When I realized things weren’t quite like the textbooks I’d read

The class of 1979. Dan Kittay is in the front row, far right.

Working at the Gazette had a significant impact on my life, both at the time and through the years since. I was a reporter for the paper in 1979, and then came back in 1980 and ’81 as a “City Editor” who helped new interns learn their way around the mass of marble they would call home for a semester.

I came to New Paltz in 1978 as a psych major. After a year of listening to the various factions in psychology fight about which one was the best, I decided to take a journalism class, since I’d always liked to write, and in grade school had created a “newspaper” for my house, where I reported on what the dog did during the day and other items of note. Glenn taught the class, and during the semester talked to me about this program in Albany that he thought might be a good fit for me. Since I had already decided to find a new major, this seemed as good an idea as any, so I signed up.

My first year was the paper’s second, so I had the benefit of people like Glenn and Alan having had a year to figure out the basics, and we had City Editors Anne Erickson and Donna Ciaccio to point us in the right direction. We also had a real office, at 260 Washington Ave., where we had our own desks and several telephones we shared. I had been interested in politics for much of my life, so I had some idea of how state government was supposed to work. Little did I know…

The first days of the semester were a blur of meeting my fellow interns, learning my way around the LOB and Capitol, and realizing with fear that I had to interview all these people and write stories. I was assigned to the Codes Committee, and I remember walking up to Assembly Committee Chair Mel Miller (who later became speaker) and telling him who I was and that I was covering his committee. He said “Great, come by some time and we’ll shoot the sh*t.” I wasn’t expecting the informality, and realized then that things weren’t quite like the textbooks I’d read.

I enjoyed covering the Assembly Codes Committee meetings, since most of the members were from downstate, like I am, and also because they served New York City bagels and cream cheese brought up fresh from the city that morning. There was a lot of laughing, in between serious discussions about bills. One line that always stayed with me was when a member of the minority proposed a bill, and after a long debate saw that it was probably not going to pass. He said to one of the majority members, “That’s not fair, you promised to fight for this until the death.” And the other member answered, “Well, here it is. The death.”

The Senate Codes Committee was a more somber body, and I don’t remember too much laughing. I mostly remember long debates about the death penalty, which had been passed by the Legislature and vetoed by the governor (Hugh Carey).

Some other random memories:

— Going to a Carey press conference and summoning the nerve to ask him a question about the budget and SUNY. I remember Fred Dicker, then of the Times Union, following up with another question about SUNY, and I felt like a real reporter.

— Becoming the first Gazetteer to get membership in the Legislative Correspondents Association, and playing a small part in their show at the end of session.

— The then-Secretary of the Senate was one of the more vocal foes of the paper. He also had a rule about no flash photography being allowed in the Senate Chamber. One evening I walked by the chamber and saw he was by himself, looking at something on the podium. I took out my camera, and pressed the flash test button so the light flashed in the chamber. I turned around before he could see me or my camera.

Since the Gazette experience, I have matured in many ways, to the point where I no longer set off my flash when I walk by the chamber. I learned a lot from my time there, from the mechanics of reporting and writing a story, to dealing with different people who have different agendas, to acquiring a certain amount of self confidence that I can handle stressful situations as long as I rely on my instincts. I was a reporter for an upstate daily for a year after I graduated, but then turned in a different direction, and today I am a web developer and also do some writing for a couple of publications. But I still use many of the skills I learned while at the Gazette, and will always value the time I spent there.