Archive for the ‘Local issues, events’ Category

Same topics attract students to Web site

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

It probably comes as no surprise, but college students are interested in about the same kinds of stories as the rest of us.

The top stories on the student Web site at Monroe County Community College so far this semester – – involve television, death, sex and religion.

I remember when the Internet first began providing fresh new insight into reader interests. It was a real shock – and not a pleasant one.

Prior to the Internet, newspapers had only the most rudimentary research on what readers liked. Based on surveys, we knew that they preferred local news to state and national news. But there was no clear picture of what “local news” meant.

And besides, it only took a small amount of common sense to realize that what people told the friendly voice on the other end of the phone when answering survey questions, and what they really did, may not be exactly the same.

They could “say” they were interested in local government news. But did they really read the stories?

Then along came the Internet. Computer software could measure exactly which stories readers “clicked” on. There was no guessing. A click was a click.

And the results were shocking. Day after day, crime topped the list of news people actually read. When sex was involved, the interest really shot up. Entertainment news also was popular, as well as anything controversial – which is where religion often comes in.

The top four stories on The Agora’s Web site so far this semester:

No. 1: A story about a TV sitcom produced and acted by local residents and presented on Monroe’s Public Access TV station, MPACT.

No. 2: The death of a college employee who was a former student.

No. 3: An exhibit and lecture on sex trafficking, planned later this month at the Whitman Center.

No. 4: A column on the mosque and cultural center planned for Manhattan near the site of the World Trade Center.

No surprises there. After more than a decade of watching Internet viewing statistics, I’m used to it.

What about the “important” stories, like the visit to MCCC by a group from a Chinese college, or the record enrollment, or faculty negotiations going to mediation.

The China story ranks 21 on the list, negotiations are at No. 20, and enrollment is at 32.

Again, no surprises. Regret, maybe, but not surprise.

Of course, The Agora Web site is fairly new. It’s still in its first year, and it doesn’t get that much traffic yet. While there have been as many as 6,000 page views in a day, the typical number is more like 150.

Like many news Web sites, Google is the number one source of visitors. Most of the Google visitors come for the movie reviews. They search Google for “Nightmare on Elm Street,” and a student-written review at little MCCC appears.

A close second is viewers  who come directly to the site – probably mostly students and employees who either have it bookmarked or just type in the address.

The next two sources are interesting – people who link from the college Web site,, and people who start with The Agora’s Facebook page and link back to the Web site.

Those four sources account for 90 percent of the visitors. A few also arrive from Yahoo and Bing, and from other college newspaper Web sites – we’re in a network of about 600 college newspapers – and from assorted other links.

I keep waiting for the day the Web site is discovered by more Monroe County residents. Because we haven’t done anything to promote it, most local residents don’t know it exists.

It’s my experience that these things happen virally. One of these days a story on will make the rounds through local computers, and people will discover the site.

Birds of a feather flock together, sort of…

Monday, October 12th, 2009
Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

I’m a bird lover, and having an office next to Bob Pettit is a special treat.

Over the weekend, I noticed dozens of turkey vultures – I call them buzzards – flying over my house. I’ve never noticed buzzards flying together – unless they were circling a carcass somewhere. But it looked for all the world like they were traveling en masse, flying in a sort of disorganized flock.

And they were headed south. Not like geese, who fly in formation. This was like a herd of flying cats, kind of ambling across the sky.

So this morning, when I noticed Bob was in his office as I walked by, I stuck my head in.

“Do turkey vultures migrate in flocks,” I asked.

Yes, was his answer, and he went on. More than 5,000 had passed over Monroe County over the weekend.

See what I mean. Ask a question about birds, and you’ll not only get an answer, you’ll get lots more.

Bob is a biology professor at Monroe County Community College, but he’s more than that. He’s also one of the leading experts in the area on birds – especially the many migratory species who fly over the western end of Lake Erie.

Once last spring I thought I saw an eagle, but wasn’t sure. He supplied me with a handy, one-page description of how all the hawks and eagles in the area look from the ground – the shape of the wings, coloring, etc. I’ll never confuse a red-tailed hawk and an immature eagle again.

And now I know something else. Buzzards migrate in flocks, from Canada to Mexico – even if  they’re kind of disorganized, confused-looking flocks. And thousands pass over Monroe County in a day this time of year.

Thanks, Bob.

Big House fun for charity run

Monday, October 5th, 2009

I’m not the type to be overly impressed by running out through the tunnel onto the football field at the Big House.

After all, I was a member of the Junction City Tigers high school football team, which ran through a gauntlet of cheerleaders and band members onto the field on Friday nights.

Okay, it wasn’t exactly a gauntlet, and the band was only there  Homecoming week. But you get the drift. I did the high school version about 40 years ago.

Still, it was cool breaking into the light and onto the field at the University of Michigan’s stadium Sunday morning, along with thousands of others running in the Big House/Big Heart 10K.

I’ve run in a number of 10K races over the years, and I’ve enjoyed them all. This was different for me, however, and looking around me during the race I got the feeling I wasn’t alone in the sentiment.

I was running for fun, and for a cause. I didn’t care what my time was. If you know me, you know that’s a hard thing to say. I’m almost always competitive.

This race, however, was about raising money to fight heart disease, and about the fun of running into the Big House. The race was full of people who didn’t appear to be serious runners, or who weren’t running seriously this day.

My daughter, who ran with me Sunday, was a good example. She’s been training hard all summer to run the Detroit half-marathon in two weeks (a warmup to the full marathon next year). She could have beaten me by 10 minutes (I haven’t been training for anything).

But we ran a pleasant 6.2 miles together, chatting as we strode along the streets of Ann Arbor, through the UM campus and back to the stadium.

I wanted to save my energy for the sprint onto the field. I have never run in the Big House/Big Heart event before, but I knew what would happen when runners broke out of the tunnel.

The pace picked up as we entered the stadium. And when running shoes hit green carpet, the race was on. The adrenalin surge is amazing. Tired legs are forgotten as runners circled under the goal posts and sprinted for the 50-yard-line.

Of course, the stadium was nearly empty, except for a few hundred friends and family members. It’s not quite like on Saturday afternoon.

But it was still fun. And raising money to fight heart disease is personal for me. My father and grandfather died of heart attacks. I probably will, too.

But not before I cross one more thing off the bucket list. I ran through the tunnel and into one of the world’s great stadiums.

(If you’re interested in running the Big House/Big Heart next year, here’s the link to the Web site. And if 10K is too far, the 5K also finishes in the stadium.)

(By the way, everyone wasn’t just running for fun. The race was won by Ian Forsyth of Ann Arbor in a very respectable 31:19. That’s just a couple seconds over a 5-minute mile pace.)

A second Nevaeh thought

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Some afterthoughts on coverage of the Nevaeh Buchanan story.

There’s more to evaluating news coverage than timeliness. Accuracy, relevance, usefulness, balance and appropriate presentation all are important, too.

In my new role – as a college journalism professor, not a newspaper editor – commenting on the media goes with the territory. Before, my role was to explain and defend. Now it’s to analyze and evaluate.

As many people have mentioned on, The Evening News’ coverage after a slow start has met most of those tests. I can’t say the same for some of the area TV stations.

It wouldn’t be fair to make a blanket statement about all of the television coverage, because I haven’t monitored it closely enough. Some has been very good. But some of the TV stations seemed to be more interested in exploiting the story for ratings than in presenting useful information.

They spent more of their precious on-air seconds promoting the story than reporting it. They focused more video on emotional responses than on facts. And they played rumors or minor sidebars like they were big breakthroughs, even when they knew they probably weren’t.

To be fair, that’s what TV does.  This criticism is valid for much of TV news coverage. They intensely promote because they’re in intense competition.  Given the choice, they’ll almost always push emotional video over boring facts. And they’re desperate for anything new – so they grab at rumors just to make it appear they have a hot breakthrough.  

As consumers of news, we just need to understand that about TV news, whether local or national.

Yes, and The Evening News  lost out to other media in this story when it comes to timeliness. The Evening News, as a news organization, usually errs on the side of being careful and cautious, not sensational.  That puts it at a disadvantage when covering a big story.

But in the long run, I think that’s a good thing. As media converge and the digital news world grows,  consumers will have more sources of news than they can imagine. I think people eventually will gravitate to the media outlets they feel they can trust.

The Evening News will get faster as it learns the ropes of the digital world. I hope there is never a next time for this kind of story. But next time Evening News reporters are faced with a big, breaking story, they’ll respond more quickly.

I hope they keep their careful approach to reporting facts, debunking rumors and maintain balance and proportion in presenting the news.

Nevaeh story highlights new media world

Monday, June 1st, 2009

The tragic disappearance of Nevaeh Buchanan brings Monroe and its small-town newspaper face-to-face with two dramatic media trends.

One, the emergence of social media as a force in news coverage, and two, how a “big story” engulfs a community like never before.

By now it has been well documented on local talk forums that the Monroe Evening News and were slow to react to the breaking Nevaeh story. The timing couldn’t have been worse for a community newspaper with a small staff – 6 p.m. on a Sunday night before a Monday holiday.

The Evening News published a morning paper on Memorial Day, so there was no reason for any reporters to be in the office Monday morning. The story broke on the Amber Alert Web site and was roaring along on for hours before the first news story was posted on

In my view, this is a fascinating glimpse into the future of news coverage in the digital era.

Gone is the day when news organizations are first to cover breaking news. The plane crash in the Hudson River this spring was first reported on Twitter by a bystander with a cell phone. As more and more people are linked to the world by a device they carry in a pocket, it stands to reason that first-hand reports of news events will come from onlookers before any media can arrive.

That’s one of the reasons The  Evening News created Remember, it started more than three years ago with the “Eyes and Ears” forum on The idea was that readers could be the eyes and ears of the community, posting news of traffic snarls or severe weather or whatever else.

That evolved into, which has been an award-winning example of a local news organization creating its own social network.

So it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the most robust discussion of the Nevaeh story has been on That’s why it was created.

And once news reporters at The Evening News got on top of the Nevaeh story, they’ve done an excellent job keeping readers posted on the latest news, creating a separate page on the Web site to organize the coverage, linking to other Web sources, blogging on the coverage and responding to comments on

I’m sure this has been a tremendous opportunity for The Evening News staff to see the power of social networking and its role in news coverage.

When a big story hits a community, people used to wait around for the 6 p.m. news and the daily newspaper. Now they’re on their computers and smart  phones, joining the fray, sharing news (and rumors), offering opinions and  links to other news and social network sites. An entire community can be engulfed by the story in minutes.

One of the coolest features of this new world order for media is how well the traditional news media and the new social network together provide readers with a more complete picture. Staffers at The Evening News have reported every detail of the news that can be confirmed, as well as extensive coverage of the community response.  Meanwhile, has been part of a rich, diverse network that inclues YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other sites, providing a wealth of information, links, rumors, prayers, opinions and diatribes.

Of  course, and other social networking sites are the ultimate example of “reader beware.” You can’t assume anything is accurate.  Mixed with the good information and thoughtful opinions are awful posts that spread falsities, hate and fear. But that comes with the territory, and regular users of social media get pretty good at just ignoring the bad stuff.

Between the news coverage on and the print edition of The Evening News, and the discussion on, the Nevaeh story has brought the Monroe community together in a way perhaps never seen before. Certainly, more people have never participated in a story.

As they get better at embracing social networking as part of their coverage, Evening News reporters will do more blogging, link more widely to other sources on the Internet, provide more video and other multi-media coverage, and send their online reports directly to mobile devices.

But all-in-all, other than the slow holiday response, this story has been a good look at the future of news coverage, and and made a pretty solid team.

In the unlikely case that anyone is coming to this blog before they saw the Nevaeh story, here are links to the appropriate spots on and

Getting a thrill out of voting

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

I can’t remember having as much fun voting.

There were more poeple in the gymnasium at Lambertville United Methodist Church than last weekend for the church craft show.

Each of the three lines for one precinct had several dozen people in them. There was a low buzz filling the room – kind of like a crowded library. The poll workers talked quietly, leading each voter through the process. But that many people can only be so quiet.

And, of course, it’s always a little more fun voting for president. Not that the local school board isn’t important, but presidential elections are the pinacle of our democratic process.

This ballot also was interesting because there were a variety of contested races, from county clerk to township trustees, where there was a real choice between good candidates.

Today was a great day to be an American, to exercise my right to vote, to join a crowd in the church gymnasium and feel the excitement of election day.

Too many times, I’ve felt like I was walking into a mausoleum when I cast my vote. Today was more like it should be.

Predictions are that more than 70 percent of registered voters will cast ballots today. I can’t imagine what the other 30 percent could be doing that is so important.

They’re missing out on a good time.

IHM property is worth saving for posterity

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

I’m cheering for the folks who are trying to raise money to preserve the land owned by the IHM sisters in Monroe.

Few cities of any size are given an opportunity like this – a beautiful piece of undeveloped property in the middle of the city.  And this property is more than beautiful – it’s also ecologically significant, from its oak savannah to the island in the river.IHM property

Future generations would get a lot of benefit from this property – if a way can be found to raise the money to purchase it.

I understand why the Sisters can’t just give it away. It’s their nest egg, the resource they’re counting on to finance their future.

The compromise they’re working on with the Friends of the Academy Preserve makes a lot of sense – a blend of local and state money to save the property from development, which will happen if the sisters are forced to sell it to private interests.

The Friends are trying to raise $750,000 from local contributions as the match to a $2.2 million state grant. That’s a big mountain to climb, but it’s not impossible. There are a lot of generous people and corporations in Monroe County.

City and county governments also should be looking for ways to help. This would be an appropriate use for some tax money, too. The benefit to the entire community would be immeasurable – especially when considered over the decades and centures into the future.

If the Academy Preserve was developed well it could become a jewel in the center of Monroe. Especially when combined with the other potential tourism draws along the River Raisin – the 1812 battlefield, Sterling State Park, the Custer Statue, St. Mary’s Park, a revitalized downtown – it’s a project that is worth the money.

Cutting global emissions a personal issue here

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

When the world’s leaders get together in a place called Rusutsu, Japan, and agree to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050, it sounds like something a long way away that could hardly mean anything to folks in Monroe County.

And, it is true, most experts pooh-pooh the move as meaningless rhetoric.

But few places in the world have more at stake than Monroe County. How many other communities have two coal-fired power plants – not to mention a cement plant.

From the perspective of the world, the critics are probably right. It’s too little, too late, and isn’t likely to make any kind of an impact on the health of the planet.

From our perspective here in Monroe County, it could mean a lot if it leads to tougher controls on greenhouse gas emissions.

Most Monroe County residents want clean air. They appreciate the steps that DTE, Consumers Energy and Holcim have made to clean up their emissions. Many probably would support tighter controls that would make the air even cleaner and do our part to slow global warming. And we also have a nuclear plant and another on the drawing boards – one of the best solutions to burning more carbon.

But most Monroe County residents don’t support controls that would cost the community thousands of jobs.

The leaders of the world’s most powerful countries appeared to dodge any real commitment to cutting pollution. There are lots of reasons for their hesitation. Those reasons are understood better in Monroe County than in most places.

Jazz and Monroe

Friday, April 25th, 2008

I spent a few minutes this morning on the Alexander Zonjic radio show at the River Raisin Centre for the Arts. Mr. Zonjic is the morning host on WVMV-FM Smooth Jazz V98.7, and today he was broadcasting live from Monroe.

I was one of several Monroeites who were interviewed by the talented jazz flutist/dj. The point was to promote the seventh annual River Raisin Jazz Festival and the May 2 performance of Spyro Gyra at the River Raisin Centre for the Arts.

One of the themes of discussion between Mr. Zonjic and his guests was the remarkable success of the Jazz Festival and the winter Jazz Series in Monroe.

As I said on the air, Monroe is a surprising place. The ability to pull off a big-time jazz festival in our little town is just one more reason Monroe has a much higher quality of life than outsiders would expect.

On the surface, there is not much of a connection between Jazz and Monroe. Monroe was settled by the French, and so was New Orleans. And we both had famous War of 1812 battles. Anything else?

But somehow the River Raisin Jazz Festival, the winter Jazz Series and the summer Jazz Thursday nights have been big hits.

Surprising, but really cool.

Racism in Monroe – a personal issue

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

There’s no doubt about it, the Big Read is a cool concept.

Getting thousands of people in one community to read the same book and then discuss it can be a powerful process – especially when the book is as thought-provoking as “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The novel by Harper Lee explores racism in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s.

What’s that have to do with Monroe, Michigan, in the 20th century?

Harper LeeIt was clear to me from the Big Read panel discussion on diversity last night that “Mockingbird” offers plenty of lessons for Monroe in 2008.

There seemed to be general agreement from the panel members that racism still exists in Monroe. It’s more subtle than 70 years ago. It’s closely tied to socio-economics – that is, the combination of poverty and racism together are a tougher foe than either by itself. But it’s still evident – in the segregation of the “East Side,” in achievement levels in school, in arrest and conviction rates in the judicial system.

One of the themes throughout both “Mockingbird” and last night’s discussion was that education is the most powerful tool we have in the battle against racism. The more people look beyond their narrow circle, the more they expand their horizons by reading and studying others’ thoughts and ideas, the more likely they’ll embrace people who aren’t like them and be tolerant of diverse cultures and lifestyles.

Another theme that ran through both the novel and the panel was the importance of parenting. Atticus Finch, the lawyer in the novel who defended a young black man accused of raping a white woman, constantly, patiently, explained to his children the importance of putting yourself in others’ shoes – viewing life from their perspective. It’s not an accident that Atticus raised thoughtful, respectful children, and his closed-minded sister raised spiteful, bigoted children.

Perhaps, in my opinion, the most important theme from the book and the panel was the interpersonal role we all can play. In “Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch wasn’t just a rich lawyer who defended poor black people. He was a friend and companion of everyone in his small town, whether they were black housekeepers or poor white sharecroppers.

A highlight for me of the panel discussion was the audience member (I wish I had caught his name, maybe someone can add it in a comment) who asked the panel members if any of them had personal friends of another race – implying that ending racism is a one-on-one issue.

I agree with the point he seemed to be making. Monroe County, for all its faults, is a wonderful place filled with caring, decent people. They’re quick to help a neighbor or a stranger, and they’re willing to step up and make a difference when needed.

For the most part, they live with the subtle racism that still pervades our community because it doesn’t touch their daily lives, doesn’t affect them in any way they notice. It’s easy to ignore something that you don’t see. If they were more aware of the problem, I’m convinced they would want to be part of the solution.

That’s why the Big Read and panel discussions like last night can be so valuable. They help us come face-to-face with issues we otherwise just let slip by.

Racism continues to be a serious problem in America. But we don’t have to look to the Mexican border or the inner city of Detroit to find it. It’s right here in Monroe County.

And the solution is right here, too. In education, in parenting, and in each of us.


It was a privilege for me to be a member of the panel with Judge Pamela A. Moskwa, chief probate judge for Monroe County; Larry Arreguin, vice president of government affairs for VisionIT and chairman of the Hispanic/Latino Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party; Kelvin McGhee, Monroe City Council, third precinct; and Jeffrey Kodysh, editor of The Agora. Also thanks to MCCC and the staff of the Agora for hosting the event.


If part of the problem is that Monroe County residents aren’t as aware of race problems as they should be, part of the blame must fall to The Monroe Evening News. What are your thoughts on what the newspaper and its Web sites should do to help raise awareness of race issues in the county. Please share them here, or send me a private note at