Thursday, June 4, 2009

Are Volunteers Enough to Cover the 'Hoods?

Community Beat got some good press today from Mike Doyle at ChicagoSphere, the new blog-about-blogs at the Trib's just-launched Chicago Now web site. "Community Beat has covered topics you might not find on other community news sites or local blogs," Doyle said, calling it a "great effort." Well, thanks.

Doyle then offers a spirited defense of citizen journalism, which I had "rejected" as "unsustainable and unprofessional" in an email exchange with him. I didn't mean any offense. I just don't think volunteerism is an adequate replacement for professional news gathering, editing and distribution, and it certainly isn't happening on the scale needed to keep communities and cities (and nations) healthy.

Case in point: The CTA on Wednesday released its Screen 3 report on the Red Line Extension Alternatives Analysis Study, which has been analyzing options for high-capacity transit service south of 95th Street. Guess what? After much public input, the CTA recommends a rail extension that snakes west on I-57 and then south along the Union Pacific Railroad through Roseland and all the way to Altgeld Gardens at 130th Street.

You didn't see that in the newspapers? Neither did I. With their staffs gutted, there aren't enough reporters to send to meetings, and I guess those who are left don't have time to check the CTA web site, which is where I found a detailed presentation about the route selection. All I found when searching Google News was a short Sun-Times story saying that a meeting was taking place again tonight (but not telling the news), and a WBEZ piece that at least mentioned the preferred route.

We can't depend on volunteers to provide this type of information, though it would be nice. But community organizations can play a big role here: keeping track of what's happening and sharing it with their residents and neighbors. We've seen it working very well among different New Communities Program lead agencies (LSNA, GAGDC, NWSCDC, TRP) and there's no reason that many more can't get into the game.

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