Thursday, March 29, 2007

A New Plan

Solving Homelessness One Story at a Time

We have had 20 years of failing to solve homelessness, so I am suggesting a new course of action. As you may have seen Jack Hanrahan became homeless in Cleveland after living it up in Hollywood. Last week the Plain Dealer reported on former writer, Jack Hanrahan's story of rags to riches. A day later there were offers of help from all over the city. The story was picked up far and wide in blogs and in newspapers across the United States. Just by writing a story, The Plain Dealer staff were able to solve someone's homelessness. If they could do one story a day on a different homeless person, they could solve 365 people's homelessness in one year. They may have to make up some stories about doing make up for Chuck Norris or a local homeless woman starring in one of the Ed Wood classics, because the public seems to be more sympathetic to the plight of homeless people who were once famous. This is not to say that the Hanrahan story was not true, I am sure that the Hanrahan story was true, but there are about 1,000 similar stories everyday on the streets of Cleveland. This demonstrates the power of the media.

If you read the latest Homeless Grapevine you will see that the average homeless social service providers is only able to find around 25 people housing per year in Cleveland. In fact, only one or two programs in Cleveland found over 100 people housing locally in a one year period. If the Plain Dealer accepted my strategy, they would be the first or second best housing placement agency in the community. C'mon, Larkin do something for the good of the community--become a housing placement agency by turning O'Malley out to do one feature story a day and significantly reduce homelessness.


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Monday, March 26, 2007

My Generation: Why my younger sister is one of my heroes

by Kevin E. Cleary

Years before Tom Brokaw wrote his famous book “The Greatest Generation,” I was being clubbed over the head with the notion that my generation was a complete waste of DNA. I sit on the cusp of two demographics, Generation X, (aka the post-Boomers) and the generation that is being called the Millennial generation. Neither is particularly renowned for its volunteering spirit or selflessness.

Growing up, I always resented the implication that my generation would sit idly by while Hitler conquered the world, that somehow, we were all worthless and ungrateful brats. I’ve always felt that there are good people and bad people of every age, race, gender, and creed, and still do.

But, I’ve got to tell you, MTV and the mainstream media do very little to promote the idea that anyone under 65 cares about the world at large. I have shaken my head in disgust at shows like “My Super Sweet Sixteen” in which spoiled rich kids compete to have the most opulent parties. I have watched the rise of reality shows in which backstabbing and promiscuity are enshrined as virtues; and I have seen teenagers become a threat to homeless people more dreaded than Cleveland’s brutal winters.

It’s easy to believe the cynical notion that my generation cares only about celebrities, iPods, and themselves. It’s hard to argue that Gen X-ers or Millennials are making real contributions to society when all that you see on television is the near-constant fulfillment of our carnal desires. But I maintain my faith in humanity when I think about people like my younger sister Katie.

Katie is 21 years old, and a junior at Kent State. She works hard and studies hard every day, and could very easily be spending her much-deserved Spring Break on a beach in Florida somewhere. Instead, she ponied up a large sum of her own hard-earned money to take a bus down to Biloxi, Mississippi this week to help rebuild an area that is still devastated by the hurricanes of 2005.

Personally, I think Katie would have shown this volunteering spirit and concern for others even if our parents hadn’t drilled it into us, but I must say that I am amazingly proud of my little sister. There is no reason other than her inherent kindness that she is spending this week in obscenely humid weather doing hard, physical labor. By contrast, I did nothing but complain when my Spring Break was absorbed by the unintentionally complicated process of getting the latest issue of The Homeless Grapevine to press (more on that in a later post). When Katie told me of her Spring Break plans, I was quietly ashamed that I had whined so much.

But as proud as I am of my sister, I also have to say that she is not entirely unique in our generation. While Katie is an exceptional person, I cannot say that her kindness and volunteering are entirely unique. For example, a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of making a presentation to Katie’s residents (she works as a resident assistant at Kent) with Erin Huber, who is the founder of Covering Cleveland. Huber is somewhere in between Katie’s age and my own (I am 25, for the record). Huber started Covering Cleveland several years ago when she was still a teenager, and has spent her “free time” distributing blankets to homeless people ever since.

Then there are the countless AmeriCorps VISTAs, Peace Corps, and other service volunteers, many of whom are also under 30. These individuals get paid less than minimum wage to address the world’s toughest problems, and many help form the backbone of our nation’s non-profits. They selflessly contribute their time, creativity and drive to helping others, and I find it a shame that their efforts are never forwarded to counter the claim that our generations are worthless.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lets Try this Again...

Maybe License is the Wrong Word...

There seems to be some confusion over my use of the word "license", so let me try this again. How about a "Seal of Approval" by a reputable Journalist Society offered to journalists? Just as the fortune tellers...I people are now monitored as Meteorologists how about the same structure for their partners at the anchor table? Each station wants to trump its competition by featuring as many Meteorologists as possible. How long ago would the Godfather of weather people, Dick Goddard, have been replaced by a cute young woman reading the forecast if there was not this competition for accurate forecasts by meteorologists. There is some regulation and oversight of these weather people and I assume that their seals can be withdrawn if they start predicting snow in July.

I am not suggesting that you have to go to Journalism school to get a "seal of approval. " I am also not saying that you have to get a "Seal of Approval" before you write anything. I am just saying that if you want to be identified as a journalist then you have to agree to certain standards of fairness, balance, and quality reporting on the facts. Many professions must get a seal of approval or license to operate, and we cheapen the practice of journalism by not setting some standards. Does a beautician or a contractor or a psychiatrist have more impact on our life than a journalist?

We regulate professions for health concerns, the spread of infectious disease, and public safety. Why can't we view tabloid yellow journalism as the spread of distortions that undermine our democracy? If reputable journalists do not get together to shut down the tabloids, they will continue to lose credibility in our society. The first amendment will be meaningless, if there is nothing left to defend. Who is going to rise up to save Channel 19 or Fox News or the ability to see death, blood and sex on the evening news?


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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Fifth Estate

Last week, Brian wrote a post expressing his frustration with journalists and called for an internal association to "license" journalists. That post, which is further down on our page here, or can be read at incited a lot of comments (well, 8 comments is a lot for this blog) from the likes of Roldo Bartimole, John Ettorre, and others.

I thought I would throw my two cents into the mix here. Here goes...

I think the need for a journalism degree has hampered the profession in many respects. My experience with journalism classes is that you spend a lot of time doing facile AP Style book exercises and very little actual journalism.

From my understanding, copy boys used to be able to work their way up the system to become reporters, thus Jimmy Olsen (the actual Jimmy Olsen of "Superman" fame, not that Tabloid News hack Ed Gallek) was a cub reporter. Individuals who were experts in their field could also become newspaper writers later in their career.

I think this apprenticeship model and the ability to move upward in a company on merit were better than the current environment. As another newspaper man, Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) once remarked, "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." I think the current environment puts too much emphasis on schooling, and not enough on actual reporting ability.

Furthermore, as journalism has become increasingly professionalized, so have all the other jobs in the field. It's almost impossible to imagine a copy boy or girl working his way up to become Editor in Chief of The Plain Dealer without first being extruded through college, a bunch of lower-circulation papers in far-flung towns, a flogging by Feagler, etc.

There's also the instinct to protect one's own, as Mr. Ettorre mentioned, which has undermined reporting. In the old days, there was a friendly competition amongst reporters for the same paper, but there was also competition for the same stories even in small towns from other papers. Now, the competition is between corporate entities to see which can have the most profitable news department by spending as few resources as possible.

All in all, I would say that the blogosphere has been a boon to reporting, if also a huge pain in the ass to the reporters themselves. Sure, the public still gets non-stories and Tabloid News, and Ann Coulter, but many blogs have also appointed themselves as media watchdogs and "citizen journalists." It's a lot harder for news monopolies to control and spin the news when a million angry bloggers (right or left wing) are watching your every move.

My father and his best friend became friends on a precursor to the Internet: billboards and newsgroups. Even then, members of the group were going to great lengths to disprove each other's claims. One newsgroup member drove across several states to check out a book from a library to prove false another member's claim to have served in Vietnam.

I think, just as one essential function of the fourth estate is to keep government honest, an evolving function of the blogosphere is to keep the media honest. Certainly not every member of the blogosphere will perform this function, and some will do it better than others. But I see the benefits of what I call the fifth estate greatly outweighing its detriments in the marketplace of ideas. We would do better to empower the watchdogs than to attempt to enact another echelon of control within the journalistic community.

-Kevin, Managing Editor, The Homeless Grapevine

P.S. In response to Mr. Ettorre's concern that Brian is ignoring the Constitution, I would say emphatically that he is well-versed in its tenets. I believe you may be misinterpreting his statements. Don't forget this administration's tendency, and the tendency of all administrations (Republican or Democratic) to ignore the Constitution when it is "inconvenient."

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Problem with the Plain Dealer

How to Improve Cleveland's Daily?

The Coalition has received a great deal of ink this last week, and that is a good thing. I am very appreciative of all the work of the Plain Dealer, and the stories dedicated to poverty. The reporters are great, and should be given more discretion in the stories to cover. After all, they know a good story and they are closer to the average reader than the editors. Anyway, here are my suggestions, as the average reader, to increase the readers so there will be no further decline in the staff. I am trying to help their bottom line by increasing their circulation.

First, they need a better website. It takes way too many clicks to find the news. That is the heart of website, but everyday the web people seem to move the news to a new place. I always feel like there is this hide and seek game with the news on the website. Also, when I click on Metro News why do I have to go through national news? I just want to read about Cleveland or Ohio. I do not turn to the Plain Dealer for news on Iraq, Bush, Congress, or stories from Los Angeles. In the information age with computers, the Plain Dealer needs to give us the news from Cleveland and from the perspective of Clevelanders. They could have a page of links to national stories that are summarized in the daily. A total redesign of the Plain Dealer website is a must to increase web traffic. I like the Opener blog, and we need more of that.

Second, throw away all but a summary of the national news within the paper. I am too busy to have to wade through the national news when I can go to the New York Times, Washington Post and all the other news outlets that do a much better job. I don't even have cable, but most people do and by the time the story is in print it must have already appeared on CNN and MSNBC about 40 times. Any national news should be written by Cleveland reporters and tell us how it impacts me. Tell me how the Federal budget is going to effect RTA or CMHA or the Cleveland Public Schools. Just give a page or two of the most important stories and let me know that more information is available on the website.

Give the local reporters the chance to put in a lot of stories and do not cut them down to a few hundred words. That series that started today on the Sunshine Law was nice and enjoyable to read. The Medicaid Story from today is important and every aspect of the budget should be analyzed in just as much detail. Reporters should be given the opportunity to spread their wings and write. They should all write a lot and every day. They should write about regional government everyday. They should write about the poorest city in the United States everyday. They should write about job creation efforts everyday. They should write about the growing health care crisis in every paper that is pushed out the door.

Fourth, the Plain Dealer covers some things in depth, but then ignores most of the City. They need to diversify their selection of topics to cover. They have this great book review section on Sunday. What about similar efforts for music, television shows, blogs, photography, painting and modern art? They could take a weekly look at college radio, workers comp claims, housing starts, health care discoveries, the Ohio National Guard activities in Iraq, the state of civil rights, and anti war efforts. The Plain Dealer could dedicate the same space to Labor as they do Business. There should be as much space dedicated to democracy/government as is dedicated to Sports. The Plain Dealer should significantly expand its consumer affairs section to take on utility issues, mortgage lenders, telecommunication companies, and health care providers.

Finally, we need some more profiles of everyday people. The business section on Sunday has turned into the lifestyles of the rich and famous with these lengthy features on the Presidents of KeyBank or University Hospital. How about some similar space to the lady who gets up every morning to open Starbucks and then cleans up the McDonald Building at night so that her kids can eat? How about a feature on my elderly neighbor who had to spend 9 hours waiting in the emergency room of Huron Hospital when she was sick? How about a story about the mail carrier who delivered mail on February 14 over mountains of snow?

Hope that this helps. Get rid of Brent Larkin/Dick Feagler and take up my suggestions and I would consider subscribing again.


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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Licensing of Journalists

Fourth Estate? Then Act Like It

I have no problem defending the Balco Reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle or the blogger who is sitting in jail for not handing over the tape of the anti-war protesters that damaged a California police car, but these reporters seem to be the exception rather than the rule. For every champion of journalism who write stories about Walter Reed or Extraordinary Rendition Flights, there are two reporters at Channel 19 who care very little about society. For every Seymore Hersh there are five Michelle Malkins or Ann Coulters. With citizen journalists spreading like wildfire in blogs, we seem to have one Froomkin created, there are five extremist blogs proclaiming the assaults on homeless people everyday.

Lawyers have a role to play in this discussion. While there are many scummy lawyers and a million more lawyer jokes then journalist jokes, they have a governing structure in place. The Bar Associations' license lawyers and enforce rules. So, in theory, a lawyer who is abusing his authority can be brought up on maleficence charges and have their ability to practice law stripped. This means that if a lawyer breaks the law they lose the ability to practice law. Why can't we do the same for journalism?

The Society of Professional Journalists must start licensing journalists or the government will start doing it for them. We need to start taking this practice seriously and separate the real journalists from the fakes. The decisions made by journalists have consequences for ruining people's lives or for causing grief, suicide or even murder. The genocide in Rhwanda were carried out using the radio commentators to urge citizens to kill Tutsis. If journalists want to be taken seriously they must figure out how to separate the real from the O'Reilly types. They must set up a structure to license journalists with an enforcement mechanism to strip bad journalists from practicing their craft. Then the disgraced could go about their business as outsiders commenting on the news but not pretending to be journalists.


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