Co-owners of the Genesee Sun Josh Williams and Conrad Baker ’14 are seeking to revolutionize the way news gets delivered to the people of Livingston County. After an earlier print version of the Genesee Sun went under in 2008 in what Williams called a “business failure,” the Sun reinvented itself as an ever-expanding online publication.
For Williams and Baker, their presence as an up-to-the-minute source of news for Livingston County is not without its challenges, but is ultimately rewarding. Williams, who grew up in Caledonia, New York, has seen firsthand how the county has changed over the years.
“There’s always been a need for content and coverage here in Livingston County and I thought there was a necessity to address some of the issues we have,” Williams said. “Just in the past two years, we’re starting to see increased visibility and accountability in local government and police forces.”
The Sun’s efforts have led to breaking coverage in 2013 about a controversial plan to shut down the AkzoNobel desalination plant in Cuylerville. More recently, the Sun found itself in hot water with some Geneseo students over what was perceived to be biased coverage of an alleged underage drinking incident that occurred at the Phi Sigma Xi fraternity house. Still, Williams stands by his coverage of the events.
“The university community is very separate from the resident community,” Williams said. “One of our goals is to bridge that gap. Some of the students––mainly in the Greek community––feel slighted by that. I have received much more appreciation than I have criticism.”
Williams added that the goal of his editorial, which called for the fraternity’s immediate suspension, was to increase student safety and accountability.
“They’re now looking at a social law that would provide for stricter penalties,” Williams said. “We’re having that conversation and people are being held accountable. That’s successful journalism and I would do it again in a heartbeat. If I had any regret over that article, it’s that I didn’t write it after the house was raided.”
Baker added that reporting on unpleasant stories is simply a part of the job. “We just tell it as it is,” Baker said. “From my standpoint, sitting in felony court, a lot of the stories are very unpleasant. Our idea is to follow up on everything that we start. As we follow these stories forward, we find that there may be a positive outcome.”
In a town as small and tight-knit as Geneseo, being a journalist is enough to make more than a few enemies. Aside from controversy over the Phigs editorial, Williams said that the website’s crime coverage sometimes leads to uncomfortable situations. “I can write a story about someone who was just charged or arrested and then I go grocery shopping at Wegmans and I bump into a family member,” Williams said. “It’s a very intense moment and sometimes it’s a threatening look.”
Williams and Baker explained they are striving to ultimately create a better-informed population of students and residents alike (credit tucci). “If we’re going to improve upon our community, there have to be people that are willing to take this risk and stick their neck out,” Williams said.
Going forward, Williams and Baker hope to expand their operation to a fully functioning multimedia platform for all of Livingston County. The plans are already in motion, with a green screen and recording equipment set up in their Main Street office.
“What really makes a difference for us is that we live here,” Baker said. “This is our county.”