a lot of sense to you so my apologies. 
  My goal here Pghers is to SPREAD THE WORD.

 The PG editorial team dropped the ball running Jonathan Silver and Melissa McCart's article about Kevin Sousa. It sounds off like an expose but it's really a hatchet job. 
  There's no news to it, no journalism. Nothing uncovered but a queasy sense that the Post Gazette is trying to challenge the Trib for getting things "Right" in Western PA.
  The article baits bias against "charity" and non profit people being somehow soft or wasteful because their driving impulse is not a market profit. "How dare Kickstarter not do a financial study of its awardees?" Well, take it up with kickstarter or hear the deeper message- do your own research. 
  How we've again rebounded from the hilarity of anyone championing the free market system, 7 years after the managers of that market got caught with the country's pants down and everyone but them lost about a trillion dollars, I can't quite imagine. You'd think after the banking collapse folks would listen a little less to lies about fair playing fields and have some respect for individuals who want to make change and not a fortune. 
  But - brass tacks: 
  The piece foregrounds Sousa's "debts" and then mention 20 paragraphs later that both the new owners of Salt and Union Pig and Chicken -his former restaurants- assumed most of these these debts willingly. Professionals who'd known Sousa, and worked with him, made an analysis and bought the businesses. 
  So...I know I'm an actor but doesn't that mean it's not his debt anymore?? That's called "business" right?  (Good God, is the PG anti-business? Let's hope next week they go after all those young debt dodgers polluting this nation's cities. Otherwise known as college graduates.)
 How many restaurants run without debt? Damn few. They're accounting dance is up their with Hollywood's.
 But does debt make a business unattractive to investment? In both these cases, obviously not. 
 I can think of a few major corporations, several banks, and a construction company or two in Pgh still standing which if debt was an obstacle to development would have gone down long ago. It must be all the good work they do for the community that justifies the corporate charity and public money they get. Too bad the public can't do background checks on them.
  I forget sometimes that debt's a bad thing until it's really huge. 
  In the article, every foundation who'd given money to Sousa (and THEY do financial background checks) said they still fully supported him and his work.
   Did they respond, "We're deeply concerned, we're looking into it." ? No. 
   Again- where's the news here that's fit to print?
  John Fetterman's family gave 50 grand to the non-profit that's working with Sousa? (Full disclosure, I gave 10) So what?   Should they be using that money to expand the kitchen or put an infinity pool in the backyard?
Is that what we expect our "wealth creators" to do?
Like Dick Scaife floating the Trib for 20 years with his kids' money? 
I sure hope the PG doesn't have similar problems. They might have to accept charity too. 
Now that would be a story.
  I kinda like when the wealthy folks I know support a tough cause rather than paying their golf club dues or expanding the mansion in Peter's Township. 
  A legit issue, something worth taking up an entire page in a major newspaper, would be has Sousa been on the take? Has he siphoned off funds for his own benefit? Nope. Did he pay off his house with the money? No, in fact he took out a second mortgage and invested the money in his own business. 
  Oh and then he moved from a cushy up and coming hipster town to a place that's lost 80% of its population, tax base, and building stock. Because he believes he's capable, it's capable, of major change. 
 He walked away from the celeb chef, tv show, bbq sauce, cook book route to work in this town. It's a hard thing to do. An astonishingly brave move. 
  When Richard Branson blew a couple hundred million dollars during his first attempts at building the Virgin Empire did people call him irresponsible? No they called him a visionary because in the end what he wanted .....was a fortune. He wanted to be rich. And we'll excuse anything as long as the ambition behind it has a bottom line. Driven by ideals and dreams we find it somehow offensive. Uncomfortable. A waste. 
  I find that astounding. Because in the end it's simple envy. It's the worst instinct in the American psyche. Why aren't my dreams worth as much as yours? 
  Call Sousa a dreamer, call him nuts, call him willing to run a deficit. Don't write an article which for 500 opening words makes him sound like a minor felon. It's cheap writing. It's beneath the tradition of the Post-Gazette and truly for the first time in my life as a Pittsburgher I was ashamed to be reading my local paper, the one I delivered as a kid.
 The only article about Sousa that matters will be written in 5 years. Is Superior Motors running, is it not?
 Maybe by then, in the new media economy, the Trib and the PG will have merged. 
 Sounds like they already have. 
 ALCOSAN's going to raise water rates 600% over the next 20 years, two major foundations in this city know our air quality is about the worst in the country and can't talk about it - even in their own board rooms- because of corporate pressure, fracking's happening 100 yards from major County water supplies (which will actually SHORTEN PEOPLE'S LIVES), developers get tax breaks for affordable condos which are never affordable, the Strip's being held hostage by a for-profit company owned by its own non-proft foundation (explain that one Neo Cons) and what do we get in a full page article, a serious investigation into the dark underpinnings of Pgh's power brokers?
 A guy from McKees Rocks owes Sysco 25 grand. 
 Roll press. 


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  2. It is not often that people care as much about the cities they grew up in ..and grow to later want to give back to the community. mr. Conrad continues to make such a great impression on me...his writings are remarkable and his interest in the Pittsburgh commit shows how truly humble and considerate he is...I truly look forward to all of his writings.. I've grown so much on mr. conrad..I've developed some what of a crush lol...

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  4. very well said, bro
    you might want to correct this sentence:

    Their accounting dance is up there with Hollywood's.

    1. I think he was trying to make a point not a proper, grammatical sentence ^_^

  5. Hey, David- It's Jim from Alchemy and NaCl. Thanks for putting this up and out. Spot on.

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  7. Hey, i resemble that remark lol (recent college grad and just made my first payment), actually debt is essential in any business to thrive, it means that a business is doing really well if they have lenders wanting to give them money to keep going. Some folks' notion of the word debt carries a negative connotation but there is both bad and good debt, i better know otherwise what good is my degree lo! ^_^

    1. Lol, not everyone wants to be rich!!

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    3. Lol, not everyone wants to be rich!!

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  9. what doesn't make sense is that a different PG reporter wrote a similar, less brutal version of this article a few months ago. They even used a similar headline. Why does someone like Kevin Sousa warrant this amount of scrutiny? He's just a chef.

  10. I believe Sousa opened hid restaurant in braddock because he also saw the potential that there was in braddock..

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  12. I feel it's newsworthy. As a backer to the Superior Motors' Kickstarter, I feel a bit hoodwinked. I assumed Sousa's other restaurants were successful. Caveat emptor, as you say, but theses are private businesses, their balance sheets aren't public - a debt ratio analysis isn't possible. I backed Superior Motors because the idea was outrageous & rebellious, even if a bit foolhardy. I just hope it's open in time for my birthday, 'cause that's where I wanna go for dinner.

  13. I have seen this happen with our little hometown newspapers, etc. Sooner or later, unfortunately, they do seem to turn into tabloid-like material... That is why I belong to groups, pages, etc. on Facebook about my town, as well as frequently perusing Ossining, NY on Google.

    By the way, some of you may want to check out Ossining, NY. It has a wealth of history for a small Hudson Valley town!

    Have a great Tuesday everyone!

  14. It's disgusting, isn't it. I always wonder about articles like these. Were they written because the corporations raping the environment and/or hurting people are considered to be too big to touch so the writers spew venom on someone who probably doesn't have the time and money to sue? It's sad, especially when written language still has power and these writers have a platform to inspire true, positive change.