DiCesare sees the troubling currents surrounding journalism
For former Buffalo News sportswriter Bob DiCesare, the outbreak of the coronavirus has forced him to continue his stay in Florida for an additional two months. He wasn't complaining, especially about the weather, but admitted, "I'm itching to get home." In an hour-long interview with WBFO, the Western New York native had plenty to say about the state of journalism, the changes at his former employer and his passion for fishing the streams, rivers and lakes of the region.
During his extended time in Florida, DiCesare initially followed the COVID-19 pandemic through cable news.
"All it is is one big agenda," was his assessment.
"Whatever side you’re on. If you want to go right, you want to go left, there’s agendas that will feed that. There’s no neutrality any more," DiCesare said of the coverage. He eventually swore off cable news.
“Either side is trying to lead me by the nose and tell me what I am supposed to think. And I resent that.”
After spending nearly 40 years in journalism, he sees the trend as part of a bigger issue.
“I’d like to think that if you just laid it down the middle that most people are smart enough to make up their minds. And, I think, if anything, this practice has maybe hardened the stances of whichever way to lean.”
DiCesare gave credit to how some newspapers, including the Buffalo News, are handling the pandemic. It's an appreciated change from what has been a troubling trend.
“It’s unfortunate because I think news gathering and the dissemination of news plays a vital role in a democracy," DiCesare said.
"Have we as an industry done well to promote that and adhere to it as it was intended to be? I’m not sure that’s the case at all.”
It wasn't long after he graduated from Buffalo State College that DiCesare began what would be a 36-year tenure at the Buffalo News. He departed in 2018 as the Deputy Sports Editor. There were other roles, includng his time as a columnist and as a beat reporter covering the Buffalo Sabres and the Buffalo Bisons.
"I was covering them when they were in the Rockpile (War Memorial Stadium, the Bisons home until 1988)," DiCesare recalled. “It was a tremendous amount of fun. It was incredible."
In recounting his time following the Sabres, he shared a story that shows how sports coverage has changed. In 1993, Pat LaFontaine was going to set the club record for most points in a season. Late in the season, DiCesare had noticed a change in LaFontaine's skating stride. At a practice at Winnipeg, the sportswriter and the hockey star sat next to each other in the penalty box.
After a brief exchange and a couple of questions, LaFontaine told DiCesare that he was playing with a hairline fracture in his leg.
“The chances of getting that type of information now a days are zero!" DiCesare said. He says now “you have a media representative from these teams hanging over your shoulder. What they’re afraid of I have no idea."
That restriction of access and stranglehold of information have hurt sports journalism and reduced the depth of coverage.
DiCesare shared passionate opinions on a number of topics, including his departure from the Buffalo News. He recalled the sense of collaboration during his years in the sports department.
“We’re going to do the best job possible. That’s the kind of attitude in that department.”
He also recalled with pride the other members of the department who, like him, were raised in Western New York: Bucky Gleason. The late Tom Borrelli. Amy Moritz. John Vogl.
Changes were made and the departures began.
"I knew how good we were. And I knew what everybody put into it and when that was changing, and the change was being forced," DiCesare said.
"I thought that in terms of our sports department we were not going to be as good as we were. And that was just unacceptable to me.”
With a buyout option available, he made a quick decision to leave the Buffalo News.
Now, he has more time for another passion: fishing. He won't be overly specific about his favorite location, but he does admit it's in the Lower Niagara River.
"I hike down in there and go fish steelhead and brown trout and lake trout and it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. To go down there in the fall when the leaves are turning is just spectacular," said DiCesare.
"I love the outdoors and to be in those settings and to sit in awe and the power of that river down below the falls is just extraordinary. Or you can sit there and watch all these vortexes build and how the currents change. And if you’re lucky enough to get on 12-pound laker..."
DiCesare also co-authored a book "He's Out!: The true story of infamous prison escapee Richard Matt as told by his daughter."
The daughter, Jamie Scalice, hardly knew her father Richard Matt. Matt, a convicted murderer, escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in 2015 along with fellow convict David Sweat. After a lengthy search, the two were located by authorities. Sweat was captuerd and returned to prison. Matt was shot and killed.
The book "came out well,” though DiCesare admits "there are things I would do different."
There may be a chance to learn from the experience. He says he has a book in mind that would fictionalize a century-old sporting event, but, like his favorite fishing spot, DiCesare isn't giving away all the details.