Some people manage to be kind even to those who were unkind to them. But it's a good rule of thumb to at least be nice to those who have been nice to you.
So I approach this posting with some trepidation since I'm about to be somewhat critical of Madison's morning newspaper. As a rule, the Wisconsin State Journal was fair to me in my eight years as mayor. Dean Mosiman is as unbiased and accurate a reporter as you're going to find anywhere and the editorial board endorsed me both times I ran for re-election. Just a few weeks ago the paper even ran a very nice piece by Doug Moe about my experiences as a park ranger in the Apostle Islands.
So, it's with great care, caution and respect that I want to ask the editors this:
WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU GUYS THINKING, FOR CRYIN' OUT LOUD??!!
I was prompted to ask this gentle question by Sunday's paper. The entire local news section consisted of six pages and five articles. Two were opinion columns, so that doesn't count as hard news in most cases. There was a mildly interesting story about an insurance claim gone bad and a decent story about the Walker administration's attempts to kill wind energy in the state. But the biggest part of the section went to a weird human interest story about some old codger who sells used stuff along Highway 14. It was human interest that wasn't really all that interesting.
The front page was better, but it consisted of only three stories and one was the first of a three-part series on mining by Ron Seely. The Journal does well at these longer series, but what's really needed from the city's only remaining daily print newspaper is the meat and potatoes coverage of everyday city news.
And at that they're just dropping the ball. In the entire Sunday local section there were only five pieces and only one of them (the wind energy story) could really be counted as hard news. In the Sunday paper. Which used to be what you saved your best stuff for.
Now let's turn to the sports section. Eighteen pages. Twenty-two stories. I don't fault them for this. There's a lot of exciting stuff going on in the toy department. I'm riveted to the Brewers, I'm awed by the Packers and I'm thinking national championship for Bucky. Tom Oates and Dennis Punzel are doing a nice job of covering the Brewers' improbable climb to what could be their first World Series championship. I read it all.
My complaint isn't that there's too much sports coverage, but that there is nowhere near the same amount of resources and energy behind coverage of city (or for that matter, national, state and county) hard news stories.
Here is an example
are a couple of examples. A few weeks ago the City of Madison's Board of Estimates voted not to increase funding for Overture in the 2012 budget back to the level promised in the agreement hammered out less than a year ago. The brief Journal story barely reported the simple vote total with no in-depth reporting on the vote itself. Who voted which way and why? What do various alders think about it? How's the philanthropic community taking it? My understanding is that the Journal didn't even have a reporter present. I'm sure the excuse will be that the real battle will be before the full council. But when the city's powerful finance committee takes a major vote like this, doesn't it say something about what might happen later on? Don't we at least deserve more than a handful of paragraphs delving into it so that we're informed for the council vote next month?
(In fact, I've noticed a really alarming trend of the State Journal literally phoning it in, that is calling an alder after a meeting to get the results of that meeting, essentially allowing public officials to write their own news stories.)
Another example is the move by the Police & Fire Commission to not bother to look outside of the ranks of current Fire Department command staff for the next fire chief after Chief Amesqua retires. I reprint the entire story here:
Madison's Police and Fire Commission on Thursday voted to limit its search for a new fire chief to the department's current commissioned staff.
Application forms are expected to be available Oct. 1 and will be due Oct. 25.
Chief Debra Amesqua, 60, is retiring Jan. 3 as the department's first woman chief.
That's it. Less then 50 words on a fundamental and questionable decision, though I'm sure readers will be happy to know they can get their applications as of October 1 and have almost four weeks to fill them out. The real story is that the PFC is limiting itself unnecessarily on an extremely significant hire: a person who could easily lead the department for the next decade or more. Maybe they've got a good reason, but I sure would like to read about it in my morning paper.
And lastly, there's George Hesselberg. For the life of me, I can't understand why the most intriguing and irreverent writer the paper has on staff remains chained up in the literary dungeon on Fish Hatchery Road, while a columnist who is not Doug Moe and regularly commits the twin journalistic felonies of being both boring and incomprehensible at the same time, is allowed to roam the city a free man.
Let me start the chant now.
"Free George Hesselberg!"
"Free George Hesselberg!"
"Free George Hessleberg!"
Note: In the original post, I used the example of a vote in BOE with regard to Overture financing. I was wrong about that as the Overture vote has not come up yet. The vote I had in mind was a capital budget vote on the Edgewater. My apologies to State Journal reporter Dean Mosiman who has written extensively on both topics.