Khalid Bey is worried about the shrinking profile of the Syracuse newspapers, which he thinks will result in much less information getting to his community. Bey, the 4th District common councilor, lives on West Kennedy Street and represents a largely African-American swath of Syracuse’s South Side.
“Some of our senior citizens who are used to getting the paper every day will be without access to information,” he says. And the seniors, notes Bey, tend to have a higher turnout rate in elections than other age groups. “The seniors are your base voters. The younger people have computers either at home or in school or they know how to access them at the library—but they don’t follow the news the same way.”
Every voter counts in the 4th District, where Bey narrowly defeated Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins in 2010 to win his seat from the retiring Tom Seals. The margin was less than 100 votes.
“Seniors who are not so tech savvy will have to rely on TV to get their news, but there isn’t as much information there,” he says. “They will be cut out of the loop.”
As a politician and a candidate, Bey has
to adapt to new ways to reach his core constituents. But that’s not his
main concern about this latest milestone in the Salt City’s transition
to the digital era.
As a politician and a candidate, Bey has to adapt to new ways to reach his core constituents. But that’s not his main concern about this latest milestone in the Salt City’s transition to the digital era.
His complaints about the end of seven-day home delivery of The Post-Standard on the South Side could be the same as you might hear in Solvay, or Baldwinsville, or Manlius. Older folks who can’t get to the newsstand and can’t get online to visit Syracuse.com will be disenfranchised, cut off from the lifeblood of the information age.
But there are solutions available to some, not all. A grandchild with a tablet might fire up the WiFi and show them how to navigate the ePostStandard. The Syracuse New Times might begin a home-delivered paper four days a week (just kidding). Or those with an online hookup of their own could go to Syracuse.com.
But a lot of people in his neighborhood, even if they can get online, won’t go to Syracuse.com. That website carries a taint. “Some people don’t go to the site because of the comments,” says Bey. What kind of comments, we ask? “The racist comments.”
It’s not hard to find the kind of nasty, anonymous feedback he’s referring to. If you read stories about the city, particularly having to do with crime, you’ll see what he means. You can, if you have the stomach for odious and petty mixed with a helping of threatening.
“Often you’ll see a lot what happens in the city is portrayed in a way that isn’t positive,” says Bey. “If there is a crime and it involves a young man and he’s African American, a lot of the comments made are in reference to the ethnicity and not the behavior. I notice when you see, for example, a white teenager in Solvay commit the same offense, you don’t have the same reaction. There are people who are biased and who have time on their hands, and they write this stuff. My people don’t visit the website for that reason: They don’t want to be subjected to that.”
The all-digital world, we are told, is the way of the future. Those who resist its lure are teased and prodded to raise their newsprint-stained hands in salute to the new gods of cyberspace. But in this respect, those corners of the web are 100 years behind the times. The anonymous comment sections are the last territory open to the virulent bigotry that African Americans have so long struggled to ban from the public square.
The cyberklansmen who fill up the comment sections with their bile have marked off an important means of mass communication as effectively as a “whites only” sign on an Alabama restroom did in the 1950s. A daily newspaper, with its letters to the editor section regulated by rules of etiquette that set a standard for civil discourse, is a safe place for people to disagree without being disagreeable. On the letters page we sign our work and stand by it; there are rules that prevent personal attacks and racial insults. The cybercomment sections fail in both of these respects.
So just as the digital news becomes the essential currency of democracy in our local politics, a segment of the population has been effectively disenfranchised. The information they need to engage fully as citizens is kept in a place where they are made to feel not welcome. Attention must be paid.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. You can reach him at