You can help document everyday history

How many times have you wandered past a building on your way to and from work or while walking around on your lunch hour and just considered it another routine place along your route? If you’re like me, you would probably answer “every day.” Well, thanks to Wikipedia, I’ve discovered that in downtown Lansing, my routes include everyday history.

As part of its continuing quest to improve itself, Wikipedia is now encouraging people to upload photos of buildings that are on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. I decided to check if there were any in Lansing that were missing photos to see if I could help out. What I found out was a lot of places in that city are on the registry, including a few I never considered.

Below, I’ve posted some of the photos I’ve submitted so far. Not only am I helping Wikipedia and the many people who rely on its databases, but I’m learning a lot about what until now has simply been passed by as a local building and not a moment in time.

If you’re interested in helping Wikipedia out, go to the Wiki Loves Monuments page and search for what piece of everyday history might be right around the corner from you.

Mutual Building, 208 N. Capitol Avenue

Masonic Temple, 217 S. Capitol Avenue

Lansing Woman’s Club, 118 W. Ottawa

First Baptist Church, 227 N. Capitol Avenue


News releases are not news

News releases are not news. They might be newsworthy, and they might share information that can become news. But, in and of themselves, news releases are not news. They are a one-sided, unbalanced pitch originally intended for journalists who would, hopefully, create some news stories with them. In our modern communications era, they are used to spread information with a certain perspective to the public, as well, through websites and social media outlets.

It is abhorrent behavior then, for news outlets to take these news releases and print them verbatim on a news website. And yet, that’s exactly what happened recently with two outlets in Lansing — WILX TV 10 and the Lansing State Journal. They took a news release sent out by Sparrow Hospital and Hayes-Green Beach Memorial Hospital that explained a growing partnership between the two medical centers. The State Journal didn’t even bother to remove the sentence in the middle that announced a joint call for the media that day, including the passcode for the telephone press conference! The hospital actually had to change the passcode since the LSJ decided to announce it publicly through its latest veiled attempt at being a professional newspaper.

I do not fault Sparrow, Hayes-Green Beach or anyone involved in the public relations industry for what happened. It is their job to get the news distributed with as much of their information and perspective as possible. I’ve been in the journalism or PR business combined for more than 20 years. I’ve been on the receiving end and the sending end of news releases. I know how they are used and why they are used and have no complaints with that. I don’t even mind that we in the PR industry can now bypass the media and go straight to the public. I believe the public is smart enough to understand that what an organization is putting on its website is expected to be one sided. But are they savvy enough to figure that out when looking at a supposedly unbiased and objective news website? The problem is that as soon as that news release is posted to a legitimate news organization’s website, it’s no longer just a news release — it’s deceptive reporting.

WILX and the Lansing State Journal clearly shirked their duty to perform reliable, responsible journalism. The journalism industry is already suffering from a credibility gap, and acting as a shill for a public relations machine — either deliberately or through sheer laziness — is only expanding that gap.

Here are some screen shots of the news release, as well as the WILX and LSJ websites where it was posted:

Touche! Let’s go have a beer

What this world needs is more people willing to disagree, have a debate and then simply agree to disagree with no hard feelings.

The Internet has made the world smaller and yet generational and social divides are expanding. Mainstream news has turned into a fear fest. And politics as usual is unusually nasty and divisive. It’s rare to find people anymore who are willing to have an honest, intelligent debate over an issue. It’s not a fight, it’s a debate. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about the exercise of broadening your horizons and hearing what other people have to say. It’s about learning what other people’s perspectives bring to an issue.

I can be stubborn and opinionated, of that there is no doubt. But I like to think that I can debate with someone on an issue without it becoming a personal matter.

Whatever happened to civility in debating the points of an issue? Perhaps it’s the explosive growth of the Internet and social media, where we have a microphone available for us to shout at the world 24/7. Folks involved in social media talk about the importance of a conversation, and yet they often won’t have one online. They’ll post a comment on Twitter or Facebook, or even write a blog post, but then won’t accept a challenge to an open debate about what they said. That’s not being conversational, that’s screaming from your soapbox and then walking away without bothering to listen to what your audience might have to say about your comments.

One of my favorite people is Nathan Triplett. We have opposing political views, from both a fiscal and social sense, as far as I can tell. We are in different age groups. We don’t really have that much in common and we don’t hang out. Why does he deserve “favorite” status then? Because we have some great debates. We debate on Facebook. We debate on Twitter. And, hopefully, we’ll soon be debating on a political talk show that I’m a frequent guest commentator on. Nathan gets it. He has his opinions and believes in them strongly enough to stand up for them. But he also is willing to hear what you have to say. He will try to change your opinion, which is a fine goal for debating. But if he can’t, he just agrees to disagree with you. I hope he sees me in the same light, because I would gladly trade beers and barbs with him anytime.

In my community, there’s already a breakfast club, a happy hour club, a tweet-up group and many other organizations. But a lot of those gatherings revolve around small talk. They rarely get into personal opinions or rough-and-tumble debates where we may change someone’s mind or, perhaps, find our own enlightenment on an issue.

Maybe it’s time to change that. Maybe it’s time to start the Lansing Debate Club. Our motto can be, “Touche! Let’s go have a beer.”

Politics in Michigan are Pure Crap

UPDATE — I’m not sure when it actually happened, but as of Monday, Sept. 13, the video has been removed by the Michigan GOP. I can’t say for certain that my blog posts, the media coverage and many people joining me in deriding this ad had an effect, but I’d like to think so. Thanks to all who commented or sent notes of support.

~ aba


I saw a video yesterday that offended me. I don’t suppose that’s very newsworthy since people are probably offended by things on YouTube every day. But this was a video from a political party who found  a way to misrepresent the community I live in as part of their attempt to smear the record of their candidate’s opponent.

The Lansing I live in is nothing at all like what the Michigan Republican Party has portrayed it as in their video titled Pure Lansing. Unfortunately, both political parties in this state have been racing to the bottom and simply creating a more jaded electorate with their efforts.

I am not going into great detail to rip apart the video I linked to above. Instead, I’m simply going to disagree and practice what I’ve been preaching. I’m going to be positive.

If you want to know what “Pure Lansing” is really like, you can listen to political operatives pandering for votes, or you can listen to the people who live, work and play in a place they are proud to call home.

If you are on Twitter, follow the hashtag #lovelansing. If you are on Facebook, follow the Lansing Breakfast Club or Lansing Happy Hour Club groups.

Or watch this news piece about Ignite Lansing:

Or this news piece about Kiplinger naming Lansing one of the top 10 cities in America for young professionals:

Is everything in Lansing wonderful? Of course not. Is everything perfect in any city? Hardly. But what makes a city a place you want to call home is the community that exists within it. There are so many examples of good things happening in Michigan’s capital city. Visit our capitol or one of the great museums, like Impression 5. Wander around Potter Park Zoo, stroll through Old Town or enjoy one of the many new restaurants peppering the Washington Square area.

Lansing is changing for the better. I wish Michigan politics could do the same.

(Photo courtesy of Brian Forbes.)

City sells its reputation for $50

50-dollar-bill1Reputation for sale: $50. They might as well post that sign outside City Hall in Lansing, Michigan because, according to this report from the Lansing State Journal, that’s how much the city thinks good relations with the community are worth.

It seems every time I turn around these days, there’s a new group forming in the mid-Michigan area to promote how many great things are happening and how the future for Lansing and the surrounding communities is so bright we’ll have to wear shades. As new restaurants and shops have opened, however, we’ve also seen a few businesses close. I don’t know if it’s so much a sign of Michigan’s economic struggles or the natural ebb and flow of retailing that allows some places to thrive and others to disappear.

Regardless, the city has decided that folks suffering the humiliation of publicly announcing they failed at a business venture must now suffer even more by adhering to a draconian law that the city has the option to handle better but refuses to.

As John Schneider reported, anyone announcing a “going out of business sale” must pay $50 to the city clerk for a permit and fill out an application that includes:

…an “Itemized list of goods to be sold, described with make and brand name … (plus) a “separate list of goods purchased 60 days or less immediately prior to the date of this application” (including the) “cost of each item, name and address of the source, date of purchase and delivery date, and the total value of inventory …”

Schneider also reports that the city has the option of waiving the fee but chooses not to.

The mayor’s communications director, Randy Hannan, is quoted in the article saying that economic development efforts by the city have, “created the most exciting resurgence in the downtown area in decades.”

He’s probably right, but he’s missing the point. The city is looking at the reality of things going on around town, but they are ingoring the perception people have of Michigan’s capital city. Despite all the good that’s happening, there are too many stories about the City Council fighting with the mayor and amongst themselves, stories of unyielding parking attendants pouncing on people seconds after their meters expire and, now, a government that comes across as a bully more intent on making 50 bucks than a public servant willing to show some compassion.

The state law needs to be revised and the city needs to start waiving the fee immediately until the Legislature can act. All the groups promoting Lansing and mid-Michigan already have their work cut out for them. The last thing they need is the area’s largest city throwing out more hurdles for them to jump over.