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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Local Blogs Serve Community in Ways For-Profit Media Can't... or Won't

I've been having a conversation with Randy Schaefer, who is understandably unhappy with the coverage here of the Tax Increment Finance district Madison created for his housing development. Randy can live with my posts; it's the negative and cowardly anonymous comments that raise his hackles.

Local blogs can raise hackles... but on the whole, that's a good thing, especially in era when we see the mainstream media retreating from its duty to serve the public. The New York Times itself points to the rising importance of new media. While maintaining its disdain for most of us ("an Internet landscape long dominated by partisan commentary, gossip, vitriol and citizen journalism posted by unpaid amateurs"), the Gray Lady speaks approvingly of professional journalists who have set up their own non-profit shops in places like San Diego to dig into local politics, bring questionable policies and expenditures to light, and drive further media coverage by the mainstream journalists.

Other cites rallying professional and citizen journalists to do this kind of local coverage abound:
These local news websites all operate in markets where there are plenty of newspapers and radio and TV stations. Yet the movers and shakers behind those news sites look around and see important issues going unmentioned, or undermentioned.

That's what I'd like to think blogs like the Madville Times can do. Madison's lucky to have its own newspaper and radio station, but even MDL and KJAM don't catch every issue (and neither do I!). They certainly don't air every voice—anyone care to guess how many letters to the editor Jon Hunter has rejected in the pasy year?

Even in our small market, there is a place for more voices, more folks speaking up and investigating how their city and county and other organizations spend tax dollars. I do a little bit of that. Sometimes, so do my commenters (good work, John!). Think of it as collaborative community journalism: I start a story by mentioning a few facts and asking some questions, and readers then build the story by contributing their observations, giving context, pointing out errors in my own statements and others' comments.

This is going to sound crazy coming from someone who hates cooperative learning... but that's how journalism can work now. We can use the Internet to work together, to collaborate in telling the stories that are important to our community... and in keeping an eye on the powers that be.

Randy and the New York Times are right: this medium—not just the Madville Times, but the whole darn Internet, where any honyocker can start a blog—does facilitate negative, envious, unsubstantiated name-calling and other irrelevant baloney from chicken-hearted wimps who lack the courage to face us, their neighbors, and back their words with their names (and a fact or two). But this medium doesn't create that negativity: it exposes ill will and flawed thinking that are already there in the community. In a way the for-profit media can't or won't, this medium draws out the ills in our community, whether they include the errors and occasional chicanery of public officials or simply the ill-founded suspicions, jealousies, and prejudices of the people we live with. Drawing out those ills allows us to challenge and maybe even fix them. And that's a net plus for any community.

The Madville Times continues. So do the comments. Keep up the conversation!


  1. One of the nicest things blogs can do that the dead tree press can't is include hyperlinks to past coverage. Makes it easier to follow what's been happening over time.

  2. While you can't control the comments of your visitors, Cory, your research is second to none and your references are clearly superior to most blogs.

    What folks like Randy Schaefer oppose is opinions that differ from his vision. While he wants to remold and develop areas of Madison including the Masonic Temple block or add affordable housing and more retail near Silver Creek, there will always be folks who disagree and have a differing opinion.

    I'm not sure where the phrase originated, but the saying, "love your enemies for they will tell you your faults" is one that rings true. Your blog allows our community to weigh several opinions, and while some are not well supported, they are simply opinions. As far as I know, nobody has ever been sued for expressing their opinion.

    Keep digging, and in fact, you should consider guest bloggers who might write about subjects they have expertise in. The Daily Leader used to do a point/counter- point article once in awhile which was enjoyable. You could do that too. Then, readers of your blog could express their comments after the guest blog article. Sort of like a guest editorial.

  3. Kelly's right: hyperlinks totally rule!

    And thank you, Anon—I'm glad you're finding the conversation worthwhile.

    I've run a few guest columns, and would be happy to run some more. Feel free to e-mail me with possible guest columns. Of course, why wait for me? If you want something done right, do it yourself! Even lengthy editorials are welcome here in the comment section, and you can even start your own local blog on RealMadison.org!

  4. 8:08, A quick search gives credit for the quote to Benjamin Franklin. Differing views are healthy and this blog is a way to express them without much of a filter. That can be reckless and too easy to criticize without presenting factual information. At times I feel there should be more restriction of anonymous comments, but they do have their place. Although not yet clear to everyone in the community, there is a place for a local public forum. John Hess

  5. Cory,

    Your comments about honest and unaffected news coverage are encouraging. And yes, this blog spot is a great mechanism for people to voice their opinions and ask important questions that may otherwise be lost in other sources of local media. As you stated, blogs such as Madville Times allow for negative, envious, hurtful, and senseless comments that people like Randy Schaefer are tired of reading. Though these comments are a minute price to pay for great online communication, I find it alarming how hurtful people can actually be.

    In defense of Randy and others who have been destroyed in online blogging and bashing, let's try to encourage more FACTS and less rumored crap that gets passed around by ignorant citizens.

    It's true that a community would not be functional if there weren't those who criticize and ask questions, and just plainly disagree with issues going on in their community. But before some critics choose to splash their uneducated opinions all over the community, they should definitely do some research first. They would be so much more credible if they could support their criticisms with facts.

    Sure, the negativity and hate will go on... it's so easy to hide behind a computer screen and the name "Anonymous!" But perhaps these haters will someday double-check their posts before they publish-- not only to save a bit of unnecessary grief, but to retain some credibility.

  6. K Ericsson, while I wouldn't go so far as to say Randy Schaefer has been "destroyed" by anything happening online (I don't see him out front of Schaefer Plaza yet wearing a barrel and holding out a tin cup), I agree with most of what you say. I am acutely aware of what jerks people can be online and offline. Review the comments, and you'll find I've taken as much personal insult from commenters (both anonymous and named) on this blog as anyone. It rankles me every time someone gets personal instead of focusing on the real issues and doing some research.

    You're absolutely right: disagreement is healthy. It's vital for a community... but so is civil discourse. I'll keep doing what I can to promote exactly the sort of informed, civil discourse you want. That's why you'll find links to other sources—the news, statistics, studies, state statute, whatever—in much of what I write.

  7. In response to the barrel and tin cup comment: Is destruction only related to finances and status? I don't think I was referring to his bank account...

    For someone who strives to be honest and straightforward with his agenda, I know that it is difficult to read untrue declarations when Randy is so willing to sit down and discuss any issues one might have with him or his plans.

    Or maybe it's his daughter who is being destroyed when she reads hurtful and untrue things about her dad... ;)

  8. K, I know what you're talking about. A really good standard for online discourse: think about the person you are talking to or about. Think about that person's wife or husband, their kids, their friends. Would you say those things to that person's face? Would you say those things with that person's family in the room? If not, don't put it online.

  9. One thing you will never know on a blog is whether K Ericsson is really Kristen or just her father appearing as his daughter since there is no link to K Ericsson. Randy may be taking some criticism on his local city handout because people feel he don't need a handout. He's a very successful business developer. You can see in Cory's blog comments, people oppose handouts and inside deals no matter who it is. The big three automakers or a small town business. There are a lot of democrats who follow this blog and I think Randy may be quite republican. Some of the negative may come from past business dealings, personal indiscretions or past criticisms he has put on others. Maybe it is small town jealousy. You never know how the public will act when public money is involved in for-profit private enterprise. There will be some upset. That is the taxpayer's right. Randy likes being the big wheel and brings some of this on himself. If you don't like heat, best stay away from the fire.

  10. BS-

    This is Kristen Ericsson. I've created a profile for myself this time for your enjoyment. But great point on how easy it is to hide behind a computer screen. I know many people get on here and have conversations with themselves and use initials to pose as random people. Pretty curious.

    You're right about one thing... good business people take risks and can expect to pay certain consequences (like criticism, jealousy, etc.). But I think you missed the whole point of my post... I simply explained that doing research and obtaining the right knowledge will prevent the WRONG information from being spread around a community. Often, it's the rivals and jealous foes that WANT the wrong information to get out, so one must be aware of the person to whom he or she is listening.

    Disagreements are a contributing factor to the health of a community- but spreading spiteful and completely false information around only damages the community. Just get the facts-- seek the correct information. Randy and others can deal with disagreements. It's the lies that make us cringe... they're uneccessarily separating our community!

    Obviously you could use some education on the whole TIF project as well. Talk to a CREDIBLE
    person about the alleged "insider deals."

  11. Sore words from rival developers are waht people have heard. Fair playing field. How does one person get money when others are developing housing that people can afford to buy. It was asked to be money approved for low income housing and now the change. Pushing the rules might be how people complain. Would the city approved the tif if they knew it was for more storage not houses.

  12. Anon 4:45 --
    I believe that you are just uninformed. I won't even making any further comments. Whoever you are, please contact me some time for an informational conference. You have a right to your questions, but need some education.

  13. Anon:
    Yes, this is what you and others think. But your assumptions are obviously affected by incorrect babble. The smartest thing you could do is talk to someone credible. The city attorney or city engineer will spell this out for you. I will not keep posting the same thing over and over about how these wrong statements are unproductive and misleading. Just get unbiased, correct information.

  14. Dan Bohl:

    I visited the city website (www.cityofmadisonsd.com) to look at the Schaefer plan.

    It looks like land is in the 100 year flood plain. Also, the plan is only 28-foot wide public access coming off Washington Avenue in between Movie Guy and Second Street Diner.

    Doesn't the city require 46 feet street access width? It makes sense to access off the new street-Grant Avenue-just built. A lot less risk and danger.

    I wonder if Dan Bohl and other city folks would've approved the city tif for residential if they knew about adding more businesses back there. Going to be congested with traffic.

  15. First, you should have been at some of those earlier meetings if you are so interested or concerned. Second, read above to see my offer. I will not take up time and space with explanation, but am more than willing to have an informational meeting with you, that is, if you are genuinely that concerned about what everyone else should know. At least then you could pass on legitimate info that could be labeled as factual. Looking forward to your call.


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