Sunday, September 12, 2010

Off-the-beaten-path Public Meetings

I'm all upset about Hydrofracking. I've been promoting a trailer for the movie Gasland in Facebook status updates and in my blog for a few weeks now. This week I spoke to a woman who was approached by a gas company that wanted to buy her mineral rights for $50 an acre. She didn't go for it but several of her neighbors did.

Hydrofracking is a dangerous process. I ruins land and water. It isn't fair. Big corporations are taking advantage of farmers and innocent people. That's what bothers me the most, I guess. The way in which people are being ripped off and mislead and the way in which journalism seems broken in our state and unable to protect people from being used in such situations.

When I was a newspaper reporter, one of my favorite things to do was to attend some way-off-the-beaten-track public meeting about something really important -- some meeting where you would never see television news or even radio -- the sort of public meeting turf where only paper newspaper reporters tred. Loved those nights. I'd trade my one-on-one-close-up-and-on-the-couch-45-minute interview with Bobby Kennedy, Jr. for a super important and underexposed back woods public meeting any day. And in addition to being extremely handsome, Bobby has tons of good and important things to say about the envornment and suggestions for how we can protect it (campaign finance reform being at the top of the list!). I just never felt democracy at work as strongly as when I attended those off-the-beaten-path meetings where important decisions were being made. It was important to witness and report. I knew it mattered.

I miss those meetings not only because I don't cover them anymore -- but because nobody does. With the state of journalism in Michigan today, those extremely important meetings are really not covered.

I fear for the consequences this will have on our state -- especially the cost to our environment. City hall and school board meetings will still be available on public access stations in many cases. Concerned people will have to seek out those meetings. But at least there is a tool in place for finding out what's going on. It's the smaller meetings -- township government, zoning boards of appeals... that really don't get much coverage at all now.

It's really frightening to me.

Maybe we should start using social media to cover meetings and keep each other informed. I don't know what the answer is. But I see the problem and it's big.

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