Monday, July 30, 2012

Does the Bulletin Have An Identity Problem?

The larger newspapers in the Pikes Peak region, the Gazette and the Independent, do not cover government news or issues related to Manitou Springs and its politics for the most part. It may be that the city is too small to warrant considerable ink and page space devoted to the politics of a small city with barely a burp over 5,300 souls.

The Pikes Peak Bulletin is generally considered Manitou Springs’ only newspaper. It has a subscription list. It has vending machines for people to buy copies. It has a front page, a sports section, classified ads, an op-ed section. The Bulletin looks, smells, and seems like a newspaper in the same mold as the Gazette and Independent.

The Bulletin, a weekly publication, in fact, shares one commonality with the bigger Independent (also a weekly) with the notable exception that the Independent is free and constantly updates their websites (Facebook, Twitter, etc), providing a continuous stream of information, news, and updates to the public. The daily Gazette also offers fresh news content and information on their websites as well.

Meanwhile,  the Bulletin does not. It is true the Bulletin does have a website but one must purchase a subscription to have access to the contents (news, information, updates) within the website. Both the Gazette and Independent do not have such restrictions. 

So, what is the Bulletin then, if it is not a true journalism driven newspaper? A glorified classified ads? A voice for city government? A propaganda tool?

During the Waldo Canyon Fire evacuations, most city officials and residents left the city, including it seems, the Bulletin. Online, that fact was magnified once social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) began informing the public of the happenings, news, and updates related to Manitou Springs and the fire. It was as if the Bulletin and city officials decided an evacuation was sufficient reason to altogether cease the reporting of anything to city residents, leaving them to fend for themselves amid a sea of confusion during the hours of that early Sunday morning when evacuations were ordered.

Wander online today and you might discover a happy plethora of websites devoted to Manitou Springs. Why, you can search Facebook and discover the Chamber of Commerce’s So Many Things in Manitou Springs page praising discounts offered daily by local businesses.

But there is a huge void. The closest one can find in terms of news content related to Manitou Springs and its government is the Pikes Peak Bulletin. As illustrated in last week’s post (Benson’s Cronyism), and unfortunately, the Bulletin doesn’t seem interested or capable of doing investigative stories, in-depth analyses, or anything remotely critical of city government and officials.

Information creates ideas and vice-versa. Information creates solutions to problems. The competition of ideas is a long-held American process that has created untold improvements for Americans. Debates and discussions about information reported in news media are also part of an important American tradition. We see this everyday online, on TV, at the coffee shop when people discuss the latest talking points made by any presidential candidate anytime within the last 15 minutes. Ideas and information are at the heart of today’s modern world.

It is generally and often noted by many involved in Manitou Springs’ political arena that the city’s residents are politically apathetic, preferring not to vote or participate in elections in large numbers. One reason for that may be the too-cozy relationship between the Bulletin and city government, reinforced by the Bulletin’s lack of a coherent identity (journalism or propaganda pet), and its ability to produce one-sided political stories created by city officials.

One, obvious way to reduce the rampant political and voting apathy in Manitou Springs is to increase the amount of information available to residents. Today, the Bulletin provides outdated and mostly useless information about local government to the public, forcing residents to look elsewhere. But there are no other news media outlets dedicated to and located in Manitou Springs, a fact the Bulletin’s publishers and city officials seem to benefit from.

There are more important issues to be reported about Manitou Springs than the incessant whining on the part of a group of city officials who seem to have nothing better to do with their time than engage in petty, dirty politics.

Here are some ideas for the Bulletin to consider reporting about and for residents to debate: reduce the size of city government. Reduce taxes. Improve and increase accountability and transparency for city government and officials. Increase community collaborations. Increase community-building. Improve communication between residents and the city government in all aspects, and on and on.

And of course, the all-important one: is the Bulletin a news publication or an outdated form of glorified government spam?


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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Benson's Croynism

Mere weeks after a major fire threatened to erase Manitou Springs from geographical maps in libraries around the world, it was a surprise and disappointment to read in last week’s Pikes Peak Bulletin that city administrator Jack Benson’s priorities are skewed. Compassion and concern for residents seems to have been buried underneath the political aims of city council - with the Bulletin’s help.

Apparently, and quoting the Bulletin’s July 19th article (“Council hopes ordinance deters Soda Springs stage loiterers, vandals”), Benson told the Manitou Springs city council last Tuesday, “We have to draw a line in the dirt on what we’re going to tolerate and what we’re not going to tolerate.” Benson was referring to his support of a new ordinance recently passed by the council that will require people to obtain a permit to use Soda Springs park, in particular, the stage.

What’s the issue with the stage, then?

Initially, the Soda Springs park dog-and-pony show began early this year when officials complained too many people were loitering near the Triangle, a popular area near Soda Springs park. Then an issue was raised by city officials about crime on Ruxton near the Soda Springs park. Then came something about a proposed anti-smoking ordinance for and near Soda Springs park.

Then, and after all of that, when a resident pointed out the Triangle was near the park (and its stage), city officials such as Benson simply - and in figurative literalness - moved their rhetorical claims (crime, smoking, loitering) away from the Triangle and towards Soda Springs park. Clearly, city officials are more interested in escaping public scrutiny of their claims and actions by constantly shifting lines in political dirt to suit their whims.

Benson claims there is damage to the stage but the Bulletin did not print any evidence or at least seem interested in asking for such proof from Benson. Instead, there’s only the implication that because certain people loiter in the park and the stage, there is damage to the stage.

Said Benson, “I don’t care if it’s a juvenile or an adult, they shouldn’t be damaging our property. We have to put something in place that deters that kind of behavior.” And what is the damage, Mr. Benson? What kind of people are doing the damage? What behavior by what people doing what damage to the stage? Again, the Bulletin doesn’t seem interested in asking for details.

It serves little purpose to explore the dark, seedy side of Benson’s view, other than to ostracize a class of people for their supposed and alleged behavior. But the Bulletin’s story does raise an issue that has been altogether ignored: the too-cozy relationship between city officials and the Bulletin.

Rather than ask for evidence or details, or present an alternative view to Benson’s, the Bulletin simply passed the political baton from Benson to Roger Miller, another city official, who simply repeated other city officials’ previous implications and generalized statements and claims. Miller is the city’s Chamber of Commerce operating chief.

And what did Miller have to say about the stage? “From a personal standpoint, I’m getting tired of cleaning up.” Cleaning up what? When do you clean the stage, Mr. Miller? The story doesn’t say, and not surprisingly, Miller didn’t offer any specifics to support his claim.

Meanwhile, sidewalks in town are cleaned daily by a crew of city employees. They are paid to clean vomit off sidewalks, sweep cigarette butts off the curbs, pick-up trash, and otherwise beautify the downtown area. And yet, for some strange reason, the Bulletin makes no reference as to whether or not the same crews do (or do not) clean the stage in Soda Springs park.

If city employees do clean the stage, then that is what they’re paid to do, and Miller’s claim is pointless and moot. If they are not cleaning the stage, then that warrants consideration as a possible solution to an untidy stage before proposing inane ordinances based on generalized claims and little or no evidence or facts.

Meanwhile, other city parks have dog waste dispensers that seem to be ignored by certain people, probably city officials. Will the city council create an ordinance that prohibits the public from using those parks without a permit issued by city government?

In a time of witnessing heart-warming tales of compassion and caring by communities affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire, it is disheartening to see city officials openly and blatantly declare they “do not care” about the people who live in our city. It is obvious that Benson, and even Miller, do not seem genuinely concerned about Manitou Springs and prefer to continue targeting classes of people they find undesirable.

And the Bulletin? It needs to stop serving city government and become its biggest skeptic.