The last Cleveland Salon had a discussion on the Plain Dealer, its importance in our community, and whether we, as individuals, should do something.  At the end, I was on the fence - on the one hand, I understood the importance of community news, but on the other, my conservative free-market, "let the dollars do the talking" philosophy pushed me to think that if the business model is changing, we shouldn't artificially prop up a dying business.  

Then came Councilman Johnson.  

This is disturbing behavior from an elected official, and I am disappointed in the way the individual members of Cleveland City Council have acted - particularly those I otherwise have deep affection and respect for.  When attorneys are learning about professional responsibility, it is drilled into our heads that we have to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.  We are instructed to avoid the merest indication of impropriety at all costs and, when impropriety appears to have arisen, to do what it takes to remedy it - even if it means losing out on a bit of money.  

If only the city council acted in the same way.  

But perhaps we should expect self-serving actions from those in city government here.  What might counter such behavior without getting the Feds involved?  Why, an active, aggressive press that will inform us, as citizens, of the faults of those in power.  We need full-time, professional investigative journalists/watch dogs to tell us what is actually going on in our city and to inform us of the back-room deals, the secret compromises, and the corrupt practices of those who hold positions of public and private power.  We need an authority to delegate these tasks to so that we can go about the business of making the city run; we need people to perform this job so we don't have to individually.  That is one of the roles of a good newspaper.  

The Plain Dealer hasn't done as good a job in the past as they might have.  Perhaps these sorts of investigative, critical stories - as opposed to pandering fluff pieces that I've seen in the past - are what it needs to renew interest in its work - and what we, as citizens, need to make sure our government is accountable.  It is difficult to imagine the Scene maintaining a sustained effort to change things; while they have been fantastic in uncovering scandals in the public and private sector, there are only so many full-length investigative pieces they can run before people stop paying attention.  Crain's is unlikely to focus much on these sorts of political things - there is enough happening in the business world to keep them humming along.  While the local television stations carry big breaking articles, they have to cut their pieces down into bite-sized chunks, and they're all about immediacy.  As for blogs and online media, the watchdog closest to my heart, Mansfield Frazier, all but endorsed Johnson's activities; while he usually is quick to attack anything that looks like graft or corruption, here he says "fair is fair."  

So the Plain Dealer is it.  If reports are correct, they have four months before the big cuts start to be made in their staff and the newspaper is cut (or so it is feared) to three days a week.  Right now, many of the reporters have very little to lose and a whole lot to gain.  

By exposing graft and corruption, maybe, just maybe, they can make the paper relevant again.  

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Copyright © 2013 Andrew Samtoy; available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

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