John K. Hartman
Author of The USA Today Way books
 
 

Driving 89X: Free The Green Revelers

 

By John K. Hartman

 

March 10, 2005

 

            Why must we pick on the Irish in Bowling Green, O.?

            The mayor of Bowling Green is trying to persuade local bar owners not to open at 6 a.m. the morning of St. Patrick’s Day (Thursday March 17) so that green-clad revelers will not get a head start on inebriation and its dangerous by-products.

            It is a well-meaning effort, for sure.

            Limit the window of drunkenness and perhaps fewer Irish and Irish pretenders will be wasted by noon, driving their cars, and committing mayhem on the streets and highways of northwest Ohio.

            Or trashed by twilight. Ditto. Ditto.

            Or mashed by midnight. Ditto. Ditto.

            But why pick on an Irish holiday when other ethic celebrations offer similar disastrous potentials?

            Octoberfests run rampant in the fall in this area. Can you say German beer gardens flowing freely with booze?

            How about various festivals tied to eastern European ancestry that occur annually in Toledo and feature alcohol, perhaps in excess.

            African-Americans and Hispanics have their annual celebrations that can turn folks from sober to tanked, as well.

            Grant you the mayor, whose last name incidentally is Quinn (if that doesn’t scream Irish ancestors I don’t know what does), is not trying to do away with St. Patrick’s Day. He’s just trying to move it to the afternoon and evening in the interest of public safety and promoting less self-inflicted harm done by too much green beer.

            But what would the reaction be if a city official tried to put the kibosh on an African-American festival or a Hispanic gathering.

            The two largest minority groups in the country would not take kindly to it. Their ways would be cramped and their culture unfairly altered by the man. The White Man.

            Protests would follow and officials would back down if they knew what was good for them.

            Just because the Irish have been mainstream in this country for several decades longer than the two above-mentioned ethnic groups does not mean that Irish is no longer a unique cultural distinction.

            So mayor, if Irish and Irish pretenders want to get stupid drunk at 6 in the morning on March 17, let them.

            It is, after all, a free country. That is why most of us are here.

            As for me, I’m only 12.5 per cent Irish. A Killians or two after dark will work for me.

 

Copyright 2005, John K. Hartman. All Rights Reserved.

 

Driving 89X: Bring Back The Gold Coat

 

By John K. Hartman

 

Toledo Free Press, March 17, 2005

 

            I miss the gold coat.

            I miss the swashbuckling, animated figure prowling the sidelines, kicking the chairs, stomping his feet, waving his arms and shouting at the top of his lungs with his hands cupped around his mouth.

            That version of Stan Joplin has been gone for a while replaced by the dark-suited, circumspect, soft-spoken, diplomatic, philosophical Stan Joplin fighting for his job.

            The long knives are out for the dashing head basketball coach of the R-R-R-O-CKETS and the threat of losing his job apparently has caused him to change his ways.

            The critics say he doesn’t win enough games, doesn’t recruit quality student athletes, doesn’t win championships and doesn’t put enough fans in the increasingly antiquated Savage Hall.

            His contract was not extended as it had been in the past. He has one year to go.

            The University of Toledo, his alma mater, had made Stan Joplin a lame duck.

            Now other colleges can say to recruits to avoid UT because its headman is a short-timer. A powerful argument to make to teen-age boys looking for stability.

            The media has been reporting extensively on his shortcomings and his short-leash.

            Joplin temporarily silenced the boo-birds by winning a share of the Mid-American Conference’s Western Division title this year, but his Rockets stumbled to Buffalo in the opening game and finished 16-13 for the season.

Co-championship forgotten. Long knives back in position.

            Here’s why I think Stan Joplin deserves a better fate than the dishonor and humiliation of lame-duck status:

            -- He has built a winning program in spite of playing a tough pre-conference schedule of games on the road against marquee opponents, such as Duke this year.

            -- His teams have always been competitive in the conference.   

-- He has gotten the better of archrival BGSU by a landslide.

            -- Joplin knows that most blue chip recruits are not going to go to Toledo over big-name schools. So he goes after talented players with some issues like low high school grades and behavior challenges. Sometimes he turns these rough edges into shining stones. Sometimes not.

            -- He cares about the Toledo area. He wants to live here and work here. Toledo is having trouble keeping its talented graduates from fleeing the area’s troubled economy. Stan wants to stay!

            What will become of Joplin if UT shows him the door after next season?

            I predict he will become a first assistant at a big-name university in the south or west for a lot more money than he makes now. After three-to-five years, he will be named head coach at another big-name university and be wildly successful.

            There is precedent for this around here. Three decades ago Bowling Green State University showed Don Nehlen the door as head football coach because despite a solidly winning record, he could not win a championship.

            Nehlen then went to work as an assistant for none other than the legendary Bo Schembechler of University of Michigan fame. After a few years of “seasoning,” Nehlen took the head job at West Virginia University and became a big winner and a legend in his own right.

            UT could show Stan the door in a year and receive the same embarrassing fate.

 

(c., 2005, John K. Hartman. All Rights Reserved.) 

 

Driving 89X:  If I could talk to the animals

 

By John K. Hartman

 

Toledo Free Press, April, 2005

 

                I put my reporter’s notebook in my back pocket and headed up the Anthony Wayne Trail in search of wisdom.

            Then that old show tune hit me. Dr. Doolittle singing “If I could talk to the animals, learn their languages …”

            The Toledo Zoo overpass was up ahead, animal pictures decorating it. I can take a hint.

            I pulled in, ditched my North American made Buick Century, waved my notebook at a guard, who looked like she had other things on her mind and would be afraid to talk publicly about them for fear of losing her job anyway, and into the zoo grounds I went.

            It was dark and I went looking for the night watchman. It was right out of Good Night, Gorilla, the lovely children’s book by Peggy Rathmann where some animals follow the watchman home. I was looking to interview them along the way.

I missed that parade but I ran smack into Accusing Alligator, one of several characters straight out of the Sweet Pickles series of children’s classics written by Jacquelyn Reinach and Richard Hefter that I would encounter.

            Accusing had been hired by someone in authority to straighten out the operation.

            Apparently being the No. 1 tourist attraction in Toledo with a stellar reputation was not enough for some folks.

            The Jewel of the Empire of Toledo, the zoo attracts people from all walks of life and from hundreds of miles away. It makes kids to great-grandparents and everybody who has even a passing interest in animals smile, and puts a shiny face on a city and region that have been taking their economic, social and image lumps.

            I called on Clever Camel. He tried to take the high road but he bent down a bit to say: “It’s like this, scribe, hey, hey. Our doctor, Dr. Tim, does not kowtow to the powers that be. He does what is right for us, the animals.”

            Worried Walrus, nearby, hollered, “So some things were not being done right. So, so, so Dr. Tim called in the governmental authorities, the people who license us, to investigate.”

            Loving Lion chimed in, “The inspectors came in and did a ROARING good job of proving Dr. Tim right and the big bosses wrong.”

            “But the law of the jungle,” said Responsible Rabbit, “says that thou shalt not takest on the Mightiest of the Front Office unless you can finish the job.”

            Outraged Octopus barged in to have his say: “Well, the Mightiest do not take lightly to disloyalty. They would rather have people who are loyal than people who are right. They don’t want any trouble. Got to keep the squeaky clean image. So we lose an animal or two. Casualties of war, the war against the disloyal.”

            It was a parade after all, and Fearless Fish said, “The Mightiest don’t want their perks examined so they want no dissent that might lead to an inquiry that might lead to their excesses revealed. Big salaries. Big benefits. Big travel expenses. And elitist cars to drive to wine and cheese parties. Would not be caught dead in a Toledo-made Jeep.”

            Moody Moose jumped in: “Now this place is in an uproar. We animals are behaving in a civilized manner. We don’t need cages. We could feed ourselves. But the humans are going wild around here with accusations, recriminations and machinations. I’m about ready to shoot them full of animal tranquilizers.”

            “We do not want people coming to Toledo primarily for the art museum, or COSI, or The Mud Hens or a walk in the park, we want them to come to visit us first. Then elsewhere,” Jealous Jackal added.

            “Wait a minute!” I shouted. “I haven’t even had time to ask a question!”

            “And you won’t,” Enormous Elephant thundered. “We are ejecting Accusing Alligator from the premises tonight because he was just sent here to stir up trouble and try to force Dr. Tim to quit. Let me put it in words you understand: If Dr. Tim goes, we go.”

            Accusing Alligator got the hint and fled the grounds. Then the animals paraded to the Amphitheater and chanted, “Dr. Tim, Dr. Tim, Dr. Tim.”

            I had some more questions, but they left me standing alone. Next time I’ll ask them if Carty should run for mayor.

(c., 2005, John K. Hartman. All Rights Reserved.) 

           

Driving 89X: I’ve got a closed mind on open forums

 

By John K. Hartman

 

Toledo Free Press, April 2005

 

                Open forum.

            Town meeting.

            Public hearing.

            These are the techniques that the ruling class uses to find out what we, the people, are thinking.

            What gets me stirred up is that more often than not they wind up being gimmicks that enable the powers that be to become even more powerful, sometimes at we the people’s expense.

            I first became intimately familiar with the concept a decade ago when Central Michigan University, where I am a journalism professor, had a president I did not like because he had other priorities besides students and professors. Call me an old fogy if you must but I think public universities should spend their money on educating students. If there is any money left, then football and frivolity.

            Consider the University of Toledo. It is strapped financially with flat to declining enrollment. But the April 12 Toledo Blade reported that UT had $250,000 lying around to remodel the vice president of finance’s office. Easy to understand why some UT faculty are flabbergasted.

            Anyway, that CMU president, whose name I have intentionally forgotten, used to hold well-advertised open forums. Anyone could attend and ask him questions. Sounded nice. His minions were there to write down people’s concerns, but not to deal with them so much as to figure out a way to get around them later with a plausible explanation.

            The current CMU president is an improvement. He cares somewhat about students and faculty in contrast to his predecessor, yet he has maintained the open forum “tradition.” Last summer I took my reporting class, prepped to ask sharp questions, to an open forum. A student asked why the president had cancelled the Speakers Series. First, the president said it was a budget cut. Then he said it was replaced by a storytellers’ conference. Later he told a student journalist in private that the Speakers Series brought in too many liberal speakers. In other words, the real reason was kept from public view.

            On April 11 I did what a good citizen should do. I attended open sessions held by two prominent northwest Ohio politicians.

            In the afternoon at the lovely historic Grand Rapids Town Hall, I attended U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor’s Town Meeting. It was one of four sessions held in towns in Gillmor’s 16-county district of 600,000-plus people.

            About fifty people attended of which about 25 were not staffers, public officials or reporters.

            Gillmor was 19 minutes late to the session scheduled to begin at 3:30 and last one hour. He talked for 13 minutes before taking questions. 36 minutes later he exited, having to catch a plane. The public got 60 percent of the time it was promised to question him.

            Most of the questions were softballs (easy) and Gillmor breezed through them. Nobody asked whether or not he supported beleaguered House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. I was going to, but deferred to citizens with personal concerns about retirement benefits and medical insurance.

Gillmor waxed unchallenged about the wisdom of offering private accounts to younger Social Security participants. He described how the stock market pays better than savings certificates over time, omitting the stock market crash of 1929 and big drops in 1987 and 2000.

If Gillmor had stayed the full hour, I think I could have gotten in my question.

            His aids furiously took notes. Re-election requires staying on top of the issues and finding clever ways to finesse them.

            Asked about blocking factory farms in Wood County, Gillmor offered no help, saying it was a state issue. A plausible way to avoid a controversial question, no doubt anticipated.

            That evening I journeyed to the fifth floor conference room of the Wood County Office Building in Bowling Green. State Sen. Randy Gardner, who represents 330,000 folks in northwest Ohio, was holding a public hearing on state budget issues. The state is $5 billion or so short and libraries, public schools, public colleges and universities, and health agencies among others are screaming about projected draconian cuts. The leaders of these local agencies went through the same humiliating squeeze two years ago.

            It started 5 minutes late, but Gardner made very brief remarks before throwing it open to the public. Unlike Gillmor, Gardner gave the public the full amount of time, 90 minutes, that was advertised.

            About 30 people attended, two thirds of whom were public officials. The 10 or so of us from the public got to ask our questions, make our statements early on and the public officials largely took over for the middle and end of the session.

            Gardner stated that he supported a 21 percent cut in the state income tax because he believed it would help stimulate the state’s lagging economy.

            I asked him if he was sure the tax cut would have a stimulus effect because the state had been cutting the tax most years and the economy has been slumping since 2000.

            Gardner said he was not sure the income tax had been cut all that much and he was supporting the bigger cut regardless. Plausible answer, no doubt anticipated.

            The next day, the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune carried a front page article about the public hearing. A color picture 6 inches wide and 5 ½ inches high was published in the top half of the page of Gardner nattily dressed in a dark suit and colorful tie.

            Below the fold were pictures of three constituents, including me. Mine was about one-sixth the size of Gardner’s, 3 inches wide and 2 inches high. My checked shirt shows up nicely as does the pen I was holding pointing at my oversized ear.

            The account portrayed Gardner as a good-listener legislator, lack of support for education, libraries and health care notwithstanding.

            Forum, meeting, hearing. Sincere efforts to listen or clever fooling of the public. You decide.

 

(c., 2005, John K. Hartman. All Rights Reserved.) 

 
 

John K. Hartman is a professor of journalism at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.  He is the author of two books, "The USA Today Way 2: The Future" (2000) and "The USA Today Way" (1992).  He has examined much of the research done on young adult newspaper readership and is a widely quoted source on the topic.  Jacqueline Hartman provided editing assistance to the author.

In August 2008 Dr. Hartman covered and blogged the Democratic National Convention for the Mount Pleasant, Mich., Morning Sun. In 2008 Dr. Hartman was named the Al-Jazirah Newspaper Chair for International Journalism at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and visited the kingdom to lecture, teach and give seminars. He is scheduled to return in 2009. To learn more about King Saud University, visit jrc.ksu.edu.sa/en

Copyright © 2009, John K. Hartman.  All Rights Reserved.
John.Hartman@dacor.net