Things have a strange way of taking on a life of their own. I hope those who read my piece on "What color is my State? The color of Home." can see that my intentions were not merely venting my spleen. Or were they?
When a person is frustrated to the point of anger, one can either choose to stay silent or to strike out at the frustration. Only two choices, right? No, one can take that nobler middle path of constructive dialogue. I'm calling on posters to the blog to tone down the "I hate the Record-Eagle" rhetoric and begin to offer your constructive suggestions for change. I don't want to deny your chance to vent, but now it's time to move to the next step. Please send me your R-E horror stories by email - you'll get it off your chest, and I'll be able to continue to get a sense of some of the specifics of folks' frustration. But please respond to this post from here on out with thoughtful dialogue. I'm going to offer my suggestions below as a means to starting the discussion. A call to the Record-Eagle for change. Yes, I said the Record-Eagle, not some other derogatory name.
To begin with, I want to share part of one of the many emails I've received. It was a good reminder to me to stay on task:
"I have been surprised to find that much of the dialogue finding its way onto your blog is just as mean, personal, and destructive as what is being attributed to the R-E. Many of the posters took this as an opportunity to at last strike out at the source of their frustration. But the mean spiritedness is going both ways now... Your first posting pointed to concrete examples of where the paper has crossed the line. The responses, however, have been bandwagon in nature and have not added much to a constructive community dialogue. Zeke Fleet is a good man and has done a good job of running the paper as a business. It stands near the top of the publications in the Ottaway family. He is responsible for adding a substantial number of new jobs in Traverse City and to maintaining and anchor in the heart of downtown. Yes, I disagree with the way the R-E editorial staff pursues issues in many cases, and I am often disappointed in the lack of local news or the bias shown in local reporting, but I also appreciate the R-E as an important part of our local landscape. I support an open dialogue based on constructive input and civility. I will (will not participate publicly on this blog), pending further review of whether this blog is a site for vigilante justice or truly a source for good-hearted give and take. "
Zeke, this is an open letter to you. Take a look at what is said here. There is wisdom in some of the responses. Admittedly, and sadly (for all), angry frustration. I regret my own sharp tone in some remarks, but I also am struck over and over again with each email and posting that it has taken an outside "force," if you will, to generate open discussion. Sorry that letters to the editor haven't communicated things in the same way. Sad that people don't feel the impetus or the security to honor your "open door" policy. Maybe in your mind they have, and your columnists have even bemoaned the angry phonecalls and hate email. But let's not imagine that this Blog is about people confusing personal political/religious beliefs with the paper's editorial stance or reporting. The thing I can't share with you are the heartbreaking confidential emails I've received from private and public figures alike who all share a common theme: "I'm afraid to speak out because of what the Record-Eagle will do...thank you for speaking up." Personal attacks, or even the perception that they might appear in the paper, dampens a civic spirit that I know you would like to keep alight. So, without further ado, here are my crude first suggestions. I hope they will encourage more intelligent solutions by readers of the Blog, or perhaps as letters to the editor at the Record-Eagle with a "BLOG!" note in the subject line. Maybe it's a way to get the readers back who have written me to tell me they cancelled their subscription:
1. Revamp your editorial page. I'm not asking you to change your position, but have you seriously thought of trying harder to balance out your editorials? I'm going to be specific here. You do the right thing in publishing syndicated columnists. Putting Ellen Goodman and Cal Thomas on the same page is constructive and balanced debate. Extend that to your local editorials. The topics are often correct (unless they devolve into the personal attacks on individuals that has too often denigrated the credibility of the column). However, while you publish an anonymous newspaper editorial almost daily, there is no balance to it. While it is the prerogative of a for-profit newspaper to speak its mind in editorials, I have seen fine examples of local editorials that provide "point/counterpoint." It is a choice to use this format, but in a town with only one newspaper, in my mind a more thoughtful nod to the unwritten obligations that come with the privilege of a free press. This can be achieved by a number of mechanisms. One is to increase the number of "Public Forum" columns. I always enjoy these to see a differing perspective. The problems are obvious - you have to rely on an outside individual to get the forum to you, you have to expend effort to find them in the first place, get it to meet the size limit, etc. However, the last time you published one was back in December. Another thing: be more cautious in appending a commentary of any kind to a guest forum. The author didn't get a chance to append your editorials - why should you take liberties?
Another alternative: what about finding, (gasp!), another columnist for your staff that takes a more contrarian view? I won't give any labels to what type of individual, for fear of generating another storm of political opinion on my motives. In any case, nothing keeps you from choosing to create balanced views internally rather than externally.
I'm looking for suggestions on this one. You folks at the Record-Eagle are smart - offer some alternatives. I'm telling you one thing - if you made opinion page changes and increased your readership by the number of people who have read my Blog, you're already increasing your credibility and your bottom line.
2. Don't confuse editorialism and reporting. Case in point: the City Council/Melichar conflict. In addition to the editorial on the subject, the headline of the article was "Move to ban Melichar no surprise after all." As the article itself shows to some degree, there is another side of the story. Wouldn't you find it inapppropriate to title the article "Melichar ignores conflict of interest"? The story for the paper should be something along the lines of "City Council divided on settlement negotiations." Ponder that. Are you going to sell less newspapers as a result?
3. Pause before you make innuendo. This one, I suppose, is for Mr. Thomas. Don't be thin-skinned here, but I would not have the email inbox I do, and you wouldn't see the spiteful blog comments posted, if there wasn't an underlying truth to the belief that the Record-Eagle has soured civic discourse. If this blog and the response to it didn't make it apparent, what does? Your paper has probably avoided outright slander in most cases, but the power of innuendo is equally as insidious. If people are afraid of you, it is not reason to sit back and congratulate yourself on your immediate impact as guarantors of the "taxpayer's interest." McCarthy believed that fear and refusal to testify before his committee was a sign of guilt. Journalistic McCarthyism suggests that people who refuse comment to the newspaper must be guilty of something. But why don't they speak?- not because they necessarily have something to hide, but because fear motivates them. Build trust. Build bridges by truly remaining objective, especially in regards to a person's character.
Build bridges back to "old friends" such as Ron Jolly. He's just as interested in you are in protecting the community, even if he comes from a different direction. This isn't about a newspaper losing its ability to remain independent and fulfill its responsibility to act as a free speech check on the abuse of public power. It's about having a greater impact because you've taken a more restrained and thoughtful approach, an impact not as readily apparent at first blush. It's easy to whip up public outrage. My Blog showed me that. I'm trying to rein that in with this piece and encourage the more tedious, less sexy discussion that leads to true change.
This is a start. Again, I encourage readers of the Blog to heed the call to address the Record-Eagle with constructive suggestion. No, I haven't sold out. I haven't been threatened. I haven't lost my nerve. I just want to live the things I've said in my more recent remarks - to love this place we live in by working to reinforce the "civility" we all seem to crave. My blog is still here. It's not going anywhere, and if we really want an alternative newspaper, the means to mobilize is apparent and ongoing.
I would like to see what happens here before I post anything else. I'd still appreciate your emails (however angry you want to make them!) and your more thoughtful suggestions to the Record-Eagle.
The ball is now in your court. Blessings to you and your family.
Thanks for the messages of support. Thanks for the courage to contradict. I hope my impact is positive and uniting. Blessings to you and yours.
Regards to all,