Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

September 15, 2013

Gaggling due to governor

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — I got my back up during a gaggle a few weeks ago when Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited Lockport City Hall to hand out checks. The state courtage was friendly enough and one helpful young lady notified me of a gaggle to be held after the formalities in the city council chambers.

A gaggle is an informal press gathering where media swarm around the newsmaker, trying to get position to ask a question. Gaggles are demeaning to journalists who are often pictured stepping over each other and falling over each other’s question.

It happens in big cities, not at Somerset Town Board meetings or at the Starpoint School Board. On rare occasions, gaggles go on in the little city.

Several people gathered around Cuomo and I stuck my tape recorder into the group. A tall young man, about 6-foot-4, told me to go away. I asked, “Who are you?” He replied, “It’s not important who I am. Go away,” or something like that.

Wait a minute. This is a place I work. I come here five days a week. You come twice in four years. Who are you to boss me around? It’s not my house, but I deserve some squatters’ rights.

It turned out that the big guy was a member of Team X. Those are the men who come into town to protect the big shot and give out orders, even to the gentry. They wear suits on 90 degree days and may carry heat. I didn’t push it.

Besides, the media gaggle was behind closed doors 10 minutes later. I was tempted to ask Cuomo if he wanted to launch his presidential campaign from Lockport, but that flippant question gave way to more important questions — like education. They were launched from TV guys kneeling on the floor while trying not to spoil the crease in their pants or mess their hair.

Media folk are almost forced to be rude. I’ve been in plenty. Most took place in smelly sports locker rooms or tight hallways. I recall Joe Namath graciously addressing reporters from a creaky stair case at War Memorial Stadium after a Bills-Jets game and Howard Cosell saying something snotty. Another time, Scotty Bowman mistook me for NHL linesman John D’Amico.

Gaggles are sometimes hectic and usually impromptu, with one reporter snatching a hero or goat and the other geese gathering.

Timing and positioning are important, but much of it is luck. A follow-up question is next to impossible. The bad part is there is little chance to get an exclusive. The good part, you can steal from someone else’s question. 

Reporting beats scraping gum off the floor at Woolworths, loading 100-pound bags of flour into a box car and getting your fingers squished along the assembly line.

Gaggling can be good for the gatherers.

Bill Wolcott is a Union-Sun reporter.

WOLCOTT: Gaggling due to governor