The 24/7/365 news culture of the 21st century, coupled with the staggeringly low salaries paid to the professionals in this industry, has – in part – created a phenomenon I like to refer to as “Lazy Journalism.” Journalists, in either trying to meet a deadline (and/or “scoop” the competitor), or simply wanting to go home after pulling long hours and not being compensated properly for this work, will cut corners on details.

Now, in their defense, this is sometimes done in order to “simplify” industry jargon in news articles, however a lot is lost in translation. As a result, people are misinformed about the issues.

This article from the Buffalo News, regarding the NYS hiring freeze, is a good example. On the surface, it’s an informative article, however there are a number of points that were just not researched properly that make the article misleading.

1. First and foremost, the heading.

31,684 new employees were added to the payroll since July 30. I believe that’s probably true. However, how many employees were removed from the payroll? I’ll venture a guess here – probably more than 31,684. In NYS, you can retire with 30 years in at age 55. People who were born in 1953 are turning 55 this year, which falls smack in the middle of the Baby Boomer generation. This, however, does not include the number of unskilled or semi-skilled direct care positions that tend to have high turnover rates.

To it’s credit, the article did discuss seasonal employment, temporary hires (i.e., workers for the NYS Fair), and Student Assistants (who often do the work of regular professional employees, and for a *lot* less money and *no* benefits package – talk about a cost savings to the State!), however, this will bring me to #2:

2. “The civil service agency hired dozens of test “monitors.'”

Yup, yup they did. Because, regardless of a freeze, DCS still has to run an examination program – the lists take time to establish and are good for four years. Not to mention, many agencies have dozens of provisional employees, which can be remedied by the holding of examinations. The Promotion Test Battery was suspended in early 2007, and as a result DCS has been scrambling to put together examinations for the titles that used the Battery. It took a while, but finally they got to planning and holding a bunch of examinations.

Now, to further explain, tests are traditionally held on Saturday mornings. Special holdings occur on a case by case basis, often to accommodate religious obligations, family emergencies, or alternative work schedules (for example, 24/7 operations cannot have *all* of their staff out at the same time to take an exam). In addition to this, State employees cannot serve as test monitors. Period, full stop. It’s against the law. So, yes, DCS hired test monitors, who worked 8-10 hours on a Saturday to administer an exam, if that.

3. “The Buffalo News for weeks has unsuccessfully sought to obtain the waivers granted by the budget office and civil service department.”

DCS does not grant waivers. At all. They’re not even involved in the process. Not even a little bit. Only DOB has that purview.

(Also, if I’m not mistaken, the waivers generally contain confidential personnel information, which to redact would go beyond the “reasonability” clause in FOIL. I could be wrong on this, however I’m pretty sure that’s why they haven’t – and won’t – receive the waivers.)

4. “The explanations for the hiring are many. For starters, the edict did not affect the authorities, which maintain their own payrolls. Next, a handful of others were specifically excluded, such as the State University of New York, the comptroller’s office and the attorney general’s office. SUNY was left out because state law leaves personnel decisions to the college system.”

The reason for this being, that the Governor has no statutory authority to put hard controls on their hiring practices, other than trimming their budgets. He only has the authority to control hiring at agencies within the Classified Service that are controlled by the Executive Branch – get it?

5. The references to the “Governor’s budget office.”

This terminology is technically true, but actually misleading. The Division of the Budget is under the Executive Department, yes, however most of the positions in this office are apolitical, and in the Classified Service. In other words, they, too, have to take exams to be hired and promoted. Many of the budget examiners there now were there under Spitzer, and before that Pataki, and some worked there under Cuomo. Though this is minor in comparison to the other points as mentioned above, I think it’s still important to clarify, as it changes how one would examine the agency in charge of administering this freeze.

Perhaps I’m too close to the issue, which has me nitpicking the article. However, I feel like someone who had little understanding of the system would simply think it was just full of excuses, when in fact there are specific reasons and facts that were left out – either due to purposeful omission or negligence – that could mislead readers. It makes me think, how often am I the reader who doesn’t know a lot, and is relying on “lazy journalism” to get my information?

Probably, more often than any of us would like.

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