Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Making a difference

Yesterday was a good community journalism day.

Yesterday I really felt I made a difference.

A TIF Commission member who had a potential conflict of interest in the proposed project resigned. It was announced immediately at a meeting that included a public hearing. This came after a story and editorial in the previous week's paper about it.

Prior to the meeting, a couple of elderly women clutched their newspaper clippings about the TIF project, with certain parts highlighted, pointing and discussing the plans. Later, when one realized who I was, she grabbed me by the arm as I walked by to stop me and thank me for the articles. It was the only way they could keep up with local government, especially this big project.

Another resident, one who sits on a couple boards and commissions in the city, also told me how much he appreciated all the articles in the newspaper.

Throughout the five-hour meeting and public hearing, people would come talk to me during the breaks and ask me questions about the TIF, articles in the newspaper, etc.

This is the mark of good community journalism: people coming together with educated opinions because of something you wrote and action following an editorial.

I also knew I was doing my job as a journalist as one of the family members of the commissioner who resigned turned around and said, "That's him" when he heard me introduce myself to someone. Another family member then turned around and told the person I was talking to, "Careful, he doesn't write what you say."

That's not true, though. I recorded the phone conversation with this man while taking notes. I told his brother what he had said and he didn't dispute it. I heard from other community members that members of that family had told them similar things. They can be mad if they want, they can think I misquoted them, but what I wrote was correct. It just put them at the center of controversy.

I stuck it out through the long public hearing as I formulated the best way to convey this in few words to the absent readers.

That's a good community journalism day.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Electing to not elect

As usual I have a lot to do, but have decided to tend to my personal blog instead.

This issue is timely because it's an election day, albeit a small election day. A year ago we were voting on a president, members of congress and the statehouse. This year it's sales tax renewals and smoking bans in the area. For my newspaper, all we're covering is the law enforcement sales tax renewal.

I'm not voting this time around because I'm not registered. I haven't voted in the past couple elections. It's mainly been because I've been moving around too much or just too darn lazy to register. I voted in the presidential primary in another state, then a few months later moved up here. This combination of moving around and laziness for once worked to my advantage.

Long has there been the debate about whether journalists should even be registered to vote - let alone carry out their civic duty. My personal belief has been we should exercise that right. I don't buy the "You can't blame me because I didn't vote" excuse. You had an opportunity to affect the outcome. I think we have to be careful with local elections when voting as journalists, but national elections never bothered me.

Back to my point, electing to not elect enhanced my work performance. We'll get to that in a moment. First, some background.

I've always felt like I'm a pretty non-partisan guy. When I was 18, I registered as a Democrat - much to my father's dismay. In college, I voted for the failed Green Party. Later in college, I registered as a Republican. I've always felt it's more important to have a good leader surrounded by sound checks and balances than to vote purely on political affiliation. I assume everyone has the best intentions (unless otherwise uncovered), so throw that part out of the equation. Political affiliation does not make someone good or evil. A good leader will listen to the people, follow the checks and balances; therefore make the best decisions. If an idea on their platform does not suit the constituents or gets booed by the checks and balances, it will get thrown out and the best idea comes to fruition. A bad leader can have the best ideas, but with poor execution can never get it done or not do it right.

I digress.

With all the town hall meetings and tea parties full of angry Republicans, I found myself faced with people looking at me with distrustful eyes. I am, after all, part of the "Liberal media."

At one local tea party rally, I took a photo of a man wearing a patriotic shirt and a flag pole with two flags: the United States flag and a "Don't Tread on Me" flag. When I asked for his name, he replied, "Depends, who did you vote for?"

To me, it doesn't matter. To him, it's a matter of whether he trusts this journalist. What "slant" am I going to take on this story? As they stated many times during the rally, the media has been "downplaying" these rallies. I'm holding back obscenities here, but that makes no freakin' sense to me. Anyway, I told him I didn't vote.

I was met with more skepticism and distrust by him.

"Why not?" he asked.

I explained the aforementioned. I also told him I'm a non-partisan guy and here for unbiased reporting. Still seeming skeptic, he told me his name and thoughts on the situation.

That leads to another problem. There is also mistrust when you don't vote. Especially among some the Republican crowds. To many of them the mindset is, "Don't you know how many people have died for your freedom to do this? So go vote!" They can't comprehend why we would need to stay unbiased, until we vote for someone they don't agree with.

It's usually a lose-lose situation.

But in this case, I guess I won.