Via email, Grattan announced that he was moving the same committee from which New Lebanon Supervisor Michael Benson resigned in a huff—after rarely showing up, and not getting his way—into Benson’s portfolio:
TO: Airport Committee & Public Works Committee
It has been brought to my attentions [sic] that there is a question regarding the status of the Airport Committee.
First, let me thank all the members for their hard work on this issue. I know that this issue was very complicated and, at times, contentious. I respect your patience and understanding during the process.
The County has several subcommittees: Negotiations, Salary Study, Pine Haven, Central Business Office, Labor Management and DSS Renovations. All report to Finance and each report to their Home Committee (ie: DSS Renovations reports to the DSS Human Services, the Pine Haven subcommittee reports to the Health and Medical Services).
The Airport in some instances could report to Economic Development, County Government or Public Works.
Since the County Public Works Department & Facilities maintains and improves the Airport, the Airport subcommittee should report to Public Works.
The Airport subcommittee has performed two very valuable tasks: one, it has given the Airport the attention it deserves and has increased everyone’s understanding of the uses, functions, economics and future of the Airport. Two, it has provided a forum for the residents of the Town of Ghent, the general public and media to discuss issues in a focused manner.
Again, I thank all of you for your good work and your continued efforts.
In addition to his many absences, Benson was repeatedly outvoted by his peers on airport issues, and showed a remarkable inconsistency in his positions—not to mention an immunity to absorbing facts presented by his fellow Supervisors, let alone by the public. Yet now Grattan has put oversight of that committee into the hands of its (former) member who showed very least interest in its business.
Ancram supervisor Art Bassin, who has chaired the committee, says that he has not decided whether to remain as Chair of the Committee-turned-Subcommittee, and does not know whether Benson intends to invite him to do so.
This site will leave it to others to continue debating the Union Street Guest House’s $500 fine policy (with an intensity more usually reserved to debating Israel vs. Palestine). Was it a “joke,” a scare tactic, or a scam? We may never know, and probably shouldn’t care.
Far more interesting to this observer is the question: Why did this particular story go “viral”?
So far, the story has been covered in at least 200 online and print publications, many of them with a global reach, such as CNN. Reportedly, the inn has been beseiged with requests to appear on national morning programs, as well as p.r. reps pitching their crisis management services to its staff—as if the USGH were Union Carbide.
So why should a story about a small inn in a small Hudson Valley city provoke such visibility, and such vitriol?
REASON #1: It’s August.August is known among news people as the Silly Season. Many public figures, journalists and the public are on vacation, and either not making news, craving lighter news, or not paying attention to the news at all. Hard news drops off, in favor of either titillating tales about bears falling down wells and birthday party clowns punching children, or heartwarming fluff about hayrides for the family at your local county fair... So the USGH yarn hit at just the right time to fill that August news gap.
REASON #2: The Interwebs.The mainstream news media is both notoriously clueless about the internet and easily lured into writing stories about mundane online stuff not normally worthy of coverage without a web angle. (People are meeting their soulmates—ON THE INTERNET! People are gambling—ON THE INTERNET! People are having arguments—ON THE INTERNET!) Since the threatened fine by the Union Street Guest House involved punishing negative online reviews, the story was that much more irresistible.
REASON #3: Boarding Paranoia.Pretty much everyone stays at a hotel, inn or B&B at some point, and business travelers stay in hotels a lot. Most have felt that sneaking suspicion that our bill might be getting padded, even when it isn’t. It’s always a surprise to see a whopping hotel tax and an added telephone charge at checkout time, even though we had every reason to see these coming. Thus when a story arrives which appears (fairly or unfairly) to describe a nefarious lodging proprietor tacking $500 onto a bill, patrons and reporters alike assume the worst.
REASON #4: Hating on Hipsters.Dissing hipsters is to media today what mocking yuppies was in the ’80s. Though the term no longer means much more than “people younger than yourself,” every publication knows that it can lure both clicks and snide comments by including the word hipster. (This writer is guilty as self-charged.) And this hotel story had an apparent hipster angle.
The USGH site’s policy describing the hypothetical $500 fine included a long explanation of why some wedding guests more familiar with Holiday Inns than the Ace Hotel might not “get” its vibe—an explanation presumably based in actual experience with guests. Terms like “vintage” and “hip” were sprinkled liberally on its site, before getting to the policy’s punchline: “If your guests are looking for a Marriott type hotel they may not like it here.” A few might call that refreshing honesty. But most received it as archly snobbish. Now, here was a rare chance to punish the hipster hotelier; and punish they did.
REASON #5: Schadenfreude. Once it became clear how much attention and anger was unleashed by the initial coverage, the rest of the press and the public rushed to kick the establishment once it was down. For some internet trolls and parodists, leaving negative feedback on a business they have never visited and never planned to visit is just another way to pass the day. This led to a second lede about the online backlash, further extending the life of the story. The USGH having to take down its Facebook page, and Yelp having to remove countless comments, just further stoked the flames.
REASON #6: The Interwebs—Again! The media has always had something of a herd mentality. Most writers know that paradoxically, it is much easier to sell a version of a story which has already appeared elsewhere than to pitch a novel idea for a piece. Many editors are very cautious animals, fearing to look stupid by taking risks on an article which requires more than five seconds to explain. So if it’s been in the New York Times or New Yorker already, that’s actually a plus: The story topic has been validated. The internet compounds this problem with its culture of linking. Countless sites do little more than collect links to other sites’ reports, or shamelessly repurpose others' content. Once the $500 fine story hit a few well-trafficked sites, it was bound to get copied-and-pasted in exponentially more.
REASON #7: The Policy Itself. Whatever the owner’s motivation—and I say this knowing and liking the owner personally—the policy was counterproductive to say the least. Worse, it was written in a catty tone which set people’s teeth on edge far more than boring legalese.
One can question the policy’s legal enforceability, while also noteing that not a single visitor has brought forward evidence of actually being fined. It looks like some threats may have been made to enforce it... depending on how much one believes semi-anonymous online reviews, which can be edited after the fact to fit a new narrative. On the other hand, many Hudson lodging establishments consider wedding parties as much a curse as a blessing. (Think: Puke on hallway carpets, trashed rooms, noisy sex, lost keys). So fans of the place may be tempted to theorize that this policy was less a “joke” than a roundabout way of deterring all but the most docile wedding parties from staying at the Union Street Guest House.
Still, all that said: The $500 fine idea clearly wasn’t a fine idea. As much as for any other reason, the story gained traction because the policy generated righteous indignation.
Meanwhile, though the Guest House itself will no doubt take a hit for a while, the rest of the local B&Bs and hotels may see an uptick in curiosity-seekers, as millions heard about Hudson for the first time via this story. It’ll be a test of whether all publicity is truly good publicity, a saying repeated far more often than it merits.
A Hudson lodging establishment has been slammed with a tidal wave of bad publicity after The New York Post’s Page Six described a policy of fining wedding parties $500 per negative reviews on Yelp.
The Post’s story about the Union Street Guest House was quickly and gleefully picked up by Fox & Friends, TIME online, Business Insider, and others, leading to a raft of negative feedback on Yelp and Twitter. (This begs the question: Is all press really good press?)
The USGH’s longtime owner, former 3rd Ward Alderman Chris Wagoner, responded around noon to the outrage, noting that the proposed fine was for weddings only, had never been levied, and in any case was “tongue in cheek”:
The policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago. It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced.
If the fine were never levied, that might appear either to verify Wagoner’s claim that the policy was not meant seriously, or possibly that there were no Yelp complaints which triggered the fine—or else that the threat of a $500 penalty indeed deterred any from being lodged.
There certainly are many complaints now, though almost all of them from people who never stayed there and are simply visiting to pile on. Going back through the reviews, here is the distribution of stars prior to today’s episode:
7 four- and five-star reviews;
1 three-star review;
0 two-star reviews;
5 one-star reviews.
So, prior to today’s news, USGH guests seemed to be polarized in a love it-or-hate it pattern. Now there are dozens and dozens of one-star reviews from people who have never been there. A lesson perhaps both to the inn, and about the perils of publicity.
Bon Appétit magazine has a 10-page feature on Hudson eats and drinks in the current (August 2014) issue, with a ten-point sidebar of recommendations from Yours Truly. The issue is available at ShopRite near the checkout, and probably elsewhere.