This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 14, 2009 2:42 PM. The previous post in this blog was More biotech lies from OHSU and the PDC. The next post in this blog is Another big sports night (burp) at PGE Park. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

E-mail, Feeds, 'n' Stuff

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Just don't call me Chief

A reader formerly from our nation's capital sends along the text of an interesting speech made this week by a blogger type who's been keeping an eye on local government in his town. He is Gary Imhoff, his and his wife's site is called DCWatch, and here is what he said as he received an award for extraordinary public service from the district's Federation of Citizens Associations:

I don't open a morning newspaper or turn on the evening television news — I wish I could stop that sentence right there, but let me start it again. I don't open a newspaper or watch the news with an eager anticipation that I'll find out something good that the DC city government will be doing for me. Instead, I approach the news dreading what I'll find out the government will be doing to me, or my neighborhood, or the city as a whole. It will be pushing some developer's plan to screw up another neighborhood, and it will be devoting millions or tens of millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to fund those plans. It will be diverting public property to somebody's private interests. It will be passing some bill to regulate our private lives so that we'll live them in line with councilmembers' personal preferences. That's why news is so important; it's citizens' first line of defense. If we don't know what they're up to, we can't defend ourselves against them.

When Dorothy and I started DCWatch.com in the mid-1990's, we were looking for a better, more efficient way of distributing government information, and the Internet provided it. I had tried for a couple years to convince the DC government to start its own web site, and when it didn't Dorothy and I started DCWatch to post city council bills, government reports, and so on. A few years later, DC.gov opened, and a few years after that, with its large staff, it became a bigger repository of government documents than anything we could hope to maintain.

We still post government documents that, for one reason or another, the DC government doesn't want to become too public. But the more prominent mission of our web site became providing an outlet for citizen-generated news and opinion in our biweekly E-mail forum, themail@dcwatch.com. That mission has become even more important now that almost all print news outlets are in financial trouble and are cutting back their local coverage; and now that local television news is mostly lifestyle reports, sports, and weather. How do we gather serious local political and community news, and how do we get it to the people?

I think the second part of that question is already answered. The Internet is an inexpensive delivery method, almost free compared with printing or broadcasting, and it doesn't have the space limitations of newspapers or the time limitations of television. In the future, news about serious subjects will be delivered by the Internet first, and papers and television stations will be supplements. But how will news be gathered for Internet news services? Big newspapers, with big advertising and subscription revenues, as well as big television stations with big advertising revenues, could afford big news gathering staffs, numerous reporters and several editors. But Internet sites have limited to no advertising revenue and limited to no chance of charging their readers subscription fees. (I'm very skeptical that newspapers' dreams of walling off their web sites and charging fees to readers will lead to anything.)

So who will support these large staffs of reporters and editors? I'm not sure that anyone will. Most travel agents have been replaced with travel booking web sites, and the few remaining travel agents handle only the most difficult itineraries. I suspect that in the future most newspapers will have only two or three reporters and editors devoted to gathering the local civic and political news that we are interested in, and the days when a newspaper like The Washington Post had fifty Metro reporters on staff are gone forever.

If there are fewer professional reporters gathering and covering the news that we find necessary, who will replace them? We will. We, the people in this room and hundreds and thousands of people like us who are interested in the well-being of our city and the operations of our city government. We are already the sources for our local newspapers and broadcast stations. We try to convince reporters and their editors that they should cover the stories that are interesting and important to us. Occasionally, we succeed; more often we don't. But in our local neighborhood listservs and in themail, we are able to act as reporters ourselves. We escape the filters of ‘news judgment' that keeps a lot of important news out of our news outlets. We get to inform others directly, and in the end we all end up better informed.

I thank you for this award, but I'm not the one who earned it. What you read in themail, the things you may have learned about from it, are the work of many people cooperating to invent another way of keeping each other in touch and informed. You deserve the credit. And if you don't deserve the credit, if you haven't contributed to themail yet, go home and write now. Send your messages about what's going on in your neighborhood or in your area of interest to themail@dcwatch.com, and let the rest of us know about it.

Here in Portland, the address would be jackbogsblog@comcast.net.

Comments (12)

Inspiring reading. Unfortunately this reinforces the notion that those who do not have access to the internet are at a disadvantage, and this problem will get worse.

With schools, public libraries, wifi hotspots, dirt-cheap used computers with Ubuntu, and even $12/month dialup, nobody with half a brain who wants internet access is denied it. You might want to file this under 'Natural Selection.' Folks who won't sacrifice four packs of cigs for unlimited information, some of it correct, don't provoke much sympathy.

Plus, don't forget, here in Portland we have free municipal w... never mind.

Bravo! Splendid said.


Interesting - I think it is a great idea since the daily O has about 3 years left before it vanishes.

Then I guess we rely on TV to give us about 30 seconds of coverage. Something like PortlandWatch is needed.

Kudos to you Jack. My favorite line (from above): "If we don't know what they're up to, we can't defend ourselves against them."

The news reporting on this blog (especially the back story) is much more robust than most of the drivel reported by the electronic media, and it never contains the pro-establishment spin endemic to the Oregonian and (to a lesser extent) the Tribune and Willy Week.

I'm kind of surprised that Paulson didn't manage to buy off the Willy Week, or at least buy some full page ads for the Timbers.

...the daily O has about 3 years left before it vanishes

Whay makes you think it will even last that long?

… don't provoke much sympathy
There are people who don't have access for a variety of reasons, including being impoverished, pressed for time, technophobic, uninformed, unaware, etc. Who knows. But take a look at the lines of job seekers waiting for an open computer at any library today and you'll see an awful lot of people who may need access for more than just government announcements — it seems a safe bet that they would prefer to have their own set-up at home.

But yes, if we assume that the exclusive reason somebody doesn't have internet access is because they are willfully and belligerently stupid, too idiotic to trade cigarettes for wisdom, well, such a person should provoke intense, indignant, absolutely heartfelt scorn. One's eyes should start from one's head at such shockingly dumb laziness. Any full-brained blog commenter would be openly aghast at such gigantic stupidity.

I didn't say I feel scorn (intense indignant absolutely heartfelt or otherwise), just no sympathy - and some of the laziness & stupidity in this town does leave one aghast, but so far the eyes have stayed in the head. Frankly, none of the five excuses you list makes me any more sympathetic. I'm "impoverished" myself by the Gov't definition, but I can spare $15/mo for DSL. It just might mean no beer, cigs, cable TV, fancy cell phone or other superfluities. And "pressed for time?" Please explain. At least one outfit in town will give anyone a P4 internet-ready computer & all the free lessons you could want, in exchange for your donation of your time building such machines for others, which they teach you to do. Sorry, if people can't be bothered to avail themselves of what's easily available, I don't wish them ill; I just don't lose sleep over it. And I've probably wasted more space than the topic deserves saying so.

If I get the essence of what you're saying, my response has to be: if people don't care enough to do what it takes to be informed (i.e. get access) then I'm skeptical that they care enough to change things.

I apologize if my comment left room for confusion; I'm actually in agreement here. Obviously anybody who doesn't have an internet connection is going to be at a serious disadvantage in terms of access and opportunity. And their reasons are their own. I mean, who am I to judge what is a legitimate excuse or not? But there's no excuse for somebody who is uncaring, lazy and deliberately stupid. Somebody who can't be bothered to get their selfish, moronic, heat-sucking carcass off the sofa long enough to accomplish the simplest task. For those freeloading idiots, there's just no excuse. I don't feel sorry for them at all.

Clicky Web Analytics