I was recently asked by one of our Bryan Times subscribers if I thought we had much corruption in our local government. This subscriber had sent me an article from Barrons that indicated that communities with a daily newspaper have less government corruption than those communities without a daily newspaper. This article had to do with municipal bond ratings.
My response is that I don’t think there is much corruption in our local government. I generally think most people get into local government in order to do the right thing and, for the most part, they do. The problem that I do see is that there is a tendency for local government to want to do its business behind closed doors. I get that. It is a lot easier to do things, right or wrong, if there aren’t a lot of people watching over your shoulder, seeing and criticizing what you do.
In this era of the media being the “enemy of the people” life gets harder for journalists and it gets harder for the people they cover. It is no fun being at odds with each other. At the recent Ohio News Media Association annual meeting one of the speakers told us to quit trying to defend all media and concentrate on telling our customers our story.
The “enemy of the people,” “fake news” and now “fake hearings” is the one thing that has trickled down from our highest government. In a typical week I get one to three letters accusing me of being biased and harshly criticizing our coverage of events and my newspaper. What most people don’t realize, or accept, is that they approach the news with unacknowledged biases.
This is natural because bias is actually a lifetime of built up experience. I think it would be a mistake to try to ignore your lifetime of experience. Good journalists try to set their biases aside when writing a news story to report what has happened and why. However, it is a lifetime of experience that guides a journalist in the direction of what gets reported. It is also a lifetime of experience that dictates how you will react to a news story.
Last week I had an email from one of our subscribers who appreciated that we are a conservative newspaper. Most of the time we get lambasted for being a liberal newspaper.
If you look at the history of newspapers in the United States you will find that newspapers originally were an “organ of the party.” So, in most towns there were more than one newspaper covering the community. The role of each newspaper was to be a proponent of each political party.
This was true in Bryan and most of the other communities in the county. In Bryan we had the Bryan Press and the Bryan Democrat, the Press representing the Republican party and the Democrat representing the Democrat party. Another reason for having two newspapers was that the party in control of the government was the party that awarded the legal advertising.
This awarding legal advertising led to a change in the way newspapers defined themselves. Newspaper owners figured out that if they designated themselves as independent then they could get the legal advertising regardless of which party controlled local government. This happened in Bryan in 1949 when the Bryan Press and the Bryan Democrat combined to form The Bryan Times.
The interesting thing is that when Bryan had the two newspapers my grandfather, Cass Cullis, and Carlton Roe, one the owner of the Democrat and the other the owner of the Press, were friends. Many days during the lunch hour they would walk home together and after lunch they would meet up to walk back to town. I don’t know what they talked about but I bet it would have been fun to listen.
People in the past could have different beliefs, ideologies if you will, and still get along and be friends. In today’s world it seems as though “if you aren’t 100 percent with me, you’re against me.” This sort of belief seems very wrong to me.
The ideology of disparagement is something else that seems very wrong to me. We have one columnist in The Times who seems incapable of expressing an opinion without calling people belittling names. Reading her column leads me to believe she is just a nasty person and she earns her living by being nasty.
So where does this all lead me? Well, I have the belief that transparency in government is a really good policy. This is Sunshine Week in Ohio and Sunshine Week celebrates openness and transparency in government. It includes governments, local and otherwise, letting people know how and why decisions are made.
I do understand that there are times when it is necessary and appropriate for governments to meet behind closed doors. Sensitive issues involving employees is one that comes to mind. Other reasons would be legal issues and acquisition of property, but for the most part doing the people’s business behind closed doors goes against law.
But in the end, I don’t believe there is corruption in our local governments. What I do believe is there are good people in local government making difficult decisions.
Christopher Cullis is the publisher of The Bryan Times. Contact him at email@example.com.