By Brandi Makuski
This week’s editorial was supposed to encompass a lengthy postmortem on the Park Ridge Fire Department issue. After all, there’s a lot to unpack: This news outlet has published dozens of stories on the changes and progress (or lack thereof) since 2015.
And although Park Ridge is a tiny municipality comprising about 500 residents, closing its fire department, even temporarily, impacts every other fire department in the county, as well as the Portage Co. dispatch center. And that’s just for the short-term agreement that’s already been signed.
Because of Metro Wire’s presence in the community, we knew about most of the moving parts a number of years ago. Firefighters across the county have been more than happy to talk about the issue. That’s a good thing because, with only a few exceptions, village leaders have a poor record of answering some of the harder questions.
Because of Metro Wire’s presence in the community, our staff has given readers a front seat to the entire saga over the past eight years—more insight, more sources, and more information, than any other news outlet in Portage Co.
Our subscribers are well aware of this, and it’s only because of subscriber support that any of this was possible, although in recent days you’ve seen another news outlet scramble to report the information after the fact. So, a heartfelt thank you to those of you who subscribe.
But instead, this week’s editorial is a public response to some social media shenanigans. Although this reporter has little but disdain for Facebook, this time an issue has been raised by a local elected official, and it’s gained some traction, so I’m donning my waders for a stroll in the sewer.
On June 27, County Board Supervisor Bob Gifford of District 10 (ironically, he represents Park Ridge), who also goes by “Bobby G” or “Bobby Gee,” emailed us the following message, which he also placed on several group pages
on Facebook in fantasyland:
For the record, our entire staff—Denise Jaskie, Dan Blumenstein, Brad Makuski, Patrick Lynn, Luke Carptener, Jr., and I, are all okay with calling out fascism and Nazis—although more often than not those terms are used incorrectly, particularly on social media.
But yes, we did block you from commenting, sir. We told you this in March, accompanied by our social media comment policy.
You didn’t tell your Facebook followers that part, did you?
Our social media comment policy clearly states an elected official must disclose their office, and that we don’t permit “sockpuppets,” or users with fake names/profiles. Our policy was crafted after extensive consultation with other independent news outlets across the nation, as well as our trade organization, LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers.
Sure, sometimes we’re a bit slow to act on the policy. We publish the policy on our social media page (and repost it regularly) and our website, and we don’t really have time to babysit, Mr. Gifford. We’re too busy covering…well, you and your cohorts on the county board, as well as other municipal government matters (and, by the way, anytime you folks want to stop horsing around and focus on fixing the jail, create programs that actually address recidivism rates in drug court, and make a move on a new justice center, we’d all be grateful).
We believe adults can hold themselves accountable, and not blame others when their own actions fall short. However, when we get complaints similar to what Mr. Gifford has posted, we invite each complainant to pen an open letter with their concerns (as we did in the reply below). We welcome criticism, provided it’s relevant and intelligent. We’ve published cutting letters before, and will again.
Though we didn’t know it at the time, Mr. Gifford also plastered the same message, or some version of it, on a number of group pages; but without our response, and without any real context.
So, here’s our reply:
This reporter is well known for her tenacity. It’s no secret that I’m a skeptic and I ask a lot of questions, some more annoying or prying than others. Not to be rude or accusatory, but to get to the root of an issue, and to prepare for a reader to ask the same. That’s the job.
One result of that tenacity is a healthy and trusted line of communication between this newsroom and local officials—chiefs, department heads, most electeds, and many business owners in our community of all colors, backgrounds, and political persuasions, and religions. It’s a tenacity that is sometimes confused, thanks to the declining standards of the marauding ghouls on social media, as bias. However, if our reporting was inaccurate, incomplete, or biased, we wouldn’t have any of those sources or long-term relationships.
This is reflected in the numerous exclusive stories we’ve brought you—113 exclusive stories to date in 2022 alone. Our stories are also regularly picked up by other news outlets; local police and fire chiefs know that they should expect phone calls from other news outlets, because other reporters are watching our website, too.
But I’m sorry Mr. Gifford, we don’t have time for a streetfight after study hall, nor can we see the purpose behind doing so. And, unlike you, we do not hide behind fake social media profiles. We live, eat, and breathe journalism, standards training, webinars on news industry trends, professional development on interviewing skills, and discussions on ethics, bias, perception, and constant training on how to cover the worst-case scenarios that our community could face. It’s a constant cycle to be the best we can be. Because there are fewer trained journalists serving Portage Co. than at any point in modern history (for these purposes, we’ll say 30-ish years), this isn’t just a job. It’s a lifestyle.
Since Mr. Gifford was elected to the county board in 2016, he has been a vocal supporter of the Park Ridge Fire Department. It is unfortunate that he did not step forward to publicly offer guidance to the new trustees. With Mr. Gifford’s knowledge of how intertwined departments across the county are, village trustees could have made a quicker decision; or possibly sought a more comprehensive study instead of one that offers almost no information for a long-term solution, as opposed to the agonizing, slow pull of the bandaid that firefighters, and newsreaders, across the county, had to endure.
Also, Mr. Gifford, we’d encourage you to touch base with local law enforcement to hear a bit more about the effects of divisiveness and a lack of mental health resources in our communities, then ask yourself: isn’t the one-sided haranguing on social media, in part, to blame for many of our problems today? And shouldn’t a community leader like yourself be working to unite, as opposed to dividing, our community?
In closing, we hope Mr. Gifford (and everyone else) read our social media comment policy. And we hope he pens an open letter with his concerns, instead of a one-sided bullying session in places where the other side has no time or hope of defending themselves.
But this time, sir, use your real name.
P.S. Nice try, sir. The Metro Wire is not a partisan newsroom. So while you may see it on our opinion page, you won’t find progressive, conservative, or any political slant in the news reported here. Also, we’re not just online.
So can we get back to the news now?