I live in Rockford, Illinois. We have some world-class restaurateurs. Every day they set their tables and train their staff of local workers and buy perishable produce, meats, and seafood to serve customers. They prepare wonderful dishes and advertise their fare in local media. All of that is good for the local economy.
That being the case, I can’t help but wonder why the Sunday edition of the local daily newspaper, the Rockford Register Star, has a front page article under a “Your Community” banner with the headline “Have fork, will travel.” It refers readers to an article on the front page of Section C which tells readers to “Grab your keys and eat.”
The article features a stylized map highlighting Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago and citing restaurants in those cities. It includes a sidebar listing of restaurants “within a 60 minute drive” of Rockford and sends locals to restaurants in Sycamore and Harvard and into Wisconsin to restaurants in Janesville, Lake Geneva, and Beloit.
I know writers and editors at the paper, the Rockford Register Star, and I know we’ve been blessed with world-class journalistic talent in the newsroom. The writers and editors are both smart and compassionate. They know how much the people of Rockford are suffering from joblessness, and I don’t believe any of them would deliberately do anything to make matters worse here for our local job-creators and our local workers.
I also know some of Rockford’s world-class restaurateurs and the long hours they work, the challenges they face, the investment risks they take, and the discouragement they feel when the food they bought perishes because customers didn’t show up to enjoy it.
I wonder how those restaurateurs feel when they see the local paper directing their would-be customers to other cities, especially after they have been trying to draw customers in by advertising in the same paper that is now telling their customers to go elsewhere, and especially when they have been supporting charities and contributing tax dollars to the community the paper serves. It’s akin to the dismay I feel during the holidays when trite articles appear telling readers how to avoid the holiday rush at local stores ‘” articles running right next to ads by local merchants trying desperately to draw customers into their stores where local jobs are created and sales taxes go to support local public services.
As a journalist by degree and experience, I’m disappointed by much of what I see happening in the world of newspapers, a world in which papers are run by bean counters and lawyers instead of being run by journalists. Like so many other newspapers now owned by chains, the Rockford Register Star has suffered draconian staff cuts dictated by those bean counters and lawyers who show no grasp of the sacred role played by local newspapers in fostering prosperity and sustaining liberty, who have no goal but maximizing their profits and to hell with anything but token concern for the communities where their papers are located and from which they drain profits to central coffers.
It’s a sad time for real journalists who see their papers reduced to a shadow of their former selves. Staff cuts preclude covering significant and important local stories. Stories are gutted of substance and reduced to mere blurbs while column after column in the paper is filled with boilerplate pap. Local copy editors are replaced by consolidated copy desks at central offices in distant cities with copy editors who know nothing of the local community and who lack experience needed to safeguard factual accuracy or beef up local coverage with knowledge acquired through years of living with eyes and ears open to what’s happening on the streets and in government in the local community
Journalists, real journalists, agonize while bean counters and lawyers preside over the closing of newspapers that were profitable, with profits enough to pay their own way and serve their communities, but which were not profitable enough for the Wall Street parasites who call the shots, the same people whom Harry Truman dubbed “the wrecking crew” because of their disdain for the public interest and their pursuit of personal profit while they destroyed America’s railroads.
Restaurateurs who are outraged at the thoughtlessness and even betrayal on Sunday’s front page should take heart in knowing that the price of gasoline militates against travel to distant eateries and makes our home-grown, neighborhood restaurants both dining treats and a bargain. That might even be a story the local paper could feature. Sunday’s front page flub is just another example of what happens when bean counters and lawyers run the show, as they are doing in medicine, education, business, religion, and government today. Their plutocratic mindset has spawned an increasingly dehumanized and dehumanizing corporate culture that lives up to, or down to, the definition of a corporation: a body without a heart and without a soul. Maybe we need another citizen revolt to address and redress that culture wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head, starting here, starting now.