March 29, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • Hartford • 1:30 AM EST
At the risk of damaging my personal freelance writing career, but for my property tax pride, I can’t let this one sit. This is one place where Mayor Eddie Perez and I agree.
Perez and I bumped into each other Saturday in front of City Hall at the St. Patrick’s Day parade. He was jovial (everyone is friends on St. Patrick’s Day), putting his arm around me, squeezing me tight, asking me why I never write anything positive about the city.
UPDATE 3-30-07: Dan D'Ambrosio is no rookie, who sources tell me is a seasoned environmental reporter. D'Ambrosio apparently spent time in the hallowed Waterbury train station, aka the Republican, where I cut my teeth as a cub reporter.
D'Ambrosio followed up this week with a strong effort about the MDC's sewage project. It's worth a read, and the lead really puts 1 billion gallons of raw flushes into perspective.
Everyone makes mistakes, and when we do, constructive criticism is vital to learning. It has made me a better writer and reporter, and it's not as if my actions as a journalist haven't come under severe scrutiny lately.
And Mayor, I said, the free press must remain respectfully adversarial. The Fourth Estate acts as a watchdog on government. If not, we end up at the Scooter Libby trial, where politicians and journalists consummate a marriage of unethical privilege.
Newsgathering provides a vital service in a civil society: Journalists inform citizens about how elected officials represent their interests. If politicians fail those ends, the reporter must say so.
Perez pressed me to write something nice about the huge kids fair going on in the balloon-festooned City Hall that morning. Sorry, Mayor, good idea, but not newsworthy for my column.
But, I said, I’ll agree with you on this one: I would never, ever have run the cover headline that the Hartford Advocate did last week that asked “Why is Hartford a Dump?” At best an unfair editorialization, at worst a psychological projection.
I expected a provocative story outlining why Hartford is a hellhole, followed by a solid explanation as to why I should put my condo on the market now. I was ready to be convinced I don’t want to live in this disease infested rat’s nest.
Instead, I found a pretty straightforward news piece that focused on the 40 or so abandoned lots in Hartford that suffer from illegal dumping – everything from headless voodoo chickens to engine oil to asbestos, and the problems faced by state and city environmental agencies trying to clean up these messes.
Staff writer Daniel D’Ambrosio – apparently a new hire (any bets on how long he stays around the Tribune Company’s morass?) - talked to all the right players in the environmental circles. Although D’Ambrosio made the rookie mistake of relying the same source - Dr. Mark Mitchell - for quotes in two different stories in the same issue – the other on diesel emissions from school busses.
One other small critique, too, for a piece of alternative journalism, it would have been cool if a) he staked out such a lot, spied an illegal dumper and tried to interview them and b) he included some compendium of solutions included as part of the discussion like community-based litter patrols to legislation like mandatory product takebacks for refrigerators, air conditioners, cars, etc.
But as I’m writing this, I realize I should be rejoicing that the Advocate actually ran a local news cover. It has been months, and Mom always said don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Yet if that gift horse is beheaded and in my bed, I will complain. The cover headline “Why is Hartford a Dump?” – writ large in 72-point green type and accompanied by an illustration of a chicken head - heaps unnecessary scorn on the city, and misleads the audience.
Linguistically, it is related by degrees to the story, but other, less prejudicial headlines would have been more journalistically sound. I’ll let Editor Alistair Highet meditate on different titles on his daily commute to Hartford from Litchfield County.
Whether or not Mr. Highet wrote the headline, he approved it. When I saw it, I thought, gosh, someone at that paper really doesn’t like this city. Based on Mr. Highet’s oeuvre of columns, it is a fair conclusion he is not fond of Connecticut’s Capital.
So Mr. Highet, please, if you don’t like the city, if you loath driving into the South End every day, and you don’t like the marvelous view of Colt Park and downtown skyline from your desk on Wawarme Avenue – then leave.
Not that the Tribune will replace you with anyone more visionary or loving, but some of us who live here – even those of us who have been treated roughly by our fair sister - actually love this hallowed ground, and we want to see it improve. We want solutions, not contempt.
And this is where I agree with the Mayor: sometimes an unthinking press can hurt civic pride. It was irresponsible to paint an entire community as a trash can in such direct terms because of one problem, which is directly related to poverty and larger waste management policy issues.
I know by openly criticizing management, I am probably discarding any possibility of ever getting a freelance cover in the Hartford Advocate, where I used to work. Lately, I have been freelancing pieces for subling papers the New Haven Advocate and the Fairfield County Weekly, and with any luck, a cover story that I write might be run in all three.
But if Eddie Perez can give me a hug after all I’ve written about him, ink stained wretches must be able to take constructive criticism from their peers. So Mr. Highet, remember, no one is keeping you here.