At the WCHL community forum on “Local Media Ecosystems – Objectivity, Bias, Access,” aired last Thursday, panelists included two bloggers but only one newspaper editor. Carrboro Citizen editor Kirk Ross was the sole representative of print journalism. (The next day, The Citizen announced that Ross would be succeeded as editor by Susan Dickson, the publisher’s daughter. We trust the leadership change had nothing to do with Ross appearing on the radio show.) WCHL’s CEO, Barry Leffler, extended an invitation to The N&O and The Chapel Hill News, but they turned him down, perhaps because they consider themselves to be “rivals” of a community news radio station.
And that’s too bad. One of the points brought out in the panel discussion was the positive effect that more voices have on the accuracy and relevancy of community news. With electronic access to news, readers can weigh in and correct a story that contains inaccuracies and can give context by showing how news affects our lives.
We’ve heard more voices at Town Council meetings, too, in recent months. Not only from the increased number of residents who petition the town and speak at public hearings but from council members themselves. Though one observer complained about the “cocktail party” atmosphere of council meetings, with citizens returning to the mike repeatedly to answer council members’ questions or rebut statements, the extra input indicates that council members are listening to other viewpoints and perhaps remaining open to change.
At the WCHL panel, I sat across from a blogger who tweeted under the table anytime she wasn’t talking. To me, that indicated she wasn’t interested in any opinion but her own. Some years’ back, Town Council operated that way. One clique decided it knew what was best for residents, sat stoically through citizen comments, then voted 9-0 on issues that came before it.
Now, we’re seeing real discussions at council meetings. Council members are airing different views, listening respectfully and, for the most part, responding without any snide tone of voice. They’re holding town staff accountable for providing additional information. They’re willing to compromise and to take a stand on issues important to small factions of residents.
Council meetings last longer, and nearly everyone on the dais has a day job. But when council members pay attention and think before voting, all of us benefit.
If we could only get newspapers to join the party.
– Nancy Oates