Archive for February, 2007

School closing forum an impressive display

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

It wasn’t hard to find the supporters of Christiancy, South Monroe Townsite and Riverside elementary schools in the crowd at the school closing public hearing tonight.

They filled their own sections of the auditorium at Monroe High School, wearing their schools’ t-shirts, waving signs and cheering when speakers mentioned their schools.

It was an impressive display of caring – caring about their children, about their schools, and about their neighborhoods.

Whatever the school board decides to do – and it seems obvious they’re leaning toward closing at least a couple elmentary schools – board members won’t be lacking for input from their constitutents.

Only a few seats in the upper corners of the auditorium were empty. When school officials finished presenting the four proposals and asked for comments from the audience, two lines quickly formed, at each side of the auditorium.

It was four hours later before they called a halt. A lot was said, good arguments for all sides.

But from my seat, the most impressive statement was made by the crowd, collectively. By showing up, by listening politely and then speaking passionately and eloquently, members of the school community sent an important message – they care.

That bodes well for the school district and the students it serves, regardless of which or whether schools are closed.

Covering a funeral

Monday, February 26th, 2007

I think it’s accurate to say that each of the Monroe Evening News staff reporters and photographers who participated in the coverage of the funeral for Toledo Police Detective Keith Dressell considered it to be a privilege.

The media is sometimes accused of sensationalizing the coverage of funerals.

In the newspaper business, we generally point to television and accuse overzealous TV reporters for giving all media a bad rap.

At The Evening News, we work hard to find a balance between respecting the family’s privacy and the community’s need to participate in the grieving process. Through our newspaper and Web pages, we give folks who can’t attend the funeral a chance to also celebrate a life and mourn a death

When a community loses a life – especially someone who risked his life to serve as a police detective – it touches many hearts.

Most of us recognize that we owe our generally safe, secure lives, which are for the most part free from fear of harm, to the police officers and fire fighters who stand ready to risk their’s.

Detective Dressell’s life was dedicated to service; his death reminds us that others have to live in danger so we can live without fear.

His funeral was a very public event, attended by thousands and watched by thousands more on television. We had five journalists – two reporters and three photographers – working to cover the event.

Each went about their business with professionalism – emotionally touched by the occasion and understanding that it’s their job to help folks connect with the ceremonies, feel the pain and the joy and the loss in some small way.
Funerals are an important part of the grieving process – for the community as well as for family, friends and co-workers.

We hope our stories and photographs helped people understand who Detective Dressell was, how his life touched others, how much he was loved and respected, and how in death he was honored as a hero.

School closings create challenges

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Few issues create as much emotion – anger, frustration, sorrow, nostalgia – as closing schools.

When I heard a few weeks ago that Monroe Public Schools would be proposing school closures as a way to save money, I knew it would create a challenge for our newsroom.

The best way to cut through the emotions and get down to making good decisions as a community is to get good information into as many hands as possible.

Or, put another way, among the worst enemies of good decision-making are rumors, innuendos, half-truths and outright falsehoods. It’s human nature that information travels rapidly through a community – and that much of it can be wrong.

Monroe’s school board has a tough month ahead of it. The decision on the school closings is expected for March 13. Between now and then, lots of emotion will be displayed as school supporters lobby to keep their buildings open.

We’ve reported on the proposals several times, when they first were announced, when the details were proposed earlier this week, as well as reaction stories. We have more reactions stories, from Christiancy and South Monroe Township schools, planned for today’s paper.

And over the next three weeks, there will be more stories, both providing more details of the proposals and trying to answer as many questions as we can.

We want to do our part to make sure the community has the information necessary to make good decisions.

This is a decision that will have a profound effect on Monroe’s school system and on its neighborhoods. Families that lived next to a neighborhood school, attending that school for generations, will find themselves living next to an empty building.

At the same time, taxpayers aren’t willing to support schools that are not efficiently run – and that may mean closing small schools that aren’t operating at capacity.

 

Paczki problems

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

We had a paczki spelling crisis today.

It’s not that we don’t have plenty of paczki experts in the newsroom. We have reporters and editors who have written and edited dozens of stories about the famous Polish pastries – a staple of Fat Tuesday.

Maybe the problem was that we spent too much time eating the wonderful homemade paczki made by reporter Ray Kisonas’ mother, distracting us from our spellchecks.

Whatever the cause, we misspelled paczki in a story on Page 1 of today’s Monroe Evening News. For several hours, it also was misspelled on the home page of monroenews.com

Now, personally, I don’t claim to be a paczki expert. I grew up on the West Coast and hadn’t heard of them until I moved to the Midwest a couple decades ago. I’m still not confident I’m pronouncing the word right (For the uninitiated, it’s pronounced “poonch-key” and is a large doughnut-like pastry, often with a fruit filling).

But I’ve lived in the Midwest long enough to know that you don’t misspell paczki, even if you can’t pronounce it right. That’s blasphemy.

All we can do is apologize – and drown our sorrows in another paczki. Thanks, Mrs. Kisonas.

 

An update: Editorial page editor Tom Chulski, whose wife, Jan, has Polish roots, pointed out this morning that I’ve still got it wrong. Actually, paczki is the plural of the term. When referring to one delectible pastry, it’s a pączek (pronounced: “poonch-chek”).

I think I need more research. I noticed some leftover paczki in the lunchroom.

 

Covering the auto industry

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

I got a call from a reader last week complaining that we’re not balanced in covering the auto industry.

It was her perception that we put bad news about Ford, GM and Chrysler on Page 1, and bury any good news inside the paper. She thought we put good news about Toyota and Honda on Page 1, and hide any bad news on the back pages.

While I disagree with her basic premise, I understand the frustration.

News about Ford, GM and Chrysler is critically important to our readers. Many of them work for the former Big Three or their suppliers, or have friends or relatives who depend on the auto industry.

That’s also the case with many of our employees, who have spouses, children, parents, relatives and friends with ties to the auto industry. We want the Big Three to rebound, too.

In recent years there has been plenty of bad news about Ford, GM and Chrysler on Page 1. We put it there when we think it belongs there – such as today when there’s a story about the future of Chrysler on the front page.

When there is good new about any of the U.S. auto companies or their suppliers, I have a feeliing it will be on Page 1, too – simply because it will be unusual.

Here’s hoping for a day sometime in the future when good news about the auto industry is routine and won’t be considered for the front page.

Snow days, snow days …

Friday, February 16th, 2007

We added school closings to monroenews.com this year, giving students, parents and teachers another option on snowy winter mornings.

Each school district in the county was given access to our Web site to update their own story – a place where they could communicate with their constitutents, adding as much information as necessary.

I waited patiently through one of the warmest Decembers on record, then through most of January, before winter weather finally arrived. Until we had some experience with the system, we weren’t sure how effectively it would work.

Now, after a couple weeks of winter, it’s clear that it works, but not as effectively as we had hoped.

Some school districts have used the new system, carefully keeping it updated. Others haven’t. We’ve tried to make sure it was updated for all the schools, whether they participated or not. It’s been a challenge.

But it must be working well enough for some county residents. We’ve had more than 10,000 page views on our school closing page so far in February. There were more than 3,000 each on two days, Feb. 5 and Feb. 13.

The first big school closing day, Feb. 5, was the rockiest. Most students had already gone back to bed before we had all the schools updated. But since, all the school closings have been posted by 5:45 a.m. or so – and many before that.

We’re already making plans for a better, more user-friendly process for next year.

Video on monroenews.com

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

The age of video on the Internet has reached monroenews.com

Our news staff, led by chief photographer Bryan Bosch, has begun experimenting with adding video news coverage to our Web site.

Today is a good example: a short video that also includes some still photos of yesterday’s snow storm is available from the home page of monroenews.com. Click here to see video. 

The increasing number of households with high-speed computer access has opened a world of possibilities, including adding video to our arsenal for telling stories.

The popularity of youtube.com has dramatized the potential of video on the Internet, and news organizations across the country are scrambling to figure out where it fits in.

For half-a-century, television has dominated the “moving-picture-and-sound” medium. Now anyone with an inexpensive video camera and a computer can enter the fray.

Today’s snow video was our third in the last couple weeks. Others covered a Carleton fire and the levies along Lake Erie.

We’re not sure where this is taking us – but then no one is very sure where new technology is taking media in general.

One thing I’m sure of: You can look for more videos in the future on monroenews.com. 

p.s. We’re also interested in your videos. On today’s monroenews.com home page is an invitation to send home snow movies to me, to be posted on our Web site.

Nuclear plant in our future?

Monday, February 12th, 2007

Ten years ago I would not have believed it possible.

New nuclear plants in America? Not likely.

Until a solution was found for disposing of nuclear waste, I didn’t think Americans would tolerate adding new plants that would just produce more radioactive waste.

But DTE announced today that it’s beginning the process of applying for a federal license to build a new nuclear plant next to Fermi II. Although DTE’s chairman says the final decision hasn’t been made – this is just a step to preserve the possibility – the company is spending $30 million to get the process started.

And it somehow doesn’t seem far-fetched any more. The widening concern over global warming has changed the balance of opinion. Coal-fired power plants are one of the biggest contributors of the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet.

Environmentalists – at least those who like to flick the light switch and have the lights come on – may have to choose between two evils.

If building nuclear plants and phasing out coal can save the planet – well, maybe we can figure out a solution for the radioactive waste after all.

Of course, it’s not that simple. And over the next few years, as DTE goes through the licensing process, we’ll find out again just how complicated the arguments can become.

Michigan needs more power generation – along with most regions of the country – if we’re going to prosper in the years ahead. And the nation’s sophistication on environmental issues has grown over the years – as evidenced by the growing concern over global warming.

At The Evening News, we have experience covering nuclear issues, including the licensing and construction of nuclear power plants. And there are plenty of experts in the community – on all sides of the nuclear and coal issues – to help us explain the facts and lead a discussion of the issues.

I have a feeling it’s going to be an interesting debate.

Governor lays down challenge

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s state of the state speech, if it was anything, was a challenge to the residents of Michigan and the members of the legislature.

It was a challenge to look at Michigan in a different way. Not as a state where we’re entitled to a good job in a factory, but as a state where quality schools and universities produce workers of the future. Not as a state controlled by Democrats or Republicans, the left or the right, but as a state where the two parties work together to create government that is smart and efficient.

Of course, the proof isn’t in the speech, which Gov. Granholm does well. The proof will be in the details of the budget released Thursday.

I will be looking for evidence that her numbers back up her verbiage. In her speech, the governor laid the groundwork for new taxes by also promising significant cuts in state programs and restructuring of government to make it more efficient.

Her basic premise is that if we try to solve the budget crisis with cuts alone, we won’t be able to make the investments in the state’s future that are critical.

I think there’s a chance Michigan residents will buy that premise. But only if there really are cuts, and if there really are fundamental changes to make government more efficient.

Historic decisions for Michigan

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

With Gov. Granholm’s state of the state speech scheduled for tonight, a serious discussion about the future of Michigan is about to begin.

I spent some time over the weekend at a Michigan Press Association meeting in Grand Rapids that included talks by the governor, the speaker of the House and the Senate president. All were using terms like historic crisis, new vision for Michigan’s future, and rare opportunity to re-invent our state.

The consensus seemed to be that Michigan’s economic crisis is so deep and pervasive it can’t be solved in the usual ways. Budget cuts, in the traditional sense, won’t work. The revenue hole is too deep. Tax increases, in the usual ways, also won’t work. We can’t tax ourselves out of this mess, either.

I was relieved to see that there was little blaming going on. It doesn’t matter who’s fault it is. The decline of the U.S. auto industry; past largesse when there was plenty of  money to throw around; Republicans, Democrats; managment, unions; it doesn’t matter.

What impressed me was the apparent willingness by both parties and both branches of government to work together to find solutions. I suspect, if her speech last week was any clue, that Gov. Granholm is going to focus on the need to create a new vision of the Michigan we want in our future, then re-engineer our government to get there.

It won’t be easy, and that’s a huge understatement. There are plenty of people, groups and organizations with a vested interest in the past. They’d rather go down with the ship than change course.

There are others who will want to shrink state government to stay within our current tax base – even if it means cutting our nose off to spite our face. Cuts in higher education – when the global marketplace is screaming out for a more highly educated workforce – would fit in that category.

And others will want to simply turn the tax tap higher, strangling the economy in the process. While creating a vibrant future for Michigan requires financing essential services and priming the pump in key areas like education and economic development, we can’t afford high-tax solutions.

The next few months could be historic. We could look back to 2007 as the year Michigan’s economic crisis forced a thoughtful, significant re-engineering of state government and how it operates.

And while I’m engaging in wishful thinking, it also could be the year when state leaders put aside their political differences and worked together.

Wouldn’t that be nice.