Arizona Town Hall hosted a gathering Sept. 20 in the middle of the day — when many people are at work — to talk to residents about civic engagement.
I, myself, wasn’t able to attend. I have responsibilities that don’t allow me leave my office in the middle of the day, especially Thursday when I’m putting out Friday’s edition of the Sedona Red Rock News. Reporter Patrick Whitehurst attended and reported on the event while also filling me in on other details.
The media become the focus at one point during the discussion, as one would expect.
It doesn’t matter who you are, most people think at least one national media outlet is biased, spreads propaganda and incites fear among the American people. Conservatives can name a few and so can liberals.
Do they encourage civic engagement? No, 95 percent of the time they don’t.
Then the conversation shifted to local media, and I began to wonder if those criticizing local coverage have ever read our newspaper.
Scrolling through my past editorials on our website, under “Editor’s Notebook,” there are countless entries urging residents to get along rather than fight, accept different people’s points of view without getting personal and accolades for some current Sedona City Council members who conducted themselves during the last campaign season in the most professional manner I’ve seen yet in a Sedona election.
So, I would say that encourages civic engagement.
At the town hall meeting, residents said they want local media to let them know about ways to get involved in the community. We publish countless press release from the city of Sedona and nonprofits asking for volunteers. We publish them again and again because nobody has volunteered. We also publish at least eight columns a week contributed by community members.
Residents at the meeting want local media to report “news of consequence such as school board meetings and council meetings.” Really? This is when I was certain these people don’t read our newspaper.
Whitehurst attends every Sedona Fire District Governing Board and Sedona City Council meeting. Our newspaper features at least one city story per issue, and often I have to ask Whitehurst to find something else to add a little variety. We don’t write much about Sedona-Oak Creek School District meetings because there is rarely anything going on other than business as usual. Instead, we actually go to the school and write about what the students, teachers and administrators actually do.
They also want us to require people to put their names with comments on the website. If you look at the comment form, it asks for a name. Can we verify that is the actual person? Nope, which is why we read comments first and don’t post those that are personal attacks or offensive. Otherwise, who are we to censor someone’s opinion?
I think in the quest to encourage civic engagement we need to be sure it doesn’t infringe on freedom of speech and the press. The newspaper’s job isn’t to write the stories city officials or certain residents want us to write.
Our job is to report what happens — for better or worse — and then encourage residents to be fair, kind and understanding of those who don’t agree with them.
Civic engagement isn’t controlling what the media or any residents say. Civic engagement is allowing everyone to speak their mind and then teaching them to do it with respect.
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