Don't shoot the messenger!
Perhaps that's not an officially sanctioned axiom of journalism, But I'll wager every reporter can cite numerous examples in which his or her story has been blamed as the reason for the controversy they're writing about. Or that we're writing about things that are still "preliminary." Add to that the ability of readers to immediately comment on a story, and you have the opportunity for some noses to get seriously out of joint.
Two weeks ago, we changed the way we allow readers to comment on stories. You now have to have a Facebook account, and your comments also will be posted on your Facebook page. In short, no more anonymous posting. That doesn't mean they have to be shy about sharing their opinions -- or that the recipients of our posters' ire might not take offense at what the commenters say.
A sterling example of this occurred in the aftermath of a meeting of the Carol Stream village and park boards, held principally to discuss the cost and who would pay what for signage needed at the entrance to the Town Center that also would direct patrons to the park district's new rec center -- alterations that by one estimate was approaching a cost of $500,000. In that meeting, there also were brief discussions on whether the name of longtime former Mayor Ross Ferraro should be removed from the sign.
Reporter Chris Placek wrote about the discussions over signage, but also later followed up on the prospect of Ferraro perhaps losing a little prominence in the sign discussions. He called Ferraro, now 70 and living in Las Vegas, to see what he thought of possibly being diminished in local history. Not surprisingly, he was offended.
"I always believed when you dedicate something to a person, you do not undedicate it," he told Placek.
Placek posed an online question at the end of his story: How did readers feel about Ferraro's name possibly being dropped from the sign? Quite a few people didn't mince words: Terrible idea. An insult to the man who helped build Carol Stream. Why not take the names off everything that's named after someone, including Carol Stream (named for the daughter of developer Jay Stream who built most of the town)? What is the park district thinking? In fact, the anti-park district tone might have prompted Director Arnie Biondo to weigh in. He blamed the messenger.
"How unfortunate that this article misrepresents what really is going on; misrepresents the good working relationship of the two boards; and, causes friends and neighbors to post unwarranted criticism of good-hearted elected officials." He concluded with: "This was the FIRST joint meeting to look at the design ... not the final meeting!"
This past week the village board voted 4-1 not to take Ferraro's name off the Town Center sign and to let the park district devise its own sign for the rec center.
But before that decision, park board President Brenda Gramann took a shot at the messenger. Placek's article was "misleading at best" and it led to "nasty" remarks throughout the village. She also pointed out no decisions were made during that initial meeting, which was only a "preliminary discussion" on the sign designs. "I know Ross Ferraro and I would not want to hurt his feelings," she said. "The way he was informed was premature."
Would it have been better to inform Ferraro after the decision was made to move his marker to another part of the Town Center? Who's to say whether it ever would have come to that? And who's to say whether our coverage that spawned the public backlash might have prompted the park district to back off? There's a lot more nuance to this story than time or space permits me here, so I leave you with this thought: We don't really have an ax to grind in the local issues we cover, so, please, don't shoot the messenger.