Twice in the past six months, a paid professional has gotten so frustrated they’ve told me I have no business writing about these subjects and should go back to school. The first time an expert in public finance wanted me to go take courses in commercial real estate. Yesterday a local reporter said that my writing is irresponsible and suggested I take journalism classes, preferably more than one.
Writing this blog has offered me a front-row seat on the cataclysmic change in the information business brought on by the internet’s free access to an audience. Anybody with a keyboard can write about anything they want and try to get people to read it. Corporate executives who used to be able to pick up the phone and call the publisher when they didn’t like an editorial direction have no idea what to do with a loose canon like me working as a volunteer.
What gets professionals so upset is the fact that I make mistakes. The day before yesterday I didn’t understand Neyer wasn’t a single entity. Another time, even though I’d been asking questions for months, I misinterpreted how the committee process works at City Hall. I also got the timeline of the Castellini new construction on the Hamilton County Auditor site wrong. Of course my worst goof – the one that left me sitting on the edge of the bed crying – was in a guest editorial I wrote for the Enquirer where I used the term ‘abatement’ when the ordinance involved a Tax Increment Financing project.
Something must be wrong with me. I’m not ashamed.
These are tough, complicated subjects that require working knowledge of a ridiculous range of highly specialized knowledge and I try anyway. From the beginning my sensible husband questioned why I had to be the one to tackle this subject and my answer was, “Who else is there?” Retired, I could afford the risk that is the natural bi-product of questioning the status quo and I was mentally prepared to look like an idiot sometimes.
The independent blog is the perfect vehicle for this type of inquiry. In every single instance I sited above the system worked beautifully. Within minutes of hitting the “publish” button, a better-informed reader came back and told me where I’d gone off-course. That’s what the internet does. It corrects itself through an amazing intelligence that is bigger than any one human being. Wikipedia with its reader-edited content is now a respected source of information. As soon as I got that information, I admitted my mistake and shared what I learned. Immediately. My biggest disappointment is that so many smart readers message me their perspectives behind the scenes rather than posting directly in the comments section when they disagree.
The reason I do what I do on cincyopolis is because we have a problem at City Hall with the integrity of the decision-making process regarding development decisions. These projects involve huge taxpayer subsidies, yet votes are rubber-stamped and should City Council ever question these deals it is considered a vote of no-confidence in the City Manager. There is no place in the process for public input. More and more of these decisions have been moved outside the domain of elected officials to the Port Authority and 3CDC, entities not directly answerable to voters. The Hamilton County Auditor and Cincinnati Public School records both reflect a drastic drop in revenue from commercial properties in the city in the last ten years. As this country focuses daily attention on the growing inequality of wealth between the rich and the rest of us, our community cannot afford to wait for paid professionals to figure out how to fix it.
To limit writing on blogs to the rules and standards established by print media in a different era is a terrible waste of a powerful tool for citizens to educate themselves, share information, and get involved in the process of change. cincyopolis is not the authority on anything. But I promise to stand behind every word I write, be honest about when I’m wrong and admit it. Mistakes are not to be feared, but used to advance a very, very important conversation.