Shoving It Under Our Nose

How can more information get to more people?

Note: I originally wrote this post on August 4th.  A couple days later, it turned into a full-on discussion between author/analyst C. Grammich and DGreport editor/publisher Elaine Johnson, with a couple crucial add-ins by Council Commissioner Martin Tully.  I’m smart enough to know when I walk into a crowded room I’ can probably learn something while I’m there: here’s another example.

I had a brief conversation with John Schofield several weeks ago that resonates (rattles around) in my head on and off ever since. We were talking about how the bike path issue was so poorly presented to the public that no one really knew what was going on. Staff’s response was to create a web page explaining the Proper Use of Bike Lanes

John’s comment about passive versus active information was accurate and bothersome. In my years of observation and involvement, accessing and publicizing information are two huge stumbling blocks to residents having fast, easy, well known information. The problem reared up again about possible public pools: while Park District Board Commisioner Art Jaros knows about every minute detail, is willing to engage on the subject, and while much has been discussed in Park District meetings, most of us are in the dark. So ,much of the information is out there, but where?

This is one of those topics where I readily admit I don’t have answers, just the questions.

  • Do you know why the phrase “I’m in!” has special significance for DG?
  • Do you know what the proposed pool recreation facility footprint looks like?
  • Are you aware the village has trained social work professionals?
  • Do you know the particulars of why the Police Department needs a new facility?

That’s just scratching the surface.

What makes it even more vexing is most of our elected and hired public staff are just as frustrated. You can lead a resident to information, but you can’t make them learn? The problem is how to shove that information in front of our eyes, under our noses, so we can’t avoid seeing and hearing and knowing-and maybe learning.

Take that pool for example. I suggested when the three choices are ready, the PD prepare sets of three posters and a comment box for each set, and put them in conspicuous places; the train stations, the Lincoln Center, out at youth sport events, the Library, Village Hall, heck even the Moose Lodge, the Tivoli, grocery stores, make it so you couldn’t turn around without running into three posters showing three pool sites, and a comment box for instant feedback. And an email address for further feedback. And contact the newspapers (Sun, Reporter, Grover) and push for a news article. See if that shoves it far enough out there that people notice.

In some regards, pushing information out to the public may require a sea change in how our public servants operate. Take council. They do a lot more than meet once week, and have coffee once a month; they’re busy folks assigned to committees and commissions, and having more responsibility than residents realize. But they can be very effective at pushing out information when they are organized and coordinated. They (and staff) pushed information out down in Springfield about the Belmont Underpass very effectively, even though the target audience was smaller and sometimes harder to find than DG. They did it with stormwater too, using newspapers, village publications, existing business and community service groups to get the word out that they would need to raise taxes to fix the #1 problem in DG.

But for the most part, here and everywhere, information is a passive thing. If you look and can find it great, but it won’t come looking for you. It often isn’t locked behind executive session, or in some devilish plan to slip a fast one by; it’s there waiting to be read and digested, and questioned, and discussed. It’s there, just not right there under our nose. And then it becomes a done deal and people raise the cry Why? Why weren’t we told? Why didn’t you tell us?

So how does DG become more outgoing in getting information front and center? Most times the information is dull and dry to start. Often people don’t care to know. If you need to buy a house you look in the paper or online to start, but what if you didn’t know you needed a house? Maybe an extreme example, but underscores the point. I forget who said it, maybe Rumsfeld: we don’t know what we don’t know? So how do we make sure we all know?

To boot, there isn’t much out there to learn from. Like I said, I don’t have the answers, just the questions right now. Our local government works best as a partnership effort. When residents get involved, actively involved with our government, better decisions are a direct result. Better decisions serve us all, and in most cases, better reflect the will of the people.

Advertisements

61 Responses to “Shoving It Under Our Nose”

  1. C. Grammich Says:

    So what was Schofield’s “comment about passive versus active information”?

    No, I don’t know the significance of “I’m in” for DG.

    I’ve only a vague idea of the pool footprint, although I suppose I know where to find more information.

    No, I didn’t know the village has trained social work professionals, although I probably would have guessed as much, had the need ever arisen for me.

    No, I don’t know the particulars of why the Police Department needs a new facility.

    More seriously, I don’t “take pride in being ignorant,” but the reason I don’t know much (if anything) about the above issues is that I’m not sure how they affect me. For example, I don’t think this town will ever (again?) have a public pool, so why should I concern myself with its possible footprint? (That’s akin to my considering the color of silks I’d like to wear when I ride in the Kentucky Derby, a sports dream my growth forced me to forsake at, oh, age 7.) I’ve been blessed enough not to need the help of social work professionals, so why would I know about them? (Alternatively, I would match my knowledge of special education services in DG58 with anybody who doesn’t work for the district.)

    You get to the point here when you note there is a great deal of “passive” information to be found, and in hinting that the crux of the matter here is getting the right information to the right persons in concise form at the critical time. It sounds like the village did this effectively for the Belmont underpass and the stormwater issue. From what little I’ve seen of the efforts of the park district, I’d say its success may be more mixed. One of the commissioners is apparently generous with his time to answer anonymous questions posted on the web, but he’d probably be the first to admit he isn’t concise. And while some may consider the cell phone tower issue, and communication about it, to be a “tempest in a teapot,” I was taken aback by a resident’s claims (cf. http://69.89.31.206/~dgreport/blog2/index.php/2008/05/13/its-a-biggie/#comment-6124), which I don’t recall seeing rebutted, that “The notice for the informational meeting that was held for the public on this matter was mailed out in a T-Mobile envelope and looked just like a solicitation.”

    Beyond all that, I’m not sure how much of “a partnership effort” you can really expect. In last year’s municipal elections, featuring what was considered a high turnout, only about 10K residents voted. (FWIW, in not a single precinct of DG did even a majority of *registered* voters cast ballots.) If you can’t get more residents than that to just show up at the mayoral ballot box every four years, then how much interest can you really expect in a “partnership” not involving a very hot issue?

  2. markthoman Says:

    It started out with the passive nature of government information here locally. Most of it is there, they do a good job here, but you have to find it; it will not find you. Every contentious development this year, whether it be cell towers, or 63rd & Leonard, or sidewalks, had residents coming in late asking for help, asking to be heard. Most times the response: we had meetings, we had letters, we had public notices, where were you, it’s too late now.

    My observation is that people don’t purposefully stick their head in the sand to avoid knowing, but still they did not know. Why? How can it be improved so next time there’s fewer instances? With the cell towers, people didn’t know they wanted to be involved until it was too late. Did that serve to further alienate the populace? Don’t know.

    The deeper I dig into this, there’s information out there- again passive go and find it- that there’s a growing awareness that non-involvement is not a good thing. Not so much we get the government we deserve, as maybe we get the government our inattention allows.

  3. C. Grammich Says:

    That’s a valid, and more narrow, concern (to which I also don’t have answers). My guess is, yes, the residents getting involved “too late” were (further) alienated. Maybe I’m wrong. But I hadn’t cared a whit about the cell phone issue but still felt somewhat annoyed over how resident concerns were handled.

  4. Red Fred Says:

    Wait for the pool getting jammed into Patriots. You all had our chance, there was public meetings and discussion, you just missed your chance for input is all. Too bad. Taa, we’re off to bulldoze PP flat.

  5. Elaine Johnson Says:

    This is a very thought-provoking post, Thoman. And I will be self-serving enough to suggest that newspapers are no longer the best way of getting information to the public.

    The Reporter no longer provides a free paper, only a subscription paper it hands out to part of the town for free every Wednesday, thereby reducing to nil my desire to buy the thing.

    I’m loyal to the Sun, but it has delivery problems on occasion and many of its stories and advertisers aren’t local.

    The Grover News comes out only once a month and is community written, which means the content is uneven. Even so, the village chose to publish a long article on TCD3 there.

    Your blog and mine continue to offer up information that isn’t being published anywhere else, including the web sites of our local papers. (I had the “I’m In” story on my blog right after it was introduced to the council and you graciously posted the pool plans there and routinely make available detailed public information on your blog).

    Yet, with the exception of Art Jaros and Martin Tully, there is little response or participation by “officialdom” on the blogs–even though they routinely break news, promptly report news and offer in-depth (as opposed to brief and superficial) information on stories important to Downers Grove.

    Yes, I get the occasional press release and, yes, I believe some village officials are coming to accept the blogs as viable outlets for news and opinion. I’m also hoping the village’s electronic TCD3 efforts make the medium even more valuable and respectable in their eyes.

    I never thought I would say this as a post Woodward-and-Bernstein era newspaper reporter, but newspapers, especially weeklies or monthlies, are of very limited competitive value in the present environment.

    It remains my hope that our government staffers and officials will recognize the value of our voluntary efforts and accord us the same respect and participation (not to mention support) that they do our local news sources.

  6. C. Grammich Says:

    EJ, I suspect local “officialdom” might be more likely to include Mark’s blog in news dissemination efforts over time, but I don’t know when you’ll see more participation like that of Jaros and Tully. (Even Tully had to test the waters beforehand, no? Or am I misinformed that he was a pseudonymous commenter on your blog before the April 2007 elections?) On the one hand, it’s odd to see how some local officials made effective use of the Internet while campaigning for but not necessarily in holding office. On the other, I can understand their reluctance to wade in, especially given the direction of some discussion (e.g., some apparent online confusion recently about impact fees).

  7. Red Fred Says:

    Election on-line presence is more orchestrated with an outgoing message. After it’s the elected official in a 2-way exchange where they may or may not get the last word. Different world.

  8. C. Grammich Says:

    Agreed, Fred, although it’s still striking (at least to me) that those who can orchestrate an outgoing message can’t orchestrate an ongoing one . . .

  9. Elaine Johnson Says:

    Grammich, please expand on your thoughts. Are you saying that officials feel more comfortable dealing with a medium that doesn’t subject them to an immediate public response? Or that it’s intolerable to deal with the citizenry if it is misinformed?

    Seems to me that would be precisely the time to communicate and to offer clarification and good information.

    As far as your comments about the outgoing vs. ongoing message: yes, that’s struck me, too. Seems even blogs can be acceptable if one is attempting to put out one’s message.

  10. C. Grammich Says:

    EJ, I’m guessing a little of both comfort and tolerability.

    Regarding “comfort,” I’m guessing yes, some officials may not like having to deal with an immediate response, some may not want to devote the time such responses can take, some may feel existing media (DGTV, the newspapers and official newsletters, e-mail, phone, other personal contacts) may suffice (and still have a larger audience than the blogs?), and a few may not even be comfortable with the Internet. Nearly all our local elected officials have other jobs, so they may feel, with reason, they’re already as accessible as they should be.

    Regarding an “intolerable” citizenry that is misinformed, I see your point about the blogs being able to correct misinformation. But if you were a local official convinced that most of the audience was, is, and always will be misinformed, why would you bother with it? I’m not saying it is, just pointing out one plausible viewpoint for which there is some evidence.

    And here’s another perspective combining the two above: should an elected official take more seriously somebody who will take time to appear at a public forum, give their name, address, and a succinct expression of their concern (and risk looking like a public fool if misinformed), or somebody taking no more time than it does to spout off the web, often hiding behind a pseudonym to do so? If you were an elected official prioritizing your (scarce) time, whose concern would you address first?

    To be clear, I generally like your efforts and Mark’s, and have (obviously) participated in the discussion they offer. But if I had a serious specific concern about local government, I’d be sure also to raise it in some other forum where I have to stake more time and reputation and can more reasonably expect a local official to do the same.

  11. markthoman Says:

    I can’t tell you how many times residents, with the best of intentions, have spoken based on misinformation, or lack of information.

  12. C. Grammich Says:

    MT–at public meetings? I can believe that. But here’s the rub: even if one were to speak based on misinformation or lack of information, then I dare say one would still do it more respectfully, or in a way more likely to be open to dialogue, in person than in voicing the same complaint in a blog comments section. Maybe not always, but probably enough of the time to a public official deciding whether to wade in or, more likely, not . . .

  13. Elaine Johnson Says:

    Can’t agree with you on that one, Grammich, after watching lots and lots of meetings and hearing a lot of misinformation delivered with attitude by citizens (and seeing the response of officials to it).

    The fact is, a new day has dawned and the village itself apparently is set to recognize it through its planned blog or other electronic means during the TCD3 process.

    I’m all about how this new medium can be IMPROVED. I’m not so willing to consider whatever flaws it has as fatal.

    As to the supposed greater audience commanded by free newspapers, I’m not sure that’s the point. It seems to me that the desire of citizens to read and comment online, as well as the blogs’ efforts to bring stories to light that the newspapers won’t touch, is what is truly important.

    But hey, you knew I would say that, right? Otherwise why would I (and Thoman) consider it worthwhile to spend the time and money it takes to maintain a newsblog?

  14. Senior Grover Says:

    At Cameo we were kept in the dark by lack of information even as the village claimed they were telling us what was happening last year. Commissioner Tully either flat out lied or was similarly misinformed in March when he assured us it was dead. Mr. Thoman became our source for what was really happening, and why. He gave us the facts and the reasons, not the village. Most of us had never seen that kind of facility until he showed us. We were angry at what the village was doing to us by keeping legitimate information away from us. We still are.

    Not many seniors get on-line though. Too bad.The TCD websites could be fine if they don’t suffocate them with rules.

    The village would like to kill this and Ms. Johnson’s DGreport because they give out too much information. Ms. Johnson you are the professional journalist, and you check facts and get calls in to people for comments, and stay objective. But Mr. Thoman calls them out when they need it. He might get it wrong at first, but not often, and then not for long. Thoman: Personal reference deleted. He has a good heart. Commissioner Neustadt came to visit us and show us his concern, and never EVER did he lift a finger to help us. To the very end he voted against us. He has no heart at all that we here could see.

    And using my name? No sir, I speak freely knowing they can’t touch me, and that’s fine.

  15. C. Grammich Says:

    But, EJ, it still requires more investment of time and reputation to go to a meeting and state one’s real name, address, and concern. THAT is the point. Public officials can (and should) be expected to respond to such “investments,” even if it’s to effectively tell a rude or ignorant resident to shut up (which I’ve also seen done). But they shouldn’t necessarily be expected to respond to the minimal investment of time and reputation needed to spout off anonymously (or pseudonymously) on a message board.

    As for the village’s planned blog, I’ll wager a dozen dollars to donuts that it will require registration and some real names or verification of identity for any open commenting it might have. Even such registration would still be more of an “investment” of time and, perhaps especially, reputation, than required by your comments section or Mark’s. And it will probably require still more investment than that–like actually showing up somewhere sometime–for any one person to have “significant” influence on the project.

    Sometimes–not always, but sometimes–the comments on “unofficial” blogs appear (at least to me) to have the same quality as contributions to the old “Sound Off” section in the Reporter. No elected officials in their right mind would have phoned in comments to “Sound Off” saying, “This is Ron, mayor of Downers Grove, and in response to the comment that . . .” or “This is Marshall from the DG58 board, and I want to note . . .” So I don’t see why they would do so on these comments pages. In fact, in my (uninformed?) opinion, the one who has done this the most has probably seen his political prospects suffer as a result. (To his credit, I also note he certainly doesn’t appear to care about such things once he’s decided on an action he honestly thinks is right for his jurisdiction.)

    Without such verification, I guess there are two options for the “unofficial” blogs. One is to discontinue comments, as some newspapers have done on their web sites, possibly giving the bloggers more influence but likely limiting their audience. The other would be to let them continue as what may strike some (especially, I’m guessing, most local officials) as unregulated zoos, possibly increasing the audience but likely limiting their influence.

    Having said all that, I (again) note I agree with you about the depth, discussion, and interaction regarding village issues that the blogs permit. Maybe whatever good Mark or you personally can accomplish with the blogs isn’t affected by the comments sections. And maybe there is even some good in letting residents spout off. But I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for many official visits to the exhibits, even at feeding time.

  16. markthoman Says:

    I am reasonably sure Martin gave us all best information he had at the time. Although he won’t cop to it, he probably helped win the day.

    But that brings a bigger point; Tully gave what he knew, and what he knew wasn’t what happened, and what happened clearly was in process before he misspoke. So even council members can err in the absence of good information.

    Here’s a couple I’ll toss out there. Council members may receive a non-agenda information packet each week along with their agenda packet. Why not make that public? The Village Attorney often advises council members, acting as legal council (in case you were wondering why she reports directly to council instead of to the VM, that’s one reason). If it does not involve items that can rightfully be described as covered under executive session (personnel, litigation, real estate transactions) why not make that public?

    BTW, given the nature of the relationship between the VA and council, how can the VA be relied upon to act as the ethics officer who would investigate, prosecute, and punish wrong doers on council?

    IL AG Madigan wrestled with the same problem and came up with a nine person Ethics Commission as her recommendation. To toot my own horn: the same proposal I gave during the last election. Put it in the hands of residents with the VA as counsel only.

    I find it somewhat frustrating and ironic that we continue to have the same shortfall of enforcement in the ethics ordinance that we had under Krajewski. Still only half done.

    Thread drift by author. Guilty.

  17. markthoman Says:

    Also-

    Neustadt voted “against” Cameo because VA Petrarca continued to advise him the village would open itself to litigation. Whether that happens or not is a matter of executive session. The village always has the potential to roll over on any threat and settle financially. This is an information black hole, and so far as I know, there is no over arching policy regarding when the village would negotiate a settlement, and when they would go to court and fight. My attitude is we have a legal department, they should be willing to contest any threat with vigor.

    That, however, would create a court public record. If the village settles, no one may be the wiser.

  18. Elaine Johnson Says:

    Grammich: We will have to respectfully disagree on this issue, I guess.

    Just please understand that I began considering some way to offer an alternative news source YEARS ago, before the dawn of blogs and have only chosen to do so because I feel residents of this community (myself included) want and deserve more information than the newspapers are providing.

    Clearly, I’m just one person (Thoman is another) who is trying to “cover” news in a town of almost 50,000 residents. I would LOVE a newspaper to step up and do in more depth what I am trying to do.

    I guess my background has thickened my skin to public opinion and, frankly, whether they are anonymous or not, comments must be weighed according to their own merits. I’ve been on the receiving end of more comments, letters, emails, etc. — anonymous and signed — than I can count in my career and even though some are easy discounted, I find they offer invaluable feedback on how I’m doing and what people are thinking. I also realize it was my choice to seek a “public” career.

    I presumed elected officials would consider blog comments likewise, whether they come from 1%, 10% or 80% of the population. After all, if it’s a majority viewpoint they’re looking for, those council seats would be sitting empty.

    This discussion (and I’ve had it with others) always reminds me of a chicken-and-egg scenario. Do officials wait until all vestiges of Sound-Off are eradicated from the blogs before they participate or does their high-minded participation (and that of others) raise the quality of the blogs and point up the occasional Sound-Off type comment as the inane viewpoint it is?

    I guess we in Downers Grove will never know.

  19. Elaine Johnson Says:

    Thoman: Ditto for information packets distributed to school board members which include, I believe, copies of letters and emails from the public among other documents. These letters are referenced in board meetings, but their content is never revealed. Apparently, one would need to make a FOIA request to see them, and we all know what kind of response that sort of money-wasting behavior solicits.

    It would be interesting to pursue this further and see where it gets you.

  20. C. Grammich Says:

    “After all, if it’s a majority viewpoint they’re looking for, those council seats would be sitting empty.”

    Huh? Council members HAVE to look for the “majority viewpoint” (or at least the viewpoint of a plurality of those choosing to vote) before they take their seats. It’s called winning an election, no?

    And I wonder if you’re confusing two issues here. I’m sure at least some elected officials, even if choosing not to comment, read the comments and take them for what they’re worth. That’s a helluva lot different than expecting them to comment officially. I don’t know how else to explain the difference.

  21. Elaine Johnson Says:

    Sorry, Grammich, the subtext of my post came from a comment on my message board that suggested participants there are too few or their identities too veiled to be taken seriously (which I’ve also heard from others).

    All I meant to say is that the majority of citizens in Downers Grove don’t even bother to vote, much less register their views in a public meeting so the real majority opinion may be “who cares?”

    While national politicians may pin their actions to opinion polls, local officials have little to go on besides the comments they hear in meetings, at coffee with the council or from letters/emails/blogs. IMHO, no reasonable comment should be discounted out of hand.

    As for their willingness to comment on the blogs, I understand that takes courage. I believe official comments would raise the level of discourse; they may not be willing to take that chance.

    I would, however, suggest that no opportunity to correct misinformation or to offer good information should be overlooked, which I believe is Thoman’s original point. Nor should the blogs be considered “poor stepsisters” when they routinely break important stories, report news on a timely basis, and delve into issues at a level that no local paper is willing or able to do.

    Perhaps a good compromise would be for officialdom to treat the blogs as a legitimate news source and to participate in providing them with good, timely information in whatever way they can short of actually posting.

    I would settle for that.

  22. C. Grammich Says:

    EJ, I think it may take an asbestos flak jacket for some officials to be convinced to comment. FWIW, I know one DGReport commenter who has since refrained because of feeling “bruised” in the process but who still likes the information available there. For better or worse, I read your blog and Mark’s far more often than the print papers. I suspect our numbers are growing, and that, eventually, will make you more than a poor stepsister . . .

  23. Elaine Johnson Says:

    Thanks, Grammich. I’m sorry about the commenter’s bad experience. I believe the blog will evolve as regards moderation, registration and other means of reducing such negative experiences. Traffic is up exponentially since last year and once I can “monetize” that (to use our buddy Bill White’s term), I can seek options that may make for a kinder, gentler, yet still informative and occasionally edgy blog.

  24. Martin Tully Says:

    I enjoyed reading the interesting exchange between Grammich and Elaine so much that I was inspired to start a new thread just on that aspect of the topic over at the DG Talk space on Elaine’s blog.

    Also, Mark, thanks for defending my honor re: Senior Grover’s comment — you are spot on. I would only that I said precisely what I knew to be true at the time and, as you know, things changed. You also know that reaching the right result there was necessarily a process unto itself.

  25. markthoman Says:

    …and that process was information warfare, in a sense. The information shaped the correct decision that was reached (mostly).

    All it takes to jump in is one little step, which Art and Martin have taken. They’re both swimming around just fine as a result. I think there’s some unfortunate tendency to assign darker motives to Art’s responses, but I don’t see anyone else on the PD board stepping in.

    Thoman: Tully link here.

  26. C. Grammich Says:

    Yes, Mark, that only leaves six other members of the village council, four other members of the park district board, all seven members of the D99 board, all seven members of the D58 board (and candidates of nascent slates for next year’s elections?), not to mention assorted other local officials (e.g., township officers, state legislators) to take that “one little step” . . .

    Seriously, Jaros and Tully have indeed made positive contributions to civic discourse through their participation. And, again, I’d understand any official reading the blogs and their comments to get a sounding of public opinion, a point EJ makes above and that Tully also made well in his post at DG Talk. Finally, both EJ and you provide sources of information I may value more than any other on the village. (How else would I know about nascent slates for the DG58 elections if not for DGReport comments?) But if you’re expecting this blog or DGReport to become the primary means of greater interaction between officialdom and citizenry, then I fear you’re going to have a long wait.

    Out of curiosity, I did a quick-and-dirty analysis of DG Talk members. As of this writing, there are 65 (of nearly 50K residents in the village and about 10K voters in the last municipal election). The sum of these members’ comments is 1,432. More than half of these comments come from just six members. Only two of these six–EJ and you–can be publicly identified. There are some limits to public discourse evident in those data . . .

  27. Marge Says:

    To your last point Gram, by your count that leaves more than 50 other points of view on DG Talk. That’s more than your average weekly VC meeting attendance. Considering the Talk section is like the back page of the paper, that’s not too bad. I don’t think that can be discounted.

    MT, Art is “swimming around” just fine! LOL!

  28. C. Grammich Says:

    That’s right, Mar, because it takes almost no investment–of time, courage, or maybe even thought–to spout off on a web site using a pseudonym. I’m one of those “more than 50 other points of view” on DG Talk–using, as here, my real name (by which you can find out more about me than you surely care to know through Google). Please don’t think I wouldn’t make more investment–of time, courage, or maybe even thought–if I were to actually speak at a VC meeting. I’m not discounting either activity but they are not comparable.

  29. markthoman Says:

    I probably have, what 10 different people max who have posted here?. Yet I get off-line feedback quite a bit.

    I look at Elaine’s DGreport, my morphed blogs, Bill White’s blog, Chad’s Housing Blog, as the pioneers. I’m not counting store blogs, realtor blogs, or Topix. Something bigger should evolve from these initial efforts. We’re breaking the sod, hopefully someday a larger community takes hold. I’ve followed some consulting firm websites for other communities, and they share common characteristics of limited active participation, and a tendency to go stale from lack of activating input.

    Depends on the hot topic I guess. I expected this post to be another 0 or 2 comments like most of mine. I doubt EJ expected 200+ comments on pools. I’ve been contacted by folks who want more information on Patriot’s Park and the water facility. Now, why would they contact me and ask me rather than ask the Park District? I am far far from having an inside track on this.

  30. C. Grammich Says:

    Why contact you rather than the Park District, Mark? Because you focus on one topic at a time in a way that a casual reader can identify and react. The Park District has a huge amount of information on its web page, ranging from that on facilities to course registration to, yes, a possible public pool. It has to present all this information somewhere, but, yes, this gets back to your original point about “passive” information, and the difficulties of identifying topics which require more “active” efforts. You and Elaine are obviously passionate and knowledgeable about the uses of blogging, but neither of you (nor I!) could predict which topics (judging by their reaction) might require more “active” efforts to disseminate information.

    It will be interesting to see how the TCD3 blog progresses. And I agree with Elaine, you, and others that efforts like this are needed. But, for better or worse, I doubt it will permit nameless citizens to call one councilman a liar and another heartless, accusations same nameless citizens readily admit they don’t have the courage to make without the cloak of anonymity . . .

  31. Elaine Johnson Says:

    Maybe we should consider this question from another angle. The number of public officials or commenters who participate in the blogs is not the only consideration. After all, no one judges the local papers based upon the number of officials or citizens who comment on their sites or write letters to the editor.

    Officials have a long history of responding to questions from local reporters, and as long as they’re also willing to respond to questions from bloggers, I will be satisfied — although I believe their active participation in the blogs would only raise the level of discussion there.

    Here’s where I take issue: Officials do not judge our local newspapers on the quality of their letters or even, apparently, on the quality of their journalism, as witnessed by the mayor’s willingness to provide a monthly column for the community written Grover News.

    Nor is it a topic of debate whether the newspapers impact public opinion for good or ill.

    The blogs, however, appear to be fair game on all the above points, which is ironic considering they have neither staff, advertising or subscriptions to support their efforts. Are they being held to a higher standard than the local press? If so, why?

    I’d suggest that it isn’t only the blogs’ acceptance of anonymity that irritates — some of the most “objectionable” comments are made by people who identify themselves — but because they are a departure from the familiar.

    This town’s newspapers have traditionally focused on meeting stories, police reports, light features and announcements. They rarely report issues in depth or question the status quo.

    By providing a different sort of coverage — and actively involving the public in those discussions — blogs may appear unpredictable and, as one official told me, destructive to the fabric of this community.

    Whether or not public officials or others (Grammich?) find them “legitimate,” the blogs are breaking new ground in terms of how issues are exposed and reported in this town — whether or not they are perceived to have a critical mass of readers.

    After all, just what constitutes a meaningful audience? Is it captured by putting a free newspaper at the end of every driveway? Is it represented by the Reporter’s subscription base, whatever that is? And more to the point: Does anyone really know how many papers distributed by the Reporter, Sun or Grover News are actually read by residents?

    In the last four months, the DGreport has logged just short of 100,000 hits from 3,000 different computers. That’s obviously a small minority of this community’s 48,000 residents, but possibly not one local decision-makers should overlook.

  32. Martin Tully Says:

    Elaine Johnson wrote:

    “In the last four months, the DGreport has logged just short of 100,000 hits from 3,000 different computers.”

    EJ:

    Those are some pretty impressive stats you’re putting up there. To put them into context, consider that the Village’s 2003 Citizen Survey involved the mailing of survey questionnaires to 3,415 households in DG. Of that, just 1,301 households responded to the survey, resulting in a 38% response rate. Against that backdrop, I’d hazard to say you are capturing a pretty decent percentage of the eyeballs out there. IMHO, that’s tough to “overlook.”

    Times and things change. What’s new and scary (and makes some uncomfortable) today soon becomes familiar and run-of-the mill. Twenty years ago, websites and email were certainly not perceived as they are today. Ten years ago, instant messaging was not perceived as it is today. Blogs haven’t yet reached their full potential or acceptance but soon will. Then, look for more use of browser-based collaboration (e.g. SharePoint) to be the next innovation to be embraced. Articles on this topic have already appeared in some recent municipal journals.

  33. markthoman Says:

    SharePoint’s interesting. The usual MS problems; has to be on their platform, old versions won’t work across other MS platforms and new product versions all work against it. Google Documents can’t really be used as a webpage but we’ve used that on collaborative projects before with reasonable results. They save by default to Google’s own servers, which are free for anyone to use, but nowhere near as secure as SharePoint MS Server storage.

    It looks like the papers are trying to preempt DGreport. As long as they start useless blogs that just ask questions (Hey! Whaddya think!?!? or, “Ideas for blog topics can be sent to Jerry Moore at jmoore@mysuburbanlife.com.) area newspapers will continue to miss the boat. Editors don’t create the interest to read, writers do. There’s no investure of commitment on their part.

    Okay, That’s thread drift for sure…

  34. C. Grammich Says:

    EJ, I’m sure most elected officials treat the more “extreme” elements of “established” media in the exact same way they treat such elements of the blogs. They read them, possibly denigrate such opinions in private, but otherwise make a show of ignoring them. Aside from treating you as a “legitimate” journalist for blog entries–status I would have thought your Sun column conferred–why would you expect otherwise regarding blog comments?

    Yes, some “named” opinions may seem just as “extreme” (particularly to the targets!), although I’ll stick to my point that anonymity tends to bring out the more extreme opinions. But, guess what? “Extreme” opinions with names attached to them are often treated in the same way by elected officials! Or have I missed the one-on-one interview Paul Krugman did with George W. Bush? Or that Barack Obama has promised Rush Limbaugh?

    And are we back to considering audience size as a meaningful standard? I thought you had disavowed that in #14 above. Regardless, I’ll stick with my contention that DGTV, the village’s own newsletters (print or electronic), the Reporter, the Sun, even the Grover News, all still have greater readerships than the blogs. I’m sure the tradeoff of eyeballs and headaches is lower on the other media than it is in jousting with unnamed phantoms who can say nearly anything with little or no accountability.

    Whether I consider DGReport or this blog legitimate doesn’t matter. You’ve other means for getting legitimacy and, to the extent your (or any) blog provides objective coverage not available elsewhere, you should have it. But the discourse beyond that? Well, as I noted above, DGTalk appears to be dominated by a few unnamed phantoms (and, yes, one known commenter whose name keeps changing). They have a gift for saying provocative things that stir up the pot and apparently draw readers. Fine for conversation starters or the electronic equivalent of shooting the breeze, but for actually getting something done? I’m guessing most of those who care will find more effectual use for their time . . .

  35. C. Grammich Says:

    Mr. Tully, why would you use the response rate to a sample survey sent to one in three water billing records–and less than one in six households–as a comparison for blog readership? But, OK, I’ll play along.

    The online summary of the survey responses appears to indicate there were no more preparatory or followup mailings or contacts for this survey than a postcard sent to each of the selected respondents before the survey started. That’s very minimal if quite understandable given the financial constraints to conducting the survey the online analysis also noted. Am I missing any other preliminary or followup efforts?

    If not, then please know that mail surveys with no more preliminary or followup mailings than what the village apparently had can result in response rates below 10 or even 5 percent. So I dare say good old-fashioned mailed publications from the village have a large, engaged readership, indeed, a much larger and more engaged readership than I ever imagined. Multiplying that 38 percent response rate by the approximately 19,000 households in the village suggests more than 7,000 households–or more than double the readership of the DGReport of the past four months–would not only read village communications but, if they felt prompted, take time to respond to them.

    EJ, or Mark, or you, would be quite right to argue electronic communication can ultimately engage more residents at less cost to the village, ultimately benefiting all. And, again, I agree the blogs and other electronic communication can help allow more in-depth discussion of village issues. But it would be disingenuous to argue village officials not wanting to wade, swim, bathe, or otherwise immerse themselves in all aspects of such communications are lacking in “courage” or fail to understand the “one little step” needed to do so.

  36. markthoman Says:

    Like getting information out to the masses on the Bomag 4413.

    While your mentioned information outlets may have more eyeballs, DGreport may have more readers. People talk about what’s on there. When was the last time you discussed buses? From reading the Sun articles, or from reading the blog? Where have you gotten more information? Where have you learned more, and been able to put in your .02 (I’ll give Grammo .04 since he is a published wordsmith like EJ)?

    BTW, here’s some brutal honesty, I checked my stats. 16,687 hits over the last four months when DGreport had 100,000. The most read is when I stir the pot, like RLC or 63rd & Leonard. When I wrote about Pavlicek …inDG was getting 500 unique hits a day. Usually it’s 100-200. When Mom was in the hospital and I wasn’t writing it dropped off to an average of less than 50 unique hits a day. When I write positive stuff, like the TCF proposal, or about Mike Baker or the Planners, it doesn’t drop, but it doesn’t spike either.

    This particular thread is currently the most active. 152 unique viewers so far, although the conversation is, in essence, between Grammo and EJ.

    When people come here, though, they tend to look around. I can’t be sure unless I list out and check all the IP addresses for every post, but it appears visitors usually check several posts. My four parter on trees gets almost as many hits now as ever, and the stormwater posts attract outsiders.

  37. C. Grammich Says:

    Mark, regarding readers, please see #36 above. (Goodness, I’m turning into Art Jaros with references like that . . .)

    Regarding discussion of the buses, I haven’t discussed them with anybody. So I guess both the Sun and the blogs have failed! (Not really; the issue doesn’t engage me as much as others.) But I again distinguish between discussion and action (the latter which I admit I can’t well define). I’ve already noted I, personally, get more information from these blogs.

  38. Elaine Johnson Says:

    Grammich,

    I said: “As to the SUPPOSED greater audience commanded by free newspapers, I’m not sure that’s the point. It seems to me that the desire of citizens to read and comment online, as well as the blogs’ efforts to bring stories to light that the newspapers won’t touch, is what is truly important.”

    To further clarify what I am and have been attempting to say in my comments:
    * Public officials have long played ball with the newspapers even if their coverage is untimely or incomplete, the comments they solicit occasionally “objectionable,” and their audience less than assured. On the basis of this alone, they should also engage the blogs.
    * The nature of the electronic media enables inane anonymous comments, but it also allows IMMEDIATE correction and amplification of information. Further, it allows public officials and others to respond in their own words, without fearing their quotes will be paraphrased, inaccurately reported or otherwise edited. This would seem to be a benefit to any official trying to get a clear message out.
    * By virtue of the comments they solicit, blogs provide officials with another means of assessing the concerns and opinions of citizens. While they may not rank this information as legitimate or as meaningful as comments made in a public meeting or in signed letters or emails, it nevertheless is worthwhile because some people might never write a letter or speak at a meeting, but will cast a ballot. Personally, I find it difficult to understand why any public official would choose to ignore (as opposed to discount) comments made by the public just because they are made anonymously.
    * Whether or not the blogs include anonymous comments, it would seem they are attracting an audience of interested citizens by virtue of their focus on local government, its actions and concerns. Neither Mark nor I are putting up box scores or movie reviews. With a few exceptions, it’s all news or other issues of concern to this specific community. I’m guessing those that read the blogs are pretty engaged in their town and its concerns.

    A final question to Grammich: You’re in charge of DGreport. What would you do to remove or reduce the objections you’ve taken pains to point out?

  39. markthoman Says:

    It does circle back to hired and elected officials being fearless. When it comes to engaging on-line they are decidedly not fearless of what might happen. Tully and Jaros walk the walk. That’s where it ends so far.

    But look at Art. At least one reader said Aha! Now I have a reason never to vote for you because of one thing. Why would especially elected officials risk losing voters like that?

    I look at it the other way. Jaros may have some rough edges, but who else is giving us the time and energy of responding? Tully and I have had public barking, but I will vote for him anytime because he engages, listens, digests, and maybe modifies, yet keeps rules and regulations in mind.

  40. Elaine Johnson Says:

    …and then I promise I’ll shut up 🙂

    (truly, Grammich, I appreciate your taking the time to debate this issue.)

  41. C. Grammich Says:

    EJ,

    I don’t think there’s anything “supposed” about the greater audience commanded by free newspapers or, as Mr. Tully (inadvertently, I’m guessing) demonstrated above, village publications. But I’ll go back and agree with what I *thought* your original point was, because, yes, readership numbers for electronic and print communications are likely to change over time.

    Unless you have evidence of village officials routinely engaging “objectionable” anonymous or “crank” sources in the local press, I don’t understand why you expect them to do so on the blogs. But I’ll still offer some comments on why they don’t engage in the immediate correction and amplification the blogs offer. They have other things to do with their time. They find the commenters unpleasant. They don’t think persons lacking the courage to say some of the extreme criticisms to their face (or with a real name) deserve the dignity of a response. (Criminy, at least two of their observations apply to *my* reaction to some of the comments, and I’m not a target!) How do you think all this affects them when they have to conduct triage in responding to resident concerns? (See #11 above.)

    Nobody is saying officials completely ignore the blogs, or even their comments. They just don’t choose to wade in and engage the commenters for several reasons noted here and above. That’s a helluva difference.

    What would I do to remove or reduce the problems I’ve raised? Maybe the only thing I’d do is not be surprised when public officials don’t choose to engage the commenters. I still think we’re discussing two different issues here: the legitimacy of the bloggers–by which I mean only Mark and you–and officials engaging the commenters. Look, if you need a, um, feisty comments section to attract readers, fine. That’s a tradeoff I can understand in building the readership, but one you have to accept might not always open doors for you. And I’m sure savvy officials, like savvy readers of newspaper columnists, know how to separate the wheat from the chaff in such things. (Just like, for example, I’m sure savvy presidential candidates would know how to engage, say, Thomas Friedman or Gigi Geyer on, say, the Iraq war while ignoring online comments to their columns that “Bush lied, people died” or our need to conduct a “crusade” and “Christianize” the Muslim World.) And if they can’t, well, they aren’t savvy enough to win or hold office for long. But maybe the more you can separate the two activities, and not expect the comments sections (as presently administered) to be some means to greater civic participation in Downers Grove or anything but more readers, the better off you’ll be.

    MT,

    Excellent question! Why would elected officials risk losing voters like that! Here’s another angle: in the past DGPD election, there were two candidates for two seats. So Art’s taking grief for a job that easily could have gone begging last year! Seriously, it’s been wonderful to engage Jaros, or Tully, or another (unknown to me) official I hope EJ won’t mind my saying once quoted my comments on your blog to her. I only wish I had said something more worthwhile for them to read, particularly on issues more likely to sway my votes for them than online citizen engagement . . .

  42. Anonymous Says:

    Okay, I find I have just one more thing to say–

    Grammich: Your comments seem to be saying that the blogs attract only negative diatribes and misinformation in the comments section; this does disservice to the commenters who post under their own names and/or post thoughtful and reasonable comments. What about them?

    Secondly, I’m not asking anyone, public officials included, to wrangle with inane commenters (something I usually also avoid except to occasionally slap someone’s hand). I am challenging them to offer comments that further the discourse, add insights and correct misinformation.

    Finally, seems I must clarify my purpose is allowing comments. It is not to “build readership,” it’s to offer an interactive forum where local issues can be considered and discussed. My attempts to deliver information are offered in good faith but they fall short of what a staff or two or three (or more) could do. My views are just my own — I don’t presume to speak for the rest of the town and I am as interested in hearing other’s opinions as in spouting my own.

    I have actually LEARNED something from the comments posted on my site. If there were more informative as opposed to knee-jerk or inane comments, I would learn even more. That’s where the Grammichs and the Tullys and the Jaroses and the Thomans come in (among others). And that’s what I am trying to encourage, despite the attempts by naysayers to shut down or disdain that prospect.

  43. EJ Says:

    Oops, the preceding “Anonymous” is me on a different computer

  44. C. Grammich Says:

    Anonymous–or, I’m guessing, EJ, who hit the “submit” button too soon;),

    I like to think I and, yes, others, have offered comments here (and on DGReport) that aren’t “negative diatribes and misinformation.” But as I also noted above, if I had a serious specific concern about local government, I’d be sure also to raise it in some other forum where I have to stake more time and reputation and can more reasonably expect a local official to do the same.

    You may not be asking anyone to wrangle with inane commenters, but you are asking them to engage in your comments section. In other words, you want them to engage you and your readers largely on your terms. They do have to engage the citizens, but they don’t necessarily have to do that. They have some reason to think they have more than sufficient citizen engagement elsewhere. I’m also guessing they don’t want to sanction a forum they find dominated by a relatively small numbers of typically nameless phantoms lobbing verbal grenades. (In response to an earlier post by Mark on a similar topic, I noted I can sometimes find engaging the unnamed commenters there a bit creepy–and I’m an unknown private citizen!)

    Now you (and Mark and Martin) are feel to think otherwise and vote accordingly. And, as I said before, I, like you, am puzzled by occasional but not ongoing use of the web by some to, um, advocate in this town. But I guess in the end I’m much more concerned to see how officials pave my streets–or how they respond to my e-mails regarding paving my street–than I am to see how they engage here.

  45. C. Grammich Says:

    EJ–I’ve said, and done, stupider things on the Internet–maybe even in this thread–than hit the submit button too early;).

  46. C. Grammich Says:

    EJ, this may be too personal to be relevant (and goodness knows I’ve taken far too much of Mark’s bandwidth already!), but let me offer yet another angle on engaging or correcting “misinformation.”

    In response to a typically balanced, researched, and thoughtful (I hope you know I’m sincere in saying that) posting you had on the censure of Scott O’Connell, one of the more prominent commenters on your blog had this to say:

    “All that high cost special ed program did was make DG a target for families with high cost special needs kids to move here.”

    Let’s dissect one non-response here. As I noted above, for both personal and civic reasons (which I think I’ve shared with you), I would, as I noted in the very first comment in this thread, match my knowledge of special education services in DG58 with anybody who doesn’t work for the district. Seeing nobody from the district address this comment–which, to be sure, was off-topic from the original posting–I thought of addressing it myself. I actually did look over Illinois School Report Card and other statistics to see if there was any evidence that DG had become “a target for families with high special cost needs,” especially in comparison to other areas. I didn’t find any (not that the evidence was much good). Furthermore, having moved from the West Coast (back) to the area because of such a need (and with the cooperation and support of my West Coast employer, for which I remain grateful), I thought the commenter was clueless on why most “families with high cost special needs” make the moves they do. (Hint: neither my wife nor I have any relations between here and sunny Southern California. We sure didn’t check all the special education services offered by school districts between here and there.)

    So as a self-proclaimed expert, heck, even (small-scale!) civic leader, on these issues, why didn’t I respond? Because I don’t think the commenter was interested in dialogue but rather in launching verbal grenades. (Even if it’s likely we would have agreed on a great number of DG58 issues!) If s/he had been, then s/he would have looked up some data or other evidence before launching such a tangential barb. And, frankly, I thought “sticking to my knitting” on PTA, K of C MR/LD, and similar issues was more effectual and less headache-inducing than jousting with this particular pseudonymous phantom who had already gone off-track.

    Multiply that minor experience by the dozens of other issues school board members must address, not to mention those confronting the park district and the village council, and no, I’m not surprised most officials choose to “ignore” or disengage (completely?) from the comments sections. That doesn’t, in my mind, denigrate the value of the regular postings Mark and you offer . . .

  47. markthoman Says:

    Hey HEY slow down.

    The #1 job of elected and hired government? See to the health safety and welfare of the people. In one word: serve. Part of the problem is the feedback loop. Too large and it becomes white noise-that has not happened. Too little and you’re in danger of elitism-here comes that back room/inner circle.

    Stormwater was an issue with a big enough feedback loop, and as a direct result good decisions were made. So far. The whole shebang is a bit overboard, but that’s a future issue to be worked out; we’ll run out of money before we run out of water problems, so where is the right place to stop? We need a feedback loop.

    Finding a way to push out information is critical to avoiding too small a sample. It should be the duty of government not only to serve, but to pay attention, and to push information output hard in order to get more input, and then heed that input.

    Take the professional waiter: helpful, engaging, informative. Is at your elbow every time you need him, but not more often so that you are bothered by him. A step away and ready just before you realize you need him, but no sooner, so the dining experience is a private one. You go back for the experience.

    What we have right now is fast food. Get in line, know what you want. Eat it and get out. The only time we’ll hear from you is when you’re angry. Tough, but we really feel for you, here’s some more of what pissed you off in the first place, on us. Better? Come back if you want, we could care less, and you’re a stakeholder in our success thank you come again.

    Over 40 people spent a Thursday night trying to provide input at the citizens meeting. About a third plus were insiders, guys who knew guys, or used to be the guys. A third plus were outsiders, the watchdogs and guys who pipe up at meetings and blogs and newspaper letters to the editors. The balance were first timers, looking for the chance to input as advertised. And we all did; great meeting.

    The next day all of that didn’t come up more than once or twice at the Friday staff/council session. Saturday, it had devolved back down to a reiteration of what staff/council wanted to move forward on. Input asked for and then ignored. I doubt it is clearly recognized that happened. The effort was sincere, the results questionable.

    Doubly frustrating, one-on-one staff/council get it, and truly do care about feedback, but process numbs and dumbs the feedback loop.

  48. C. Grammich Says:

    So what’s the answer, Mark? Electronic bulletin boards as part of the feedback loop? As THE feedback loop? If so, who controls such things and sets the ground rules? Or is discerning all these things part of the evolution from the initial efforts?

  49. C. Grammich Says:

    EJ, Mark–let’s make that “valiant” initial efforts in the last post;).

    Cheers,

  50. Martin Tully Says:

    Grammich:

    Loving the extended discourse on this topic . . .

    Regarding your question (see #36) about my earlier post (see #33), my point had nothing to do with the response rate and therefore probably shouldn’t have even mentioned that stat. Instead, my perhaps overly obtuse point was that the Village takes very seriously feedback it receives from the biennial Citizen Survey even though it typically reflects the views of, say, only about 1,300 individuals. Thus, if some 3,000 separate computers operated by fellow residents are checking out the content of DGreport over the course of a quarter, that is – in my mind – fair reason to pay some attention to it and to also periodically weigh-in to try to correct conjecture and misinformation.

    I would also add that the Citizen Survey provides respondents with the opportunity to provide comments and narrative feedback – anonymously no less. And some of the anonymous comments received over the years have been just as off-base, misinformed, or shrill as those periodically appearing in the blogosphere. Yet, Village staff and elected officials review them along with every other comment received as part of the formal survey process. Why? With some extreme exceptions, it is mostly about the weight to be ascribed to such comments, not their “admissibility.” Indeed, even baseless or plainly misinformed commentary can sometimes serve a useful purpose, by letting you know that the correct information perhaps is not being as well communicated or explained as it could be. Make no mistake; I do not view electronic bulletin boards as the only or ideal source of public input and exchange. But why not consider as many relevant data points as possible? All I am suggesting is that the blogosphere should be part of the overall information & communication mix in this day and age. As with every source, you just have to know when to take it with a grain (or two) of salt.

    Finally, as an example of the ability to instantly correct potential misperception, I do not take issue with the judgment of any other elected official, past or present, to decline to participate in this or any other medium. I certainly have never argued, much less disingenuously, that anyone lacked the “courage” to do so. On the contrary, as I have stated in multiple posts on DGreport, there are no right or wrong views on this subject, just different ones — which is perfectly fine. My views are solely my own, and are designed to explain why I choose to engage and participate in such forums, and not to be critical of others.

    Regards,

  51. Martin Tully Says:

    Grammich:

    After going back and reading another one of your posts in this thread (#42), it would seem we’re basically in agreement on many points.

    Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

  52. C. Grammich Says:

    Mr. Tully, thanks for your reply. It seems to me, too, that we agree on more things than not here, including, among many others, (1) the value elected officials may still find in the comments, even if not choosing to engage commenters, (2) the role of such comments (on-line or scribbled in crayon) to raise issues that otherwise would be overlooked, and (3) the role electronic communication and even forums like this can have in increasing interaction between citizens and officials.

    I’m just not as sure as I think EJ or the other MT may be about how well such thoughts always percolate. Perhaps more to the point, I may be more accepting than they are of the reasons officials might not find the “courage” (see EJ’s post #22) or how complicated that “one little step” (see the other MT’s post #26) may actually be. But I very much appreciate their (and your) willingness to discuss the topic, as well as the job they do in distilling many other issues–indeed, providing the very service Mark Thoman’s original posts suggests is needed in the village.

  53. Elaine Johnson Says:

    Grammich, in Chapter 47, highlights a misinformed comment on my blog, his (valid) reasons for not correcting it, and reasons school board members also may have for ignoring or disengaging from the blogs’ comments section.

    I find his example compelling — but as evidence that community institutions can and should make the effort to engage citizens and correct misinformation, at least in forums that attract enough readership to have an impact, no matter how debatable. After all, these individuals seem willing enough to correct misinformation that appears in newspapers’ Letters to the Editors sections, as I recall both DGreport commenter Art Jaros and Commissioner Bruce Beckman, to name two, having done. (Unlike blogs, BTW, no newspaper can deliver statistics on how many readers have perused each of its stories.)

    And if elected public servants don’t have the time or inclination to comment or even to correct misinformation themselves, what about assigning the task of “blog monitoring” to public relations staffers? A quick look at the Downers Grove Triblocal site indicates that D58 and the Downtown Management Corp. have both posted events there in recent days. Why the Trib site (which also allows comments from the public) or the Grover News (where the mayor has a monthly column and which is entirely made up of community “comments”) and not DGreport or In Downers Grove?

    Is it truly a case of new technology not yet becoming sufficiently familiar or is it something else? The focus thus far has been on out-of-bounds comments, but the blogs also are occasionally delivering STORIES that may not be to everyone’s liking, even if they are based on solid reporting and good information.

    I respect Grammich and always welcome his thoughtful and often amusing comments on the DGreport, but I have to disagree with the idea that public officials (and by extension governmental institutions) should pick and chose from among a very limited number of local outlets as to which are worthy of their time and input.

    Consistency is generally a good thing in public relations. So is factual information that comes directly from the source.

    Blogs allow for the IMMEDIATE correction of misinformation as well as the addition or amplification of facts that may not be known or included by a news-gatherer. Think about it: Most government institutions pay good money to get make such information available to the public in a form they are willing to consume.

    Frankly, Grammich, I’m amazed that we’re even having this (very!) lengthy discussion.

  54. Elaine Johnson Says:

    Oops. Thoman’s program mistook my closing parenthesis for a smiley face, LOL

  55. C. Grammich Says:

    EJ–Art, God bless him, responds to any foolishness posted (including, several times, my own!), so I’m not sure he’s a relevant example. I don’t know and have never met Beckman and therefore have no idea how he thinks about these things. I also don’t know if the letters you cite were signed with names and addresses the editors checked and published, which would, in my opinion, make them a wee bit different than a pseudonymous blog comment. But let’s consider another angle on the newspaper/blog difference.

    As you’ve noted, blogs “allow for the IMMEDIATE correction of misinformation as well as the addition or amplification of facts that may not be known.” That’s true, but I suggest the advantage of immediacy for blogs, and, perhaps more to my point, the accompanying aggregation of their comments, can, from an elected official’s point of view, be seen as a disadvantage. If the Reporter or the Sun were to publish something stupid or merely misinformed in every issue (heck, maybe they already do!), then an elected official so choosing to correct the paper need not do so more than once weekly. That’s less intimidating, and time-consuming, than monitoring the blogs, or even having staff monitor the blogs.

    Furthermore, the same immediacy, frequency, and aggregation of comments over time can possibly create an environment that is going to stifle some points of view. Consider the “homelessness” stories you earlier posted. In many ways, this is one of the best examples you could cite for the value of blogs and, yes, their comments: pseudonymous readers raise a concern that you investigated and reported in a way no other source could have. Yet, with apologies for another personal example below, I suggest this issue also shows how the same inspiration for the story can limit the interaction or engagement you can ultimately expect from it.

    My own views on this issue have been shaped in part as a PADS volunteer, first as a nighttime monitor many years ago, and more recently as somebody who prepares and drops off meals at St. Mary of Gostyn. Despite this service, I am concerned the churches providing the shelter are getting themselves into something they can’t handle. Should DG churches really be handling 60 “guests” nightly? Has anybody done a demographic stock-and-flow analysis to determine how many of the beneficiaries are temporary, transitional, or hopping from site-to-site but in need of more services? The (Catholic) pastor (late and great, but I digress) at the church where I was a monitor many years ago even suggested the Salvation Army might be a better solution, a comment that has obviously stuck with me. I’d be curious how the SMG pastor views this issue. At the same time, I’m not sure how much danger the “guests,” arriving on Friday evening well after school and departing on Saturday morning before any other activities, really pose to children there.

    So, in the discussion preceding your story, I thought Bob LeMay (a real name, I assume) raised a valid point when he wrote, “Considering that the churches with schools (St. Mary’s has a grade school, First Congregational has pre-school and day care) made a decision to host PADS, and supply many of the volunteers for PADS–including some parents of those school children–then obviously someone felt that the danger to the children was minimal, if not non-existent.”

    But check the first response to this, especially the last line, from one of your prominent pseudonymous commenters, indeed, the inspiration for your stories on the topic: “That someone was naive, careless, misguided and ultimately wrong-Christian or otherwise. I for one am not wiling to wait for an incident involving my children and some mentally unstable pedophile to learn whether or not my fears were unfounded. PADS has no place near schools or public library’s. Period. I’ve seen first hand what the library looks like on PADS days and I wouldn’t let my dogs anywhere near it much less my kids. Then again I could simply rely on the Church to protect my kids from molestation. Oh wait…”

    Holy crap! Where did that last line come from? So is anybody who even suggests there might be some nuance to this issue “naive, careless, misguided, and ultimately wrong,” AND defending priestly pedophilia? Yes, there were some thoughtful comments to your ultimate posts on this, but do you wonder why I didn’t post a personal perspective on this or suggest the value of a demographic stock-and-flow analysis (something far geekier than I assume would interest this commenter)? Or why I didn’t suggest you ask clergy hosting PADS programs for their perspective? Or note that I knew a late Catholic priest who had some reservations about the program? Or wonder why any pastor possibly reading the blog wouldn’t chime in? Or why council members might want to stay clear of any discussion? I’m not sure you realize how much one comment like that can affect discussion.

    Could somebody post something just as inflammatory on the newspaper web sites? Sure, but given that those sites don’t really have active blogs, or that they don’t clearly tie their stories to their reader comments, I submit it really isn’t an issue there. (Yes, maybe you’re a victim of your success.)

    In an ideal world, perhaps public officials should not “pick and choose” their areas of engagement. But they have and always will do this, especially if they’re part-time with lots of other things to do (see #s 11 and 42 above). And they may well favor those that monitor themselves (at least to the satisfaction of the officials) or that don’t need such intensive monitoring.

    Having said all that, I do agree with you that public officials should respond to you as a reporter in developing these stories, or to Mark in his requests for clarification. And, yes, you should be treated the same as the papers when it comes to posting of community events, but that could be something that improves itself over time, especially as readership and uses of the blog are better understood. I note you have just one calendar item currently posted, which I posted for Randy Stigall regarding an event held last Saturday. I’m not sure that means anything but the calendar section isn’t as well known and used as it should be, not just by officials ostensibly ignoring you but also by readers who clearly aren’t . . .

  56. Elaine Johnson Says:

    “…but do you wonder why I didn’t post a personal perspective on this…”
    Yes, Grammich, I do wonder. If I didn’t see the value in at least attempting to shed light on the social concerns, government activity, etc., I would never have added my lone voice to the cacophony. I would have chosen a much different career.

    “I’m not sure you realize how much one comment like that can affect discussion.”
    Guilty. Not only is my skin apparently too thick (I responded to IReadItInDG’s diatribe by acknowledging their right to express their opinion, albeit one that ticked me off royally), but I sincerely believe that it is to the absolute benefit of our society and our type of government for individuals to make themselves heard and for the community to draw whatever conclusions it will about those expressions.

    “that (the newspapers) don’t clearly tie their stories to their reader comments, I submit it really isn’t an issue there.”
    It is an issue, as evidenced by the Chicago Tribune’s decision to close down comments to a story about violinist Rachel Barton last winter. Check the websites of the Trib and Reporter; each story allows for comments. That hasn’t, however, kept DG58 from posting on the Triblocal site.

    As for the DGreport’s unused Calendar page, it obviously hasn’t attracted interest from readers, although it would seem to be an attractive FREE venue for local public relations folks, if they should ever decide to use it.

  57. markthoman Says:

    This is waaaaayyyyy off topic, but Grammo, did you read Cordesman’s tract on shipbuilding?

    Here’s another example to toss out. When I listened to the podcast of the last concil workshop Metra gave a ppt on the Belmont Underpass project and Schnell (I think) asked for it to be put up on the website. So you:
    – Go to the website, see “Belmont Underpass Update” in the upper right hand news area and click on it.
    – Which takes to you to the short page, where you click on the “Belmont underpass Construction Update” page.
    – Which takes you to the timeline of the project, and if you scroll down to the latest date you find the “Underpass Presentation by Metra (08-12-08)”, which if you click on that and wait for it to load,
    – You get a Powerpoint presentation made by Metra to council on the whole time line.

    The local government bodies are usually overwhelmed trying to keep up with getting information out to the point they may not be aware how badly they sometimes do it.

    And you can rightly pipe in that they did in fact put the information out there, and in a timely fashion. But for all practical purposes, in a clearly labeled file cabinet under the stairs in the basement behind the lava ring and the guard dogs. There for inspection.

  58. C. Grammich Says:

    Mark, I hadn’t seen Cordesman’s latest. Thanks for pointing it out.

    EJ, perhaps the best answer I can give on why I didn’t say much about the homelessness issue goes back to Tully’s great “electronic bathroom wall” analogy on DGTalk. Sometimes a public facility can be so overrun with graffiti that I won’t use it. Nor will I necessarily think it’s my job to help clean it. I’ll just look for another facility.

    I guess I missed the part about Rachel Barton being from Downers Grove. Or the hundreds of comments on what I had thought were somnolent Reporter and Sun web pages. But my point is that these sources appear to better separate their news content from the message boards than you sometimes do. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with your approach, and you’re right to say it can help more individuals make themselves heard. But don’t be surprised when it’s not always to everybody’s liking.

    You also, again, apparently expect public officials (and others?) to engage you and your readers on your terms. As a practical matter, they do not have to do this. In DG, there’s the Reporter, the Sun, the Grover News, local government websites and mailings, e-mail, phone calls, and other personal contacts. In fact, there’s even official input to some of the stories you’ve posted on DGReport, including those on homelessness! So what is the problem?

    Yes, journalists probably have thicker skins, although if your skin is all that thick then I’m not sure why you’d mention at least twice in this thread the mayor’s decision to publish a column in the Grover News (rather than DGReport?). Personally, I’m not sure how much of a coup this is, given that it appears his column should sometimes be edited for length (yes, yes, pot, kettle, black, hee hee). And as for the TCD3 and DG58 postings, do you really want to run press releases?

    As for engaging IRIIDG, not everybody would see the need to do that. I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with you having tried to do so. I might have tried to do so if I were in your shoes and had your stake in all this. But you’d also have been in your rights to ignore it.

    I wouldn’t worry about your Calendar page at present. FWIW, I still plan to post there, and, the few times I have news items, send them to DGReport like the other papers. Heck, as you know, any other local news ideas I have (e.g., on DG58, election returns) I never think to send anywhere but DGReport. As a regular reader, I’m sure there will be bigger and better things evolving out of the site over time (and as your resources permit). So please know that, on balance, I very much value the content there, the efforts to focus on and crystallize some key village issues, and, yes, the interaction it affords with other DGers and even some of our elected officials.

    Cheers,

  59. Elaine Johnson Says:

    No Grammich, I don’t want to run press releases and I apologize for repeating my comment about the village’s “Grover News” column (you didn’t really expect me to read back on all my blathering, did you?).

    Thick skin aside, I’m just tired after 18 months of defending the purpose of my blog to numerous detractors, including many who don’t comment there and who, BTW, seem much less critical of other local media. Many is the time I’ve consider whether the DGreport is really as worthwhile as I hoped it would be and whether it deserves to command so much of my time and attention.

    I’m confused about your reference to Rachel Barton. I was merely differing with your observation that newspapers don’t tie their stories to readers’ comments. I apologize for missing your point. I will also respectfully disagree that I am trying to engage officials and readers “on my terms” by encouraging them to view blogs as a meaningful and worthy vehicle for information and public opinion.

    Clearly, whether it’s comments from Grammich or IRIIDG or anyone else, I am passionate about the value of blogs to this particular community and more than willing to share my reasons for pursuing this course.

    A course that has obviously run its course for now 🙂

  60. C. Grammich Says:

    EJ–reference to Rachel Barton was only follow-up to your reference, noting that, since she wasn’t a DG story, there really isn’t much DG web comment controversy surrounding her.

    No need to defend the enterprise to me. I’ve read and will continue to read.

    Thanks!

  61. audienceresponsesolutions Says:

    http://www.audience-response-solution.com/ is a great place to find audience response systems that helps you to access audience responses and participation interactively.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: