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Reporter fired up over lack of coverage of her attack

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Reporter fired up over lack of coverage of her attack

  • A reporter for a weekly newspaper in Buffalo, who was bruised in a pellet gun shooting, continues to push the media industry and local police to take her attack more seriously.

Dec. 5, 2003 — Nine months after getting shot by a pellet gun, a weekly newspaper reporter in Buffalo remains angry that her incident has received little media attention and that her attacker has yet to be arrested.

Patricia Abbatoy, the lone staff reporter for the Riverside Review, a 15,000-circulation weekly in northwest Buffalo, says she was the victim of a retaliatory attack for her reporting on drug dealing in her community.

While walking home last March, Abbatoy, 42, was shot in the back by a pellet gun. The pellet did not penetrate her skin, but it did leave a large bruise on the back of her shoulder, Abbatoy said. Police were called, and arrived at the scene an hour later.

Abbatoy wrote a first-person narrative about the shooting in that week’s Review. However, neither The Buffalo News, the major daily newspaper in the city, nor The Associated Press covered the incident.

Bill Flynn, city editor for The Buffalo News, says a bruised shoulder simply isn’t significant enough to merit coverage by his paper, given the large number of crimes that occur in the city each day.

“A pellet gun injury is not going to make the cut, routinely,” Flynn said. “It was old and seemed apparently minor at the point it came to my attention . . . about a couple weeks after the incident. I believe there weren’t even any arrests made.”

Two months after the pellet gun incident, a 22-year-old man told those at a neighborhood alliance meeting that he knew who shot Abbatoy. According to Abbatoy and her editor/publisher, Richard Mack, who were both at the meeting, the man said his friend shot Abbatoy because the newspaper’s coverage of drug and gang-related activity. Abbatoy says both the man and his friend were members of a gang.

Yet despite that information, the Buffalo Police Department declined to make an arrest. Abbatoy says the department won’t even speak about the issue. The detectives who investigated the shooting did not return calls from News Media Update seeking comment.

“I feel like it’s a willful disregard of what happened,” Abbatoy said. “It raises real questions about press freedoms with the Buffalo Police Department.”

The problem, Mack says, is that it’s hard to connect the dots Abbatoy has laid out.

“Everything she says is true, but I don’t know if it’s verifiable,” Mack said.

Abbatoy says she has had a love-hate relationship with police in Buffalo since joining the Review five years ago. She says she was temporarily banned from the district station in 1998 for writing about officers’ poor response time to crimes, and was later repeatedly hassled while attempting to record the police blotter for publication.

Abbatoy says she also remains “very disappointed with the journalism profession” for the industry’s lack of interest in her story. She has talked to friends in the media and e-mailed editors in the hope of bringing attention to her story.

“I have a deep-seated fear that it was a warning shot to intimidate,” Abbatoy said. “I’m putting the names and addresses of people who have been arrested on drug charges in the newspaper. I’m out here exposed.”

JL


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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