Ranting

Life Is Local

July 13th, 2017

Last week, I saw a “local” story in The Commercial Appeal where the reporter felt compelled to tell the reader that it not only happened in Memphis but in Memphis, Tennessee.

That reporter is not from around here.

As published in The Memphis Daily News, July 14, 2017, and in The Memphis News, July 15-21, 2017

(photo: Former home to The Commercial Appeal on Second at Court. It’s about 25,000 sq. ft. and I understand it’s available. Since the paper’s looking for new digs, maybe they can return to when they were local.)

CA Bldg

IN OUR USA TODAY, WE WOKE UP HERE. 

We’ve all heard former Speaker Tip O’Neill’s grammatically flawed truism, “All politics is local.”

So is life, Mr. Speaker, and it deserves to be covered locally.

When my father was a kid, The Commercial Appeal was published from a building at the corner of Second and Court. He told me families used to gather across the street in Court Square to watch Memphis Chicks away games “live.” There was no radio then, much less TV, and the paper had a lighted diamond on the roof. As the details of the game came across telegraph wires, bases would light up as runners advanced, and the game was announced from the edge of the roof through a megaphone.

Looking up like that to the morning paper seems an increasingly distant memory.

Recently, my friend Harry Freeman wrote a letter to the editor of The Commercial Appeal essentially mourning the death of what the paper once meant, “there were only two letters to the editor written by locals. Of course, one third of the same page was devoted to a USA Today column about a guy doing good things in a St. Cloud, Minnesota school, and the whole rest of the page about Alaska lauding the workers on a WW II highway.”

As of this writing, I haven’t seen that letter in the CA, but I posted it and it struck a chord. One of the comments came from Jimmie Covington, the retired CA reporter who was as much of a fixture at city and county government and school board meetings as the minutes, as much a part of reliable Memphis mornings as coffee still is and The Commercial Appeal used to be:

“As far as I know, no one is left on the newspaper who knows the history of the local governments, the history of the school systems and their funding, the details of local taxation etc. Basically, there is also no one left in the local governments or school systems who knows these things either. By and large what we have are reporters who don’t know much about the city and county quoting officials who don’t know much about what they are dealing with and certainly don’t know the history of it.”

We are woefully under informed about us. The nuts and bolts of this city may not be sexy, who’s getting away with what in council meetings may not be as interesting as who shot whom, but ignorance of facts and indifference to political self-serving will cause us to fall apart.

There are local papers, locally owned, managed and committed to the principles of journalism. This column appears in two of them. Read all of them in print and online. Demand more from them. Demand the truth about your town first.

Improving where you live doesn’t depend on what you already know or believe; it depends on finding out what you didn’t know that might confirm, or actually change, what you believe.

I’m a Memphian, and you deserve to know.

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