As a lapsed Catholic and the son of Deloris Cieslewicz I know a thing or two about guilt and the restorative power of making a good confession. As an alter boy I learned the "Confiteor," with a line that required us to beat our chests as we repeated, "through my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault!"
The "Confiteor" did a lot to hammer home the point about being wrong about stuff and needing to come clean about it when you were. This training has worked wonders in the marriage part of my life, for example.
It also turns out to have application in the blogging part of my life. A week ago I wrote about the Wisconsin State Journal and their coverage, or lack of it, on local issues. (In this context, I'd define local as state, county, city or school board. Anybody can get national or international news from other sources.)
I made some mistakes. So let me go to blogger confession right now.
I committed one mortal and two venial sins. The mortal sin was screwing up my facts. I used an example of what I thought was poor coverage of the Board of Estimates vote on Overture. That would have been great had there actually been a BOE vote on Overture. But I had confused it with the BOE vote that did take place on the Edgewater TIF financing. I wrote too fast without taking a moment to check my facts. It was careless, sloppy and stupid, and it made me look like an idiot, which for many people was not that much of a stretch to begin with.
My first venial sin is venial because it's debatable if it really happened. You could have read my blog to be critical of longtime city beat reporter Dean Mosiman. That's the opposite of what I intended. Dean covered city hall for almost all of the eight years I was in office. He wasn't my friend; he wasn't my enemy. He was and is just a good, hard-working, knowledgeable and honest reporter. I thought I went out of my way to make that point in the blog, but I know some read it differently, and for that I apologize.
My last sin is a little more complicated. I actually did intend to be critical of the State Journal editors for not putting the same resources into covering serious local issues as they do into sports coverage. It's not that I think there should be less sports, especially during what could be a golden age of Wisconsin sports success. It's just that when I count the stories, the local bylines and the amount of each section dedicated to content versus advertising, the sports section comes out a lot stronger than the main news section. And when I look at old newspapers I've saved since my early mayoral days, it seems pretty clear that it used to be better.
But then I got an email or two from State Journal editor John Smalley. He took issue with my blog. I took issue with his taking issue. He took issue back. It became spirited. He offered to buy me a beer if I could get my head out of my ass long enough to drink it. Anyone who knows me knows that a challenge to get my head out of my ass long enough to drink a beer is exactly the kind of challenge that I do not back down from.
So we had a beer or two the other night, and I spilled one on him (it was unintentional, I swear!). His main point was that he believes his newspaper does better than a lot of people give it credit for with the resources it has. I had to admit after he laid out his case and after I had had another beer that he had a point. But it's "with the resources it has" part that continues to be a problem.
The State Journal does have fewer reporters and less space to report the news (at least in the physical newspaper) than it used to have. That's a function of the business end of the operation, where revenues from individual ads have been lost to places like craigslist and where display advertising switched from print to the web commands only a fraction of the price they used to get for it.
So, I get it. But still it's important to keep in mind that a newspaper is not like every other business. These guys aren't selling washers and dryers. The Founders didn't write the First Amendment for the Brothers Main. They wrote it to protect newspapers. That gives them a special obligation to do their jobs even if it isn't always all that profitable.
Look, the State Journal is the only game left in town for daily, straight-ahead news coverage of local events. The Cap Times does some of that on the web and so does Isthmus, but they don't have the resources of the State Journal and they don't generally try to be unbiased. They write from a point of view, which is okay as long as there are other outlets for objective reporting. And the electronic media usually just chases what they find in the morning paper.
So, the Wisconsin State Journal is an important institution in this community. I want it to thrive. I want it to make obscene amounts of money. But then it needs to plow some of that into local news coverage that is worthy of the sports page.
There now. I've confessed. I'll say three Our Fathers and three Hail Mary's and sin no more.