Archive for June, 2007

Moderating the forums on MonroeTalks.com

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Two questions regarding moderating our forums came up today.

The first involved a post that was deleted; the second was a user asking why we don’t moderate more aggressively when people get out of control.

We don’t delete forum posts very often. Our theory is that “Your Talk,” the open discussion forum on MonroeTalks.com, belongs to the community of users. It’s intended to be a wide-ranging, free-for-all discussion. If we were keeping tight reins on the conversation, deciding what we liked and didn’t like, people soon would go somewhere else.

As one person on the forum said, they come to “Your Talk” to find out what we didn’t put in the newspaper. If they wanted our opinion, they could read the paper.

Of course, we’re going to watch for content that really doesn’t belong. We remove commercial ads as soon as we see them. We remove profanity or pornography as soon as we see it. Neither happen very often, but both are inevitable.

Ironically, today’s missing post wasn’t deleted by The Evening News. The person who made the post apparently deleted it. Some good came of it, anyway. We learned that a user who started a new topic could delete his comments and in the process delete the entire thread, including subsequent comments.

We’ve changed that. Topic starters can still go back and edit their comments, but the thread is not deleted.

That’s one of the reasons we switched to this new forum platform from the Eyes and Ears on monroenews.com. It gives us the flexibility to make changes to improve the forum.

We’ve had great participation from users suggesting improvements. As I said, this forum really belongs to the community of users. It’s no better or worse than they make it.

 

Despite economy, Monroe County still growing

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

The U.S. Census figures released this week show Monroe County is still growing – although much more slowly.

That probably can be credited to two things: Monroe County’s economy is stronger than most of the rest of Michigan, and it’s a desirable place to live, so some city dwellers looking for a slower lifestyle still are finding their way here.

The flood of newcomers that saw the county’s population explode in the 10-year period from 1995 to 2005 is over, however – or at least postponed.

The county’s population was 133,600 in 1990, and 145,945 in 2000. In 2005, it had grown to 153,772. In 2006, the figure was up to 155,035, according to Census Bureau estimates, about 1 percent growth year-to-year.

It seems silly, given the state of the economy, to worry about controlling growth. The number of new building permits and housing starts has dropped to a standstill. It’s likely that 2007 growth will be even slower than 2006.

But we shouldn’t let that lull us into thinking that growth has stopped and that efforts to improve our planning process to manage future growth aren’t important.

There are literally thousands of homesites already platted in Monroe County, waiting for the economy to turn around. And when it does, there could be a landslide of construction.

A series of stories in The Evening News last September, called “Our Changing Landscape,” warned of the future dangers of urban sprawl to our lifestyle. The danger is still very real, even if it’s on hold.

Now is the time for city, county, village and township officials to figure out a strategy for the future – one that includes a lot more joint planning and cooperation.

One township, village or city can’t solve it’s own planning problems. They’re too interconnected with their neighbors.

The county planning department held a workshop earlier this year on managing growth. It was a good beginning of the conversation. But it was only a beginning.

As a community that treasures our rural and small-town lifestyle, we can’t wait until the growth returns to plan for it.

Krell trial updated several times a day

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

Evening News reporter Ray Kisonas is keeping readers of monroenews.com up-to-date with several stories a day on the Randy Krell trial in Monroe County.

This is new for us - continuous breaking news coverage of a trial on our Web site.

Mr. Krell is accused of pursuing a carful of teen-agers at high speed after a bottle was thrown at his car. The teens’ car crashed, killing one of the occupants and seriously injuring another. Mr. Krell, a former school board member, faces charges of manslaughter with a motor vehicle and felonious driving. 

It’s a high-interest case. Many friends of the teens in the car and of Mr. Krell are following it closely. Now they don’t have to wait for the next day’s paper – they can monitor the progress on monroenews.com.

City operations study could lead to change

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

The city of Monroe and the state of Michigan find themselves in similar straits - dealing with painful change.

In a way, we’re at the end of an era. Michigan has been a high-tax, high-level-of-services state for many years. The wealth that was generated by the auto industry was spread throughout the state, creating an impressive quality of life and plenty of money to finance excellent state services.

As the auto industry has dwindled, so has state revenue. We’re entering a new period in our history when Michigan no longer is among the richest states.

Our governor and legislators are engaged in the very difficult task of figuring out what level of taxes and services we want in the Michigan of the future. Some downsizing of state government makes sense. We don’t have the same level of wealth.

Too much downsizing and it will become a self-fullfilling prophecy. State services will drop below the level necessary to rebuild our economy, attract and retain businesses and maintain a high quality of life. Not enough downsizing and we’ll have a level of taxes the econony can’t support, discouraging new development.

The same goes for Monroe. Taxes in Monroe have historically been higher than neighboring townships, and the level of services has been higher. But as the economy has struggled – closely connected to the economy of Michigan – the city budget is facing deficits.

The same process of downsizing – finding the right balance of taxes and services - is under way in Monroe, too. The operations study that suggests cutting up to 29 city jobs is being discussed tonight by Monroe City Council. Mayor Al Cappuccilli, city manager George Brown and the city council deserve credit for hiring a consultant to study the situation and make impartial recommendations.

There should be plenty of analysis and debate before decisions are made on the proposed cuts, which add up to $1.4 million in annual savings. But the guiding principle should be the same as at the state level – finding the proper balance of taxes and services to maintain the highest quality of life possible, without stifling further development.

These are interesting times in public life. Perhaps historic times. 

Exciting time to be a journalist

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

I had the privilege of sitting with two aspiring journalists at a scholarship breakfast this week.

I told them that I was jealous – what a wonderful time this is to be entering the world of journalism.

While it’s a little frightening, too, because of the rapidly changing technology, there’s no better time to be a journalist in the history of mankind.

The horizons are so limitless and the need for good journalism is so critical. We seem to be at a watershed moment in the history of communication. Technology is re-writing the script for how people obtain information.

Yet in this age of information we more than ever need skilled people who can help us sort through the data overload.

Never before has a journalist been equipped with so many tools for pursuing truth and telling stories – the key ingredients of journalism.

The reporter of the future will be able to blend words and pictures seamlessly in multi-media presentations that we can only imagine today.

If I work until I’m 65, my career will have spanned the years from 1974 to 2017. It’s been a great time to be a journalist, starting in the Watergate era when color pictures were just beginning to find their way into newspapers and continuing through the launch of a new millenium and the Internet.

But the next 45 years? Wow! Life is changing so fast, technology is making so much possible, I can’t begin to get my head around the possibilities.

And I can’t think of a better career to start today.

Monroe is talking

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

We didn’t really know what to expect when we launched MonroeTalks.com this week.

We expected it to be well-received, because it was based on conversations with readers and we tested it with dozens of readers before the launch. Social networking sites – which this is akin too – have been successful elsewhere on the Internet.

But we didn’t expect the overwhelming response that occurred.

More than 3,000 people visited MonroeTalks.com each of the first two days, creating more than 20,000 page views. To put that in context, we get about 5,000-6,000 visitors a day and 35,000 page views a day at our 18-month-old news site, monroenews.com. We’re pretty proud of that. Last month monroenews.com topped 1 million page views in a month – sort of a milestone for Web sites.

So you can imagine how amazed we were when in one day, with just a news story in The Evening News and a few radio ads to promote it, MonroeTalks.com was approaching the same traffic as monroenews.com

Now we’re counting the days until we top 2 million with the two sites.

If you’re on this blog, you’ve probably already been to MonroeTalks.com. If not, check it out.

Where are the new small businesses?

Monday, June 18th, 2007

A comment by William Morris, president of the Monroe County Industrial Develpment Corp., got me thinking.

Morris was commenting on the fact that the number of businesses in Monroe County is down in the most recent census report.  You can read the entire article from The Sunday News here.

“With the layoffs and early retirements and buyouts, it seems you would have a lot of people forming new businesses,” Morris said.

Good point.

Thousands of smart, hard-working poeple have lost their jobs in the auto industry. Morris is right; it seems like that should lead to an increase in new businesses.

When Pittsburgh’s steel industry collapsed in the 1980s, it led to a tidal wave of new small businesses. Pittsburgh’s renaissance was built on the foundation of new entrepreneurs who were forced into mid-career changes when their jobs disappeared.

Is there something about Michigan’s culture that is different than Western Pennsylvania’s?

I’ve lived in both places, and I can tell you that residents of both states are deeply rooted. When they lose their jobs, they don’t want to move away.

Both also are blessed with great universities, an important ingredient when it comes to re-building an economy. And both suffer from low overall education levels – a legacy of the good-paying jobs in the steel and auto industries that didn’t require a college degree.

Pittsburgh has a reputation for toughness. So does Detroit. They’re both blue collar cities with strong work ethics. 

So, what’s the difference? Maybe it’s too early to tell. Maybe the surge in new businesses created by laid-off workers in Michigan is still below the radar and will surface soon.

I was in a conversation in the early 1990s with Morris’ counterpart in Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located. He told story after story of engineers and accountants and union steelworkers who started businesses from scratch and five years later were employing 15 or 25 or 50 people.

Pittsburgh went from an economy dominated by some of the largest companies in the country – names like U.S. Steel and Pittsburgh Glass – to an economy dominated by small and medium-sized businesses and a much more diverse employment base.

The loss of manufacturing jobs is killing Michigan’s economy. But if those laid-off workers become entrepreneurs, today’s recession can be a building block for tomorrow’s comeback.

Yes, blogging is competing with TV; so what…

Friday, June 15th, 2007

A reporter for the Lousville Courier Journal was thrown out of the press box recently for blogging during the game.

The NCAA argued that by doing a play-by-play on his blog, he was violating their television contract with ESPN, which had exclusive rights to broadcast the game.

Bull-oney.

Blogging is here to stay. The NCAA and professional sports leagues need to come to terms with reality. Many commentators have pointed out that the Lousville reporter was covering a college baseball game, which isn’t exactly the most high profile sport. Does it make sense to kick a reporter out of the pressbox?

It seems to me that a double in the gap is news as soon as it occurs, and fair game for a newspaper Web site to report. If they can report it only moments later, so much the better.

At The Evening News and monroenews.com, we have plans for extensive blogging during sporting events and news events. It’s another tool in our toolbox for keeping our readers informed.

On a related sports issue, reporter Jeff Meade blogged on the Tigers’ announcers refusing to mention that Justin Verlander was working on a no-hitter (see “The Press Box” blog).

My two cents. I agree that the in-stadium announcer shouldn’t mention the pending no-hitter, because of the “jinx” superstition. But for the TV and radio announcers to avoid reporting the biggest news of the game, that’s ridiculous.

By failingto do their job, they let down many casual listeners who checked on the game mid-way but didn’t stop what they were doing and sit down in front of the TV, riveted by every pitch, because they didn’t realize a no-hitter was under way.

 

Soldier defends his wedding

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Have you noticed, over on the Ears and Ears forums on monroenews.com, that Spc. John Kinsey, a soldier on duty in Iraq, defended his recent marriage.Spc. John Kinsey and Mary (Foster) Kinsey

A forum poster had criticized The Evening News for “making a big deal” out of his wedding to Mary (Foster) Kinsey while he was on leave in Monroe recently. Many soldiers, sailors, airmen, etc., get married on leave, she noted.

Readers quickly came to the defense of The Evening News, pointing out that the Kinseys marriage was highlighted on the front page, not because it was unusual, but because it was a heart-warming example of Americana. Generations of Americans have done what the Kinseys are doing – making the best of their lives despite the challenges of war.

It all made great reading on the forum. And it’s not everyday we get soldiers posting from Iraq. You can see it here:

Presidential politics – a non-prediction

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

I rarely make predictions. Sports and politics, by their nature, are volatile. But here’s a non-prediction.

I’ve been struck in recent days by the continued attention that the big three presidential candidates in each party receive from the media – to the exclusion of everyone else.

From the beginning of the campaigns, months ago, I have been doubtful that any of the six can win the presidency. All six have flaws that seem to be too much to overcome – iron necklaces that will pull them down during the long months of mud-slinging that are inevitable.

  • Hillary Clinton has Bill. While some Democrats still love him, and he certainly would be an interesting first gentleman, Mr. Clinton carries enough baggage to fill a sem-truck.
  • John Edwards is a liberal trial lawyer. Americans love to hate lawyers. My son is in law school, and I love him dearly, but he made his decision knowing that he’ll be the butt of many jokes.
  • Barrack Obama has both race and inexperience to overcome. One or the other might be possible, but not both. Maybe in four or eight years.
  • John McCain has the war. It’s too unpopular, and the situation isn’t likely to change in the next 17 months.
  • Rudy Guliani has personal moral issues in his past. After living through eight years of Bill Clinton, Americans aren’t likely to elect another philanderer.
  • Mitt Romney has the Mormon religion. Americans don’t understand it, and fear of the unknown is difficult to overcome.

All six are good people. All six, in my view, could be good presidents. But I just don’t see them as the next president.

So, who does that leave. I have no idea. Someone from one or both parties will emerge from the pack in the next few months, so they can compete in the first primaries. When they show they are legitimate candidates in the early primaries, they’ll quickly rise to the surface.

How many people had heard of Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton 17 months before the election?