No Joke: Journal News' Aman Ali is a Real Comedian

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amanali.jpgIt has often been remarked here that Aman Ali does little more than serve as a stenographer for city and school officials. It has become something of a joke. All of this becomes more clear by a quick visit to his personal web site: amanali.net.

Ali is a regular standup comic in comedy clubs all over the New York City area and performs in comedy clubs and college campuses all across the country. He’s opened for Dave Chappelle and a handful of other acclaimed comics working in the industry today.

At least that explains the Dave Chappelle reference in his Demeterius Hazelton story last July. Busy flying around the country and working late nights at area comedy clubs, he obviously only has time to slap together stories spoon-fed to him by government officials who have found Mr. Ali's "coverage" of New Rochelle to their great advantage.

Over the past few days, Aman Ali has been getting a god deal of national attention for a blog he has been writing entitled 30 MOSQUES IN 30 DAYS.

WNYC Brian Lehrer Show

Boing Boing: Two Muslim guys photo-blog 30 NYC mosques in 30 days

And yes this is the same Aman Ali. In the radio interview he talks about moving to New York 2 years ago from Ohio.

Knight Digital Media Center

ALI, AMAN is a mobile-journalist for The Journal News, Gannett's 150,000-circulation newspaper that covers the suburbs of New York City. He reports breaking news for the paper and online site, equipped on assignments to write stories, shoot photos and produce video at any minute. Ali is a native of Ohio and graduated with a degree in Newspaper Journalism from Kent State University. Prior to working at The Journal News, he was a multimedia producer in Washington, D.C. for The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper. He enjoys playing soccer and schooling his friends in Guitar Hero.

Amanali.net

Aman Ali is a standup comedian that is not afraid to speak his mind...Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, he draws much of his material from living in a household with four other brothers...and only two controllers on the family Nintendo. His comedic edge comes from his strong background in journalism. Ali started off his career as a Capitol Hill reporter in Washington D.C. and has traveled across the country covering presidential races, New Orleans to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Hawaii of all places to cover hula festivals. He continues to write for a handful of newspapers and magazines in the greater New York City area and is an on-air personality for WRNN-TV in New York.

As New Rochelle is the 7th largest city in New York State and the second largest City within the Journal News readership area it would be nice to think that our city might warrant something better than a guy who slaps together stories in between comedy gigs while striving to advance his fledgling career. Here is hoping Mr. Ali has great success with his comedy career; the sooner he goes on to bigger and better things the better. New Rochelle residents deserve a real reporter who is committed to holding government officials accountable, performing actual journalism and not distracted by thoughts of performing stand-up schtick.

Some wonder if Mr. Ali is even showing up when he is assigned to cover New Rochelle. I was at the school board meeting in July when Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak reported on the number of non-resident students attending school in New Rochelle.

Aman Ali filed this report: New Rochelle: Small fraction of students found to be nonresidents.

I made a complaint to Mr. Ali that his reporting was entirely one-sided. It made no mention of the fact that the school board has been denying for many months that any nonresidents were enrolled in New Rochelle school; now they were admitting to about 50 a year (and a cost of $20,000 per student that comes out to $1,000,000 a year to pay for these nonresidents). It did not even mention the concerns raised by school board member David Lacher about loopholes. In fact, it was like he was not even there.

In an email, Ali claimed he was there.

Anyone who has been there can tell you that the Carew Room where the meeting was held is very small. This particular meeting was a lightly attended committee of the whole meeting held during the summer break. I am alone among members of the public who regularly attend school board meetings. I am very aware when people who do not work for the district are present at board meetings. I make it a point to sit where I can keep an eye on who comes in and out and I make notes about who is present. Mr. Ali was not present. Directly after the meeting the board went into executive session and those present were shooed out of the room, Mr. Ali was not among them.

After the Committee of the Whole Meeting, the board went straight to the dais in the "fish bowl" meeting room. They were very serious and tight-lipped because, as was about to be disclosed, a coup had taken place which resulted in Sara Richmond and Chrisanne Petrone taking over the leadership of the school board. The meeting that followed was all about officially swearing in Jeff Hastie and Deidre Polow and the votes on the new officers of the school board. The room was crowded but here was no discussion about the nonresident enrollment issue.

After the meeting appetizers and refreshments were served to celebrate the "installment" of the two board members. Aman Ali was not present for that either.

I later had the opportunity to question Ali about that evening in which he claimed he was at the meeting. I suppose he might have come to City Hall that night and stuck his head in while the Installment ceremony was going on but he was most certainly not present in the Carew Room where Organisciak made his report to the board about nonresident enrollment. Or maybe he just "appeared" and then "vanished". Perhaps in addition to being a comedian, Mr. Ali is also a magician.

In either case the joke is on New Rochelle resident who continue to be poorly served by a news organizations that is little more than the house organ for entrenched power in New Rochelle. All we ask is if your reporters are going to shill for the District at least have the courtesy to have them actually attend the events on which they report.

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

Anonymous on Tue, 09/22/2009 - 11:03

I do not care what Ali does with his personal time or what his personal interest are. However you are correct that he writes brochures for those he reports on rather than being a reporter. Gannett has had so many layoffs I can only imagine why he still has a day job. Ali if your reading this blog, the News business has the old, Who, What Where When and Why and then it requires you dig into many sides to avoid being a Ad Man for the City of New Rochelle.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Tue, 09/22/2009 - 16:24

It is about a failure of the editors at the Journal News which is, in part, driven by the financial straits of Gannett which is, in turn, driven by the broader failure of the business models of all newspapers.

However, success requires readers and the Journal News, like most newspapers, has been hemorrhaging readers of their print version over the past decade. They have picked up an online audience but ad sales from online are about 1/10th of the revenue from print ads.

The question then becomes how to get readers. Some, and I count myself among them, believe that the path towards a new business model revolves around using the web to get "hyper-local". For a paper like the Journal News that means turning Lohud.com into an aggregator for a series of micro-sites that offer lots of reader-submitted content, active comment sections, photos and videos, etc.

Unfortunately, the Journal News has been moving in the opposite direction. They are THE newspaper for Westchester County (and Rockland and Putnam) but they do not have a single reporter assigned to cover New Rochelle as a beat. Like many reporters, Ali works mostly Sunday through Thursday. When news breaks in New Rochelle any time after Thursday you are not going to read it in the Journal News until the following Monday. Case in point, we broke the Bernis Shapiro story on Thursday around 5 PM. The JN did not have a story up until the following week.

I have asked reporters at the Journal News why their stories so often contain only quotes from government/school officials. I am told that they do not have the resources (meaning too few reporters covering too much area) to take the time to seek comment from voices within the community.

Case in point, I am regularly interviewed by news outlets across the country and around the world. Friday I was quoted in a story by Bloomberg and another by The Washington Examiner. I was interviewed by Bloomberg TV the day before for a piece that ran on Friday.

I am the only person in town who makes it a point to regularly attend school board meetings. I am without doubt the harshest critic of the school district and have a well-established track record of breaking stories about what goes on in the New Rochelle schools. Yet I have never once been interviewed by anyone from the Journal News. I do plenty of media interviews so it is not an "ego thing" for me to be interviewed but why would they NOT want to interview me when, for example, I wrote about my son receiving a censored version of the book "Girl, Interrupted" which was picked up in news outlets across the country?

I am hardly alone. There are various organizations in town that are opposed to a wide variety of government initiatives that you NEVER see quoted in the Journal News.

New Rochelle is one of the largest cities in New York State. Gannett acquired New Rochelle's own newspaper, the Standard-Star, many years ago and gave us back instead a few lines from the police blotter each week, coverage of the high school football team and the occasional reporting of goings on in City Hall. Whenever we get these stories we get quotes from the same old people Schaller and Carroll at the NRPD, Strome and Bramson at the City government, Organisciak and Quinn at the school district.

There ARE civic organizations in New Rochelle. There are various ad hoc, single-issue groups. There are prominent citizens, business leaders, community leaders and so on. Yet in the vast majority of stories the Journal News does a boilerplate story, slaps in a quite from the usual list -- Schaller, Carroll, Strome, Bramson, Organisciak, Quinn.

In the cafeteria story do you think they might have sought out some parents to comment on their reaction to the news that New Rochelle had the worst health record in Westchester?

How about the story on efforts to enforce zoning laws to crack down on Iona College students; laws that could just as easily be used to crack down on the slum lords who pack three dozen illegal immigrants into houses intended for one or two small families?

Time and time again you see the same thing -- perfunctory stories which quote the same old officials without challenge. Rarely do the Journal News reporters do a follow up story where they compare what they were told at one time with what actually happened later. And even when they do a follow up piece -- like the one about stimulus funding or Echo Bay -- they do not mention the previous statements which have since been contradicted by the outcome.

Making this even worse is that the Journal News has put about 98% of its online content behind a pay-wall. Try searching for a story from a few weeks ago on lohud.com and you will be told you have to pay $3.95 to read it. The more significant effect of that is to remove from Google the entire archive of on-the-record statements made by local officials so that only the most dedicated residents can make comparisons between what was said would happen and what ended up happening. In an Internet age if you are not keeping your content online so it can be archived by Google you may as well be burning your archives.

Rest assured you will never hear a complaint about any of this from officials in New Rochelle who are quite content with the current arrangement.

Unless and until the Journal News recalls that the primary function of a free press is to speak truth to power the paper will continue to lose readers. It is my hope that if they insist on continuing down their milque-toast path they do go under because New Rochelle will be better off removing the fig leaf of phony news coverage of the City.

As for Aman Ali, it is not about HIM per se it is about the Journal News assigning young, inexperienced reporters from from places like Ohio who parachute in to the area as a stepping stone to developing some other career, spend as little time as possible in New Rochelle and rely on "official sources" for about 98% of their reporting about City government and the school district.

And, as noted above, filing stories about meetings they did not attend.

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