An article in today's Palladium-Item quotes the U.S. Census Bureau statistic that "7.9 percent of Wayne County residents have a four-year college degree. The state average is 14.6 percent." I haven't been able to find the data that supports those statements. According to the Census Bureau's 2012 American Community Survey 1-year Estimates, the numbers are a […]
In October I concluded my time as a member of the Palladium-Item's community editorial advisory board, which I joined about two years ago. I enjoyed the experience and while (as expected) I didn't always agree with the views published by the paper, I felt like I was able to bring a perspective and approach that helped shape the overall conversation. There have been few other places in my day-to-day life since college where people regularly gather in a room to vehemently but respectfully talk (okay, and sometimes shout) in depth and in person about current events and important issues facing the city.
I was already a fairly close reader of the viewpoints page in the Pal-Item and other publications, but being on the editorial board inspired and required even closer attention to what topics local writers were submitting letters and columns about, and how they went about presenting their views. As a result, I've put together a list of elements that I found to be present in the most effective and engaging editorials I've read:
At the beginning of September, the Palladium-Item newspaper in Richmond implemented what many other newspapers have in recent years, a "paywall" that requires users to have a paid subscription when viewing more than a certain number of articles per month on the paper's website. The paper launched some new features with their digital subscription, including a tablet version and new mobile versions.
I think this approach is a great thing, and is probably something they should have done a long time ago. Here's why.
This post originally appeared in the June 4 2012 Palladium-Item as a guest editorial. Many who might read this are already very "civically engaged" and so may find it overly simplistic, but there are also many in Richmond who are asking what's being done about our challenges - crime, the economy, etc. - and so I hope this offers at least a starting place for broader recognition that we all have a role to play in answering that.
2012 is a big election year, at the local, state and national levels. The votes cast this fall will shape the government policies and leadership that will, for better or worse, affect our lives for years to come.
It seems like a good time to remind ourselves that putting our chosen candidates in their elected offices is not the endpoint of civic engagement. In fact, it's just the beginning.
As a pat of my role on the Palladium-Item editorial board, I have a viewpoints piece in today's paper about Sunshine Week 2012, a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public's right to know.
If you've followed this blog you know that I am a consistent advocate for transparency in government leadership, and the topic was raised a number of times during last year's election season. I appreciate the paper bringing focus to this issue, and look forward to the conversations that result.
Here's the full text of my editorial submitted for today's edition:
I'm pleased to note that I'm joining the Palladium-Item's community editorial advisory board. This comes after a number of conversations with the paper's staff about the role of the editorial page and its advisory board in prompting and shaping community dialog; I'm excited that I will get to contribute to those efforts in this new way.
The board is a volunteer group of community members who meet regularly with the paper's editorial staff to discuss issues facing our area, and to help ensure that the viewpoints expressed by the paper are the result of careful consideration and broad consultation. In the end, it's the Palladium-Item staff (and not the advisory board members) who craft the resulting columns, but Dale McConnaughay and others responsible for that task rely on the input received (and strong disagreements aired) through the board's private conversations. They also regularly invite community leaders to meet with the board for updates and discussion about projects underway.
Today's Palladium-Item editorial "Politics cheats citizens" calls out the ways in which local political maneuvering can do a disservice to voters, in this case with the less-than-transparent approach that was taken to handling the unfortunate health issues affecting Richmond City Council's District 5 representative, Bing Welch, during the recent election campaign:
Whether it is the 2009 Christmas Eve Senate passage of a huge, and hugely controversial, health care reform measure by Democrats narrowly controlling the U.S. Senate or, closer to home, Republicans and Democrats waiting until after a general election to craft their respective political handiwork, this is the stuff that alienates and isolates the public from those who have sworn to represent their best interests.
Through any such conversation we must of course be sensitive to Mr. Welch's experience along the way. I certainly wish him the best in recovering his health, and appreciate the years of time and service he has given to the Richmond community and the residents of District 5. It's not easy to be a political figure in the public spotlight even when you're healthy, and so we know that it must have been particularly hard on Bing and his family to have health concerns and questions about his ability to serve in that role all mixed in together.
Tales of my recent encounters with two newspapers of note, The New York Times and The Palladium-Item:
The New York Times
According to The New York Times website, home delivery of their Sunday edition is available where I live in Richmond, Indiana. Earlier this year I tried to take them up on that, buying a subscription online and eagerly awaiting that first Sunday morning when I would get to indulge in a paper-reading experience long enough to get me through at least one cup of coffee.
But that first Sunday, the paper didn't show up. "Oh, yeah, that's probably just some issue getting you in the circulation system," the phone rep said when I called. "We'll get it to you next week."
Week two, no paper. "Sorry about that, don't know what happened there. Hold on while I call the distribution center." They concluded it was just another circulation issue, and assured me it had been straightened out for sure this time.
The Palladium-Item has an article out today noting an increase in homicides here over the last year compared to previous years.
I want to be careful to say that I don't write about this trend in this space with any promise or implication that my election or anyone else's could prevent individual crimes or save lives. We know that no elected official and not even the best trained and funded police forces can prevent individual violent crimes when there are so many other background factors that go into these horrific events.
But I think our reaction to this trend as a community will speak greatly about our future prospects for building a version of Richmond that is safe, vibrant and thriving.
The article does a good job of summarizing the challenges of blight as amplified by rough economic times: property owners who might already struggle with maintenance and upkeep are even more at risk of letting a given structure or piece of land fall into disrepair when finances get tight and layoffs and foreclosures are looming. With such a high percentage of Richmond's residences being rentals, there's possibility for further disconnect between the state of the property and the owner's involvement in it.
My impression from the article and from the conversations I've had with city leaders is that Richmond is generally doing what it can to respond to the impact of decaying properties. But it can be discouraging to know that the process of getting a blighted property owner's attention is often drawn out over a long time and a lot of paperwork, not to mention expenditure of taxpayer dollars: wait for the property to be reported as blighted, flag it, mow it or repair it and bill the property owner, wait for the bill to go unpaid, place a lein on the property, and THEN there MIGHT be a financial incentive for some action. This routine may bear the customary government trademarks of caution and glacial due process, but it doesn't recognize very well the shorter-term impacts (financial and social) of a property falling into disrepair, and the ripple effect it can have on other areas nearby.