How many Michiganders does it take to change a lightbulb?

Detroit Free Press Editor Ron Dzwonkowski wrote a good column for today’s paper about how elected officials are often the last people to “get it.” He wrote:

“Maybe that’s why they continue to bicker and shout and pander to noisy special interest groups while most of the people they are supposed to represent would prefer cooperation, meaningful change and progress.”

I was pleased to see Dzwonkowski quote my friend Becky Johns as a representative of her generation. Becky recently wrote an excellent blog post about Future Midwest — I especially liked the part where she asks, “Now what?”

I commented on her blog, saying it really is important to make sure events like Future Midwest don’t end up just becoming a bunch of people talking to themselves about what should be done. People have to take ideas and act upon them; that’s how you create positive change in a community.

Our elected leaders — at the state and local level — are such a disappointment lately with their petty battles. I was a speaker at a conference in Oklahoma City recently and they are making some amazing, positive improvements to that city. When I asked a colleague there about the changes and whether the mayor who has been championing a lot of them is a Republican or Democrat, he seemed surprised. He said the mayor is a Republican, but noted that in Oklahoma City, that doesn’t really matter. He said the city has a good track record of not worrying about the politics and focusing more on the problem at hand.

It was tough to admit to him that one of the issues we’re facing in Michigan is that politics often is the problem at hand. Hopefully, we’ll see some sensible people elected in November who can bring to Lansing some civility and a desire to do something because it’s a good idea regardless of which party proposed it.  Here are some things I’d like to pursue over the next year:

  • We need to keep hounding people who were at Future Midwest about what they’ve accomplished so far and prod them to keep achieving even more.
  • We need to put term limits back where they belong: in the voting booth.
  • And we need to ban elected officials from running for another office until they’ve completed the term of their current office. That would avoid the scenario of a Senate majority leader running for attorney general and the speaker of the House running for governor while the state they are charged with protecting crumbles around their election campaigns. (Addendum: In all fairness to Mike Bishop and Andy Dillon, they aren’t the only two leaders distracted by their own job searches. We have state representatives running for the state Senate and local office. We have senators running for countywide offices, the Secretary of State’s office and Congress. We have a congressman and an attorney general running for governor. And we have countywide officials running for governor and secretary of state while our secretary of state runs for lieutenant governor. No wonder no one can focus on the job at hand — they’re all too busy trying to land their next one.)

I hope Becky and her peers never lose their desire to do more than just talk about what’s wrong. In the end, they are not only the future of this state, but the catalyst to sweep away the flotsam and jetsam that is bobbing around the state Capitol and the city halls of Southeast Michigan. And those of us in other generations can help them do this. Get involved in the election process. Find out what a person really stands for and don’t vote based on what you see on TV ads or the campaign literature that is filled with half-truths, or worse.

In addition, let’s start working together across generations. People often wring their hands and wonder why young college graduates are leaving Michigan. Maybe that’s because, too often, we’re not giving them a reason to stay. It’s not just about jobs. Sometimes it’s about knowing that there is a bright future in Michigan. The light bulb has dimmed in the Great Lakes State, so it’s time for a new one.

How many Michiganders does it take to change a light bulb? All of us. So let’s get to it.

(Photo courtesy of Armistead Booker’s Flickr stream.)

How will we get our news?

hownews panelI attended a forum last night focused on the future of journalism titled, “How will we get our news?”

It was hosted by the Central Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and the Michigan State University chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. Featured panelists were Ron Dzwonkowski from the Detroit Free Press, Cindy Goodaker from Crain’s Detroit Business and Bill Emkow from MLive.

The event was centered around the One Book, One Community project in East Lansing and its focal point was described as such:

In The Soloist, Steve Lopez laments the demise of newspapers, with their power to tell a story and inspire action. What is the future of the news industry in this age of blogs and on-line news?

One thing that became abundantly clear throughout the night was that there are no easy answers when it comes to the future of journalism — in terms of reporters being given the time and resources to do their jobs properly and businesses being around that can actually sustain the delivery of news in the traditional formats. Yes, shocking news here — newspapers are for-profit businesses. For some reason, people don’t seem to think it’s acceptable for a newspaper to make money, lest it abandon its altruistic nature. But publishing a newspaper costs money, and 85 to 90 percent of the revenue for most newspapers comes from advertising.

It also became clear pretty quickly that old-school journalists are struggling to figure out how to deliver news online while the online folks are frustrated by the newspaper people who think the answer is to simply reproduce the papers in a digital format.

I tweeted from the event, as did a few others. I believe we had a journalist or two in the audience who might write about the event, but those who were following #hownews on Twitter last night already have the story. A bit of irony there, I suppose — that a microblogging platform scooped traditional news outlets on covering a story about the future of journalism. Perhaps a local news organization could have sent a reporter to tweet from the event and then write up a standard news story later. That’s a method of reporting I don’t see being used often enough.

Here are a few of the topics discussed last night that I’d like folks to weigh in on:

  1. One panelist suggested that without major media, online news sources wouldn’t exist — that they are all fed by the mainstream media. Agree or disagree?
  2. Do readers still exist for long-form, investigative stories since everyone likes quick, short news now? Have we, as a society, lost any meaningful attention span?
  3. The average age of readers of the Detroit Free Press and Crain’s Detroit Business is mid-50s. Dzwonkowski said, “the typical newspaper consumer is a dying breed.” He also said, “Young people are consuming a lot of information, but they are consuming it unedited.” He’s worried that no one is bothering to check and double-check the facts and make sure a story is coming from a qualified, reliable source. Do you agree?

One question I asked of the panel and would like to hear your response to as well is: how can we get all people, regardless of age, to once again trust that journalists are doing the proper legwork and providing accurate stories from credible sources? I’d start by getting the Glenn Becks and Keith Olbermans of the world off the cable TV news stations and put them on “The Opinionated Screamers Channel” so people take them with the grain of salt they deserve.

How would you start?

(Photo courtesy of Jessi Wortley Adler – @minij)