December 8, 2021

Work of Al Vieira

From the editor:

How does one measure the success of a journalist’s professional standards? Is it the quality of the story? Is it the punch of the hedline? Is it the improvement to the bottom line?

For Al Vieira, it’s the quality of the journalists he’s helped improve over a 40-year career. And for that, I’m deeply honored to nominate him for the Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award. At the Cortland Standard, Al Vieira has in just a couple of years raised the level of performance of an entire newsroom.

• The copy editors push themselves to produce better designs, better heds and more engaging packages of information.

• The sports staff has better insight into different ways of doing the same stories, or plans for coverage from a journalist who has runs metropolitan sports desks, and staffed sports desks for national newspapers.

• City desk reporters learn from an editor with more than 45 years’ experience, including leading newsrooms.

• A managing editor, and even a publisher, get good advice on more effective ways to run a newsroom and newspaper.

Al Vieira has done all those things. And not just for Cortland. In contacting colleagues to understand more about Al, we received strong endorsements from journalists in Binghamton and Rochester, Green Bay, Albany and Washington, D.C. We have seen him take leadership roles in Albany, Binghamton, Watertown and Gloversville. He’s worked at USA Today, developing new reporting and storytelling techniques.

The people he’s mentored now lead newsrooms. They’re leading public affairs reporters. A couple cover Major League Baseball for major metropolitan news organizations. A Pulitzer Prize finalist is on the list, as is a member of the White House press corps. Some have left journalism, but still take leading roles in communications efforts.

One instance, in particular, stands out. Al was once my boss, when I was a projects reporter in Binghamton. I had 10 days to turn a 300-inch package on medical professionals who had spent weeks in Sri Lanka following the 2004 floods. The narrative-style report was going to be a behemoth. Al took me aside, suggest I create a series of bio boxes for the team members and take that detail out of my story.

The result was a long story that wasn’t bogged down by clutter – it was among the best things I ever wrote. Al used the bio information to create a design that unified a double truck, thus improving the visual presentation while helping me improve the words. And I learned how the best enterprise packages are planned and built.

I was ecstatic when the opportunity came to recruit him to my newsroom, because I knew he would make our presentation better. But he’s made all aspects of our newsroom better, too.

Attached you will find statements from many other journalists telling similar stories. Al doesn’t just make stories better, or good news reports. He makes journalists better, and together they have improved an entire industry.

And for that, Al deserves the Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award.

Sincerely,

Todd R. McAdam
Managing Editor
Cortland Standard

Testimonies to Al's contributions to journalism

Al Vieira has been a stalwart of Upstate New York journalism for the past several decades. Whether in the Capital District or the Southern Tier or elsewhere, he has set an example for journalists young and old on how to pursue our craft with seriousness of purpose and with a dedication to the truth. He’s done this in sports departments in Albany and Troy, and on the News side of newsrooms such as Binghamton’s, where he guided team coverage of some of the most significant stories in that city’s history. That list includes the floods of 2006, the mass shooting of 2009 and the Cal Harris murder case. I know people who worked for him who spoke of how he challenged them to be at their best when the story required it.

Michael Kilian
Executive Editor
Democrat & Chronicle
Mid-Atlantic States Editor
USA TODAY Network

Had I not met Al Vieira in 2000 and worked for him for five years in Binghamton, N.Y., I doubt I would be entering my 15th season of covering Major League Baseball.

Al brought a sports background to his job as assistant managing editor at the Press & Sun-Bulletin, which meant that he took a keen interest in the newspaper's young minor-league hockey and baseball writer. In addition to being a fountain of knowledge, he proposed story ideas and helped teach me to ask the right questions. Al was a great matchmaker, too. He put me together with Doug Schneider, the paper's metro editor, to cover the return of the American Hockey League to Binghamton in 2003. I'll always be proud of the series of stories that we wrote and the awards that we won for our coverage.

In my post-Binghamton career, Al has been one of my biggest supporters, especially during the eight years that I covered his beloved Boston Red Sox. I'm proud to say that I worked for him, and I can't think of anyone more deserving of this honor.

Scott Lauber
Phillies Reporter
Philadelphia Inquirer

When you switch coverage topics in the newsroom you leave a little of yourself with the last beat you covered. It isn’t easy. Sometimes you stop covering a topic because your editor decides to switch things up and sometimes you ask to move to another beat because you need something new to do.

That was me. I needed a break from cops, courts and public safety coverage. I needed a break from being on call all the time, from the sad stories, from the tough court cases.

But I miss it. There have been multiple occasions where I have talked with Al Vieira about seeing so much potential in coworkers who cover beats and wanting them to be their very best at working that beat. However, as Al would say to me all the time, I needed to take a step back, put my reporter hat back on and remember that not everyone is me.

He taught me to remember that not everyone will be good at covering every topic or be interested in every topic they ever get assigned to in the newsroom. He taught me that the decision on where that person wants their career to go is their decision not yours.

That’s just one aspect of the news business Al has taught me since I started.

But above all else Al has been a confidant when I needed to release frustration and a friend when I needed to shoot the shit. He always puts people first whether in a non-work environment or when he’s talking to me about the stories I’ve written.

And he’s a sucker for a good headline.

Shenandoah Briere
Staff Reporter
Cortland Standard

My time working under Al in Binghamton was great. His knowledge and passion for newspapers showed instantly when I met him. It was early in my newspaper career and I was just beginning to grow as an artist/designer. I learned a lot about life, newspapers and design from Al. I always felt comfortable running something by him that I was unsure of. He has the heart of a teacher. Al would always give it to me straight up and I always respected him for that.

Tyswan Stewart
Graphic Artist
Times-Union, Albany

Heds, and how they worked on 1A, were one of the places Al really excelled. DISASTER, in about 240-point type above a giant photo of a river 10 feet over its banks, summed up the devastating flood of 2006 perfectly … just as MASSACRE ON FRONT STREET captured the killing of 13 people at the American Civic Association in April 2009. Ditto GOTCHA, the day after Saddam Hussein was captured hiding in a “spider hole” dug into the earth. A couple days later, when details leaked out about the junk food packages and other detritus Saddam left behind, Al followed with SADDAM’S HOLE SWEET HOLE, with the subhed: “Dictator was no decorator,” which won a first place from AP. His best, though, was BLACKOUT (from when the power went out up and down the East Coast) topping a front page that was all white type on a black background.

His creativity helped set him apart, as well – as did his willingness to assemble ad-hoc teams to get big results. Scott Lauber, now at the Philly Inquirer, and I were still relatively new (and had yet to ever speak to each other) when Al paired us up to write a takeout on what Binghamton would need to do to get rid of its shitty United Hockey League team and get the AHL back. In addition to launching a long-lasting friendship, we produced way more good stuff than I think everyone expected, so Al got us more than a page of jump space, and then let us figure out what should get cut to fit. I never had a sense of whether that story was any good – I’d never written anything like that before -- until we sat in an editorial board meeting a year or so later and listened to Sen. Tom Libous announce that the city would again have an AHL team. As the scenario was being laid out, Scott said to me or I said to him, “holy crap, they used our story as their blueprint.” Al had that kind of foresight.

That segues into his ability to develop a vision that was clear and simple, and easily understood. When Binghamton U. basketball moved up to Division 1, his simple marching order was “cover ‘em like they’re Duke.” When the paper created a public-service editor’s position, his instructions were “write stories that will win awards.”

As creative and visionary as he could be, he also was incredible at logistics. On day 1 of the flood, we knew what our entire A section would look like – by noon, because he’d already figured it out. He was in charge of the major redesign that accompanied our move from that horrible giant broadsheet to a narrow, 2006-sized web. He moved us into a smaller, yet more readable font that meant that a 12-inch story in the old system was only about 12.5” in the new one. One thing I really liked is that he was all about letting his strongest people do their best work. He didn’t care what your beat was – the story could be a quadruple homicide or the implosion of the college’s basketball program and you could be the county reporter, but if you had the talent, you got the assignment.

A quadruple homicide occurred in Philadelphia, and the senior editor wasn’t sure we should report from down there, and didn’t like to make decisions that could eat into his budget. The reporting staff twiddled its thumbs for a couple days until Al finally came over and said , “Pack a bag; I need you to go to Philly for a couple days and get the story.” I’m pretty sure he took a major professional risk in making that decision.

Oh, and he’s one of two editors I’ve worked with who I’d let mess with my ledes without blowing a gasket.

Doug Schneider
Public Service Editor, Gannett Co. Inc.
Watchdog Reporter, Green Bay Press-Gazette

I worked for Al Vieira for several years at the daily newspaper in Binghamton. Al brought an ambitious, big-city approach to our small-city newsroom. He urged us to go after important stories, chase down tips and generally not settle for a ho-hum effort when something better was possible. He schooled all of us in headline writing and leads, elevating the game of every writer and editor on the team even as he made our daily product better. Other editors pushed us, sure, but Al was there at night as deadline approached. He never acted like he was above the fray. Instead, you'd sometimes find him working on a rewrite or helping with a Page One headline. I learned so much from him.

Rachel Coker
Director of Research Advancement
Binghamton University

I am writing this letter in support of the nomination of Al Vieira for the Syracuse Pres sClub Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award.

As a young publisher, I am fortunate to have someone with the experience and wisdom of Al on my team. In addition to his abilities, good nature and sharp wit, Al is happy to offer his advice – in one of his prior roles or another, he has seen everything and learned from it all. He has provided me with his guidance in matters of personnel, processes, strategies and overall company vision, and I was grateful in every instance.

I hope you will give strong consideration to awarding Al Vieira the Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award.

Evan Geibel
Publisher
Cortland Standard

I was barely one year into my journalism career, working at the Press & Sun-Bulletin in Binghamton, when I was assigned to help cover a major breaking news story. A catastrophic scaffolding collapse at a construction site had sent several workers plummeting to the ground.

Details were scarce but a deadline loomed. I traveled to the site, made the necessary calls, wrote up what I had, and turned in my copy. In the lead of my draft I had reported the number of men who were hurt in the collapse.

“Reilly,” Al Vieira called out. “Quick question.” I looked over and saw Al waving me over to his desk. “How do you know these workers were all men and not women?”

Of course, I didn’t know that. A classic rookie mistake. I had made an assumption that the workers were all men, and I had let it slip into my copy.

The exchange, as I remember it, took less than a minute. But in his firm yet patient manner Al had taught me a lesson I will never forget: Assume nothing.

Al inspired those around him to understand the importance of strong, ambitious community journalism. He was instrumental in shaping and editing one of my first attempts at investigative reporting, an article detailing a district attorney’s failure to prosecute the superintendent of the county jail who had beat a handcuffed inmate. The beating was captured on video that the Press & Sun-Bulletin obtained.

I still remember the meeting where Al came up with the headline, which was perfect: “Why wasn’t this a crime?” A few months later, it became a crime: The U.S. Department of Justice initiated an investigation after our story was published, and the former county jail superintendent served time in federal prison after he was prosecuted and pleaded guilty. Al has a masterful understanding of the power of the printed word and makes everyone around him aspire to the choose words with the same thoughtful precision.

Every day I worked with Al, he inspired me and everyone else in the newsroom to live up to the highest standards of the news industry. He served the community in Binghamton by ensuring it had a daily newspaper that was fair, accurate, and relentless in pursuit of the truth. But just as importantly, Al was a teacher and mentor to generations of young journalists who have put those values to work in all corners of the country.

The standards and values Al taught me have been instrumental in my work as an investigative reporter in Washington. Every time I’m ready to turn in a draft, there’s a voice inside my head asking me if I’ve made any assumptions or reported any facts without fully verifying them. That voice is Al’s.

Al is someone embodies the absolute highest standards of the news business, and who has enriched the careers of others by teaching them to aspire to those standards in every word they publish. I cannot think of any journalist more deserving of this honor I hope Al will have the Syracuse Press Club’s strongest consideration.

Steven Reilly
Pulitzer Prize finalist at USA TODAY
Reporting Assistant to Bob Woodward

Al was the first managing editor I had, and I'm so thankful for that. He showed an interest in me as a reporter at an age where I barely knew up from down. I remember him patiently helping me rewrite one complicated story close to deadline, when other editors may have flipped out on me (and probably, in fact, did). I was making $10 an hour in 2009-10 as an agate clerk at the Press & Sun-Bulletin, but Al gave me a chance to report on serious matters alongside seasoned reporters, and he helped me every step of the way. That kind of faith and experience early in one's career really matters. Most of all, he valued reporting, and I've carried that emphasis ever since.

Evan Drellich
Major League Baseball Reporter
The Athletic
MLB Network