It is hard to say which is more frightening to a writer, the blank page, or the empty wallet. There are times that both have been particularly frightening to me. Yet there are other concerns that the writer always struggles with. Is the writing any good? Is anyone reading it? Doesn’t make a difference?
This morning as I was doing my regular rounds of assorted blogs, I found a blog post about an effort in Seymour by students to have school policies changed to allow the wearing of flip-flops at school. The author seemed outraged that the students would have the audacity to disapprove of school authorities’ rules. I have a very different perspective. Personally, I don’t have a strong opinion about whether or not students where flip-flops to school. However, I do think it is very important for high school students to learn the appropriate way to petition for a governmental redress of grievances; a right guaranteed us in the First Amendment.
I wrote a comment to the blog post, but the author appears to have not accepted my comment, so I am sharing it here. What do you think? What are the best ways for students to learn the proper method of challenging rules that they disagree with? Is petitioning the Board of Education appropriate? Is getting media coverage of the issue appropriate? Is civil disobedience appropriate? Should people mindlessly follow rules that others create? Are there other ideas?
Here’s my comment:
It sounds to me as if it was a very beneficial educational experience and I hope the teachers and educators are making the most of it. At least based on the article presented, I don’t see any example of students ‘bucking the law’ or administrators ‘hunching down, possibly bailing from fear of ejection’.
Instead, I see students following the law, and learning about fundamental American freedoms. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to petition for a governmental redress of grievances. This is what they are doing. The article describes how the petition is aimed at the appropriate governing board, the town Board of Education. The Board of Education appears to be making an appropriate consideration of the petition, balancing the desires of students with issues of safety.
While it might be more desirable if students were seeking to redress a grievance of national importance, it is good that they don’t feel that there is an issue of that importance to address. Tuition is not an issue in a public school, and while the issue of what students can wear on their feet seems minor, it may well seem to them to be about unfair treatment by the school administration. As noted in the article, students in neighboring schools have the right to wear flip-flops to school.
Yet what is important is that this is an opportunity for students to learn and experience the proper method of redressing a grievance, instead of bucking the law. How will the Board of Education respond? What other lessons can the students, as well as other citizens of our country learn? We will have to wait and see on this, but personally, independent of my view about footwear choices, I applaud the students, as well as any educators or parents that are assisting them, in exploring this fundamental American right of petition for a governmental redress of grievances.
What makes something newsworthy? I pondered this when I learned that bloggers attended the Democratic Third Congressional District Convention last night, but was told that none of the major newspapers sent reporters to the Democratic Third Congressional Convention in Seymour last night.
Others joked with me that you could fairly safely and easily write your report about the convention ahead of time. It almost looks like that is what the New Haven Register did for their article, DeLauro gets nod to seek 11th term in Congress written by ‘Staff’. Eugene Driscoll of the Valley Independent Sentinel wrote a much better article, Dems Nominate Rosa For Eleventh Term, including video and information you could only get at the convention.
It seems as if what makes something newsworthy for larger newspapers is something unexpected; if there is conflict or blood, even better. Conventional wisdom is that it is what sells newspapers, and that is what their business is. Whether it is good for democracy is a different question. Indeed this focus on conflict seems to make debate in Washington less likely to find the best solutions to issues our country faces. People wanting to get their side of the story into the news need to focus on the conflict and not the resolution.
Congresswoman DeLauro does not seem to play those games. Instead, she toils day in and day out to seek real solutions to our nation’s problems. The first four nomination speeches focused on problems with healthcare in our country. Retired railroad employee Claire Phelan spoke about the problem with the donut hole for seniors. Yale student Michael Gocksch spoke about the concern students graduating from college have about being able to maintain health insurance. Small business owner Joseph Bango spoke about the difficulties the health care system has created for small businesses, and cancer survivor Melissa Marottoli spoke about how pre-existing conditions have limited the opportunities for cancer survivors and others. There was nothing new or unexpected in these comments. Anyone who has been paying attention has heard them before.
When Congresswoman DeLauro took the stage to accept the nomination, she said, “I am proud to serve in a Congress that made health care reform a reality.” She put it into the context of doing her job, “It is what it is all about…transforming the lives of people of our great nation”, and she spoke the “reminders of the fundamental decency of the people of our district”. “Fundamental decency” is something that, unfortunately, has come to be unexpected in media coverage of politics.
So, if the traditional formula for news coverage doesn’t work, perhaps we need to look at other formulas. One is the “human interest” story. Congresswoman DeLauro did a good job on this part as well. She recognized the accomplishments of her mother, who served as an Alderwoman in New Haven for 35 years and taught Rosa to expect more out of life. She recognized her husband who celebrated his birthday by attending her nominating convention. She recognized her children and her grandchildren, as well as Ian and Jaimeson Lamb and Anna Saccente who led the Pledge of Allegiance. These children are great reminders about what life is really all about.
The traditional news stories about conflict and the unexpected have led to Congress having a very low approval rating. Yet when we focus on the human interest side of the story, we find something else that is unexpected, a woman that loves her job, works hard for her constituents and is greatly respected. Perhaps these are the stories that we need to hear more of.
(Cross posted at MyLeftNutmeg.)
It was late when I got home. I had a bunch of pictures to upload for my blog post and a couple hundred new unread emails. When I did get a chance to check some of my other social media, I saw this message on Twitter
jcnork - @ahynes1 can u go? -New Haven Mayor Destefano joins business & community leaders in promoting #GoogleHaven 100 Campaign http://bit.ly/crRR6o
Twitter can be terse and cryptic if you don’t have the context, but in this case, I know what my friend Jack was talking about. He, and a bunch of other friends have been working on a project to get Google to select New Haven as a location to roll out their gigabit Internet. I knew it would be a busy day, but that it would also be an event that I would want to be at.
The press conference was taking place at Fair Haven Furniture, 72 Blatchley Avenue. Fairhaven, with its lovely views of the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, more commonly known as the Q bridge crossing the mouth of the Quinnipiac river, and the looming oil tanks of the Port of New Haven, has never been high on my list of New Haven tourist attractions. As I passed companies like Independent Pipe and Supply, Lynn Ladder and Scaffolding, and New Haven Awning, I wondered what sort of place Fair Haven Furniture would be like. Would it be a struggling furniture manufacturer, trying to hold on to the glories of yesterday when there were many more manufacturing companies in New Haven? Would it be one of those ‘to the trade’ type stores selling credenzas and other office furniture? Maybe it would be a new citizen to our country, trying to make a go of it here in America selling painted cribs imported from China at a really low price.
Since the mayor was there, as well as several news outlets, it was hard to find a good parking place, so I parked in front of a closed gate next to an abandoned building and hoped I wouldn’t get towed. I walked around the corner and found the door leading to Fair Haven Furniture. I was totally unprepared for what I found inside. (If I had of had time to look at the website ahead of time, I probably wouldn’t have been surprised). Fair Haven Furniture is a hidden gem. Since I was there for the press conference, I only had time to look at part of one of the three floors the company has.
The press conference itself wasn’t anything all that special. Mayor DeStefano talked a little bit about the history of New Haven with its port and railroads which fueled the growth of the city. He noted that high speed internet is our generation’s version of ports and railroads and he hoped that Google would choose New Haven as a test bed and that the infrastructure would help lift New Haven out of recession. He noted the importance of the initiative being led by people from the community and embraced by businesses, instead of being a project led primarily by the city.
Andre Yap, Founder and CEO of Ripple 100 also spoke about his hopes that Google would choose New Haven and bring considerable collateral growth. Kerry Triffin, owner of Fair Haven Furniture expressed similar thoughts and spoke with many of the guests who were discovering his business for the first time.
Giulia Gambale Gouge brought cupcakes from Claire’s Corner Copia. The GoogleHaven cupcakes were from suggestions that had been made online for cupcake frostings. Giulia had been working with Claire to help her make better use of social media, and the cupcakes illustrated the value that companies can gain by entering into conversations with their customers on social media.
While I’ve been concerned about what happens to all the energy around GoogleHaven if Google doesn’t select New Haven, I was pleased to see some concrete benefits to New Haven from the Google Haven effort. Businesses and other organizations are working together to increase public involvement in all aspects of New Haven’s social fiber. If that social fiber can ride on top of a high speed fiber network from Google, so much the better.
The Google Haven effort began by citizens stepping forward to help make New Haven better. The city joined the effort and gave it a great boost. Now, we are starting to see some of the benefits of this effort, and are eagerly hoping that Google will join with the effort to give it an even greater boost.
On February 2, 2009, Jason Doucette, treasurer of “Friends of Susan 2010, Inc” submitted a Freedom of Information Request for a copy of the “Secretary of State’s current ACT database”. Eight months later, Geoffrey Griswold Fisher of Litchfield, CT, complained to the State Election and Enforcement Commission, apparently about receiving an email from the Bysiewicz campaign. Joan Andrews, Director of Legal Affairs and Enforcement responded that the matter will not be docketed, because if the facts were proven true, they would not “constitute a violation of any law within the Commission’s jurisdiction”. However, she referred the matter to the “Commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services and the Auditor of Public Accounts”.
In order to get a clearer understanding of the issue, I obtained a copy of the database also via a Freedom of Information request. Mr. Fisher has no party registration listed in the database, but does have a special note saying that in 2008 he had contacted the Secretary of State’s office about “Elegibility [sic] of Barack Obama to run for President of the USA”.
I have made my copy of this database available to people who have asked for it, including Republicans arguing against Ms. Bysiewicz eligibility to run for Attorney General. One person who received a copy of the database wrote, “I was actually surprised by how little new or spicy information was in there – shows what I get for buying into the Courant’s hype”.
Yet the Courant has not stopped their hype. Jon Lender of the Hartford Courant has written several articles and blog posts about CRMGate, with his latest coming out Sunday entitled Bysiewicz May Be Interviewed Under Oath In Office Probe; Questions Arise On 'Holiday Card' Listings In Her Database. I’ve added comments to his blog posts criticizing his coverage but they have never appeared on the blog.
His latest concern is that the database has a field entitled ‘CONTACT Holiday Card’, which Fox-61, also part of the Courant Media conglomerate describes as an unusual database field. Lender reports,
Bysiewicz says that this wasn't used to send holiday cards, and that the 5,400 people had sent cards to her office. But about 170 of those people told The Courant they never sent her a card -- and, moreover, got a card or cards from her.
I will be interested to see if any of these people can produce cards like this and whether or not such cards are in fact some sort of inappropriate personal contact or if they are really examples of permissible contact by a state agency to inform constituents about what is happening in the agency. One would think that if it were the former, there would have been other complaints that would have shown up without having to dig around into a constituent relationship database.
In fact, it is very common for personal information management programs, like the one that Secretary of State Bysiewicz was using to contain a field tracking the sending and receipt of holiday cards. While such information might not be as valuable to the agencies operation as information about whether or not the constituent is an elected official or has received copies of the ‘Blue Book’ in the past, to a person that works with databases for tracking customer or constituent relations, there appears nothing irregular about tracking this information.
With that, I would like to provide a slightly more complete view of the database. The database has 140 fields. Twenty four are about the Blue Book that the agency produces. Other fields include information about the electoral process, such as whether or not the contact is a current or former elected official, if they are on the Citizenship Fund Board, and so on. Thirty-six of the fields are never used. The party affiliation field lists 11,588 Democrats, 8,400 Republicans, 399 Other, and 45 unaffiliated. 7,172 contacts have special notes, including 2,771 special notes about Democrats and 982 Republicans. 24,600 contacts are listed as elected officials, including 9,629 Democrats and 7,100 Republicans.
With nearly 37,000 contacts in the database a “birther” or an unscrupulous journalist can easily go on a witchhunt to try and concoct controversy. Personally, as a blogger, I was offended to find that the database only included one reference to a blogger, and it wasn’t myself, or any of the political bloggers I regularly read. Even worse, while the database has 456 entries in the website category, the one blogger listed did not have an entry in the website category.
With that, I am wondering would it be like if we subjected Jon Lender to the same sort of scrutiny that he is giving Secretary of State Bysiewicz. First, it is worth noting that the Secretary of State’s Office’s database has fifteen entries with “Courant” in the Company field, yet Jon Lender is not even in the database. Even Colin McEnroe is in the database, although he is listed as being with WTIC, and not the Courant or Connecticut Public Radio. Perhaps Mr. Lender’s obsession with Ms. Bysiewicz is that he feels slighted and is suffering a narcissistic injury. Perhaps the Secretary of State’s office doesn’t consider Mr. Lender a credible journalist.
I was tempted to entitle this blog post, “No Word on Society of Professional Journalism Ethics Investigation into Jon Lender“. It would be a completely true statement. I have received no word from the Society of Professional Journalism about a possible ethics investigation into Jon Lender. However, such a headline, in my opinion, would be unethical. The Society’s Code of Ethics states, among other things,
Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
Yet it does seem that Mr. Lender’s latest article, along with several others he has written, is, at best skirting ethical guidelines.
As the person who commented about the database also said to me, “The sad truth is, for all I know about Bysiewicz’s foibles, I don’t know what any of the other candidates think about anything at all… There’s certainly nothing to be gained waiting around for the Courant or related outlets to enlighten us on policy matters.”
Perhaps that’s the most important part of the story. We can question whether or not the Bysiewicz campaign’s use of the database is legal or ethical. We can question whether or not Jon Lender’s reporting is ethical. Yet there seems to be no question that the traditional media has failed in addressing substantive issues in the electoral process.
(Cross-posted at MyLeftNutmeg.)