I’m not proud of this.
I wrote a blog post for TheBurg’s website, a Patriot-News reporter took offense and off we went. One-hundred-forty characters at a time, which is no way to have a civilized, much less a thorough, discussion.
In fact, after a few tweets, I abandoned the argument because of the simple futility, maybe even the silliness, of it all. And, besides, I had a magazine to run and stories to edit, and the day, like most days, was flying past.
Fortunately, there still are other ways to make a point, such as good old ink-on-paper, an ages-old technology that frees me from the tyranny of having to cram complex ideas into 20-word posts.
What I most wanted to say was this: When I write a column or assign a story or make any decision, my general philosophy is that I try to do right by Harrisburg.
Now, I certainly understand that my idea of what’s best for Harrisburg may not be another’s person’s idea of what’s best for Harrisburg—and I don’t mean to sound presumptuous or paternalistic.
But TheBurg, from the start, was never meant to be a traditional newspaper. It was designed to try to reflect how life actually is lived here on a daily basis and, if it can, encourage positive change to make things a little better.
My journalism professors at the University of Missouri are probably rolling their eyes (or, for several of them, in their graves) at that approach. Twenty years ago, “objectivity” was taught, and reporters were trained to be little more than flies on the wall, a reporting method I tried to follow early in my career.
However, as I got older, bought a house and became invested in a close-knit urban neighborhood, I came to understand the role that a newspaper could play in tying together a community, helping to give it a sense of place and purpose. To do so, though, the fly on the wall had to be squished in favor of greater advocacy for my community.
Which gets me back to my fracas with the Patriot-News reporter.
In my blog post, I criticized PennLive because I believe it often feeds the melodrama in this already melodramatic city, to no one’s benefit.
He thought I was criticizing a colleague for her reporting on Harrisburg and expressed outrage for it. That was not my intention. Like a lot of people, for me, the name “PennLive” has come to mean the totality of that website, including, in large part, the often-inflammatory, even noxious, reader comments, which frequently eclipse the stories themselves. The comments, in my opinion, add little productive to the conversation, often serving as a forum to flog Harrisburg, perpetuating prejudices, untruths and preconceived notions.
As for the Patriot-News’ reporting—sometimes, I think it’s excellent, sometimes, I don’t. But that’s the nature of any newspaper.
Similarly, I was critical last month of the re-entry/re-re-entry of Controller Dan Miller into the city’s mayoral race. My reasoning was much the same.
I did not see Miller’s weeklong cat-and-mouse game over whether he’d run as helpful to Harrisburg. I saw it as a stage-crafted spectacle that made the city look petty and ridiculous.
I personally don’t understand how such a long-term, philosophically dedicated Democrat like Miller can run under the GOP label, but that’s his business. I only wish he’d made his decision with greater sensitivity to how his very public actions impacted this much-maligned city.
In that same vein, TheBurg recently has been critical of many city politicians, including Mayor Linda Thompson for her own vacuous, misleading press conference, former Mayor Steve Reed for the embarrassing spectacle of the Wild West artifact auction and mayoral candidate Eric Papenfuse for his refusal to candidly discuss challenges to the mayoral petitions of his opponents.
Going forward, I plan to continue to use my best judgment to advocate for Harrisburg and push for positive change. I don’t expect to always be right or that everyone will always agree with me. But, as I run this community magazine on a day-to-day basis, that’s my guiding principle, unchanged from the beginning.
Lawrance Binda is editor-in-chief of TheBurg.