Taking a stand
An interview with the D&C's David Andreatta
David Andreatta, a columnist at the Democrat and Chronicle, has been a journalist for sixteen years. Over the this time he has used his craft to take down and report on the actions of those meant to safeguard the community. From “tax delinquent politicians to Boy Scouts banning squirt guns,” Andreatta implements his tenure in investigative journalism into his weekly columns, looking to take a stand in Rochester.
What originally got you involved in the David F. Gantt story you’re so well known for?
[State assemblyman Gantt] basically abandoned this house and stopped paying the taxes on it, just kind of walked away from it, in a neighborhood that’s already had its fair share of blight. He’s also a governmental representative of the area. I have zero tolerance for that kind of behavior and thought I’d use my position to have a little fun with it. In the first installment, after it was first reported the city had taken that house because he declined to pay the taxes on it, I went to visit the place, saw that it was overgrown, kind of a picture of blight, and decided to mow the lawn as kind of a gag, if you will. I still get asked all the time if I have my lawn mower handy. The second installment was learning the home was slated to be demolished in September. The city was going to pay for the demolition, like it always does; some argued David Gantt should be charged for it. I would actually argue against that—the city can’t really delineate between real hardship cases and walkaway cases. The city is dealing with hundreds of these properties every year. I think it’s unfair too. With that said, it’s not unfair to continue the needling. I put a little twist on it. You typically name parks and buildings for people who have done good things to enhance the neighborhood or enhance that building, or enhance that structure or park. In this case I thought it would be a funny way to suggest the neighborhood would always be reminded of who gave them this property: their sometimes taxpayer, assemblyman David F. Gantt.
One of the things you mention on your Twitter bio is you’re the “Writer of Wrongs for the D & C.”What do you mean by that in relation to your writing?
My background is in investigative reporting. Before I started writing columns, which was in June of 2014, I worked for the Democrat and Chronicle’s investigative team, or what they called the “Watchdog Team,” for over five years. A couple of highlights from those years: The director of the Monroe County airport was fired because of a report I wrote about his mishandling of public money. The auditor was fired, too. The director was spending tens of thousands of dollars on cigars, wine, and strip joints. I exposed that. I wrote a story about the Rochester Housing Authority’s director and deputy director moonlighting with a company that was also under contract by the Rochester Housing Authority. They were essentially earning two paychecks, and they both got tossed. I wrote a story about ticket fixing in the Rochester police department. I have a long history in investigative work that’s had an impact. That should be the goal—I think—of journalists, whether it’s investigative reporting or column writing, you want to have an impact. You can’t be afraid to stir the pot. You have to work with facts, and these stories have to be relevant. But the goal should be, I think, to tell a story, to right wrongs. I think the primary goal of journalism should be to right a wrong. I mean, journalism is doing. Sometimes I hear this complaint a lot; journalism is just observing and recording. We’re not stenographers. We should be effecting change. I try to always keep that in the back of my mind when I work, including when I’m writing columns.
Are your columns always investigative?
No not always. My mandate is to write opinion pieces, commentary off of the news. News that’s typically already been reported. For example, David Gantt: There’s a report that the city has taken his house. That was the end of the report. I tried to take it further by adding my own spice to it. There’s nothing that says a column only has to be opinion. There should be reporting. Columns should be reporting, and I try my very best to do that.
What do you think about the shift from print to online?
What’s challenging for the newspaper industry is to find a way to monetize the news delivered online. I know our digital subscriptions are growing; I know our digital audience is growing. That said, we’re shifting from a model that worked for the industry for more than two hundred years. In terms of the newspaper going away, I don’t really think of it as going away. I think of it as simply a shift. I don’t care how people get their news, as long as they pay for it, and they realize it’s something that is a commodity. It’s not just free. There are real people behind the bylines doing the work.
What’s kept you in Rochester?
I’m in my sixteenth year; I’ve been at the D & C since 2008. I had a brief hiatus in 2013—I moved to Toronto. I took a job at the Globe and Mail. I had done freelance for them before, and there was an opportunity to join the staff. I’m a duel citizen; I have U.S. and Canadian citizenship. I thought it would be good for my family, but it turned out to just be more city living. Before we were here we lived in New York, and I worked at the New York Post. So I’ve lived the city life, I’ve done the big city thing, and I really realized how much I appreciated Rochester, and its small town feel, but big city amenities. Great cultural scene, great music scene, great art scene, sports scene—all those things.
At what age did you get into journalism?
Twenty-four, out of college. Then I went to Syracuse University and got a master’s in journalism (what was then called newspaper journalism). I think it’s called new media now. I had a difficult time breaking into the business in a place I wanted to. I had some offers at trade publications and stuff like that, but I wanted to work in a big city, and I just couldn’t do it with the clips I had coming out of college.
You act at Blackfriar’s Theatre. About how often?
It depends. A show has to grab me, and then I go, and there’s an auditioning process. It’s a small enough theater community that sometimes you’ll be asked to audition, and it’s sort of a good sign if a director will want you. Other times it’s just like a regular casting call, and you’ll go and audition. I’ve done that numerous times. On average, in seven or eight years I think I’ve been in seven shows. So I’ve done basically one a year.
What are your columns usually about, and how often to you write them?
It’s a weekly column. My topics are as varied as tax delinquent politicians to Boy Scouts banning squirt guns. One I’m particularly proud of, although nothing’s come of it yet, but I believe something will, because it must, is one I did about a month ago about a heroin overdose. A woman died of a heroin overdose on East Avenue. She was a prostitute and she overdosed in her john’s apartment, and he didn’t call for help for forty-five minutes. He did a number of other things in that forty-five minute span, and the doctor at the emergency room told the police officer when they finally did bring her in that had she been seen sooner there might have been a chance to save her life. I don’t know what the district attorney is waiting for in terms of bringing charges against this john. Something should be done. I find a great deal of gratification and reward in telling stories like that, where you just ask yourself “Does this make sense? Does this sound right?” If the answer is “no” I want to write about it. Maybe you can make it right. Maybe. Or at least make sense of it. Try.
Dan Leicht is a freelance and fiction writer from Rochester. Find new work on his website, danleicht.com, or connect with him on Twitter at @Deeliopunk.