Starting out in this print business 10 years ago, I worked Christmas Day at The Cincinnati Enquirer. Besides the overtime pay, I enjoyed working major holidays because usually there was nothing to do.
On this one day, I remember, I decided to pull the newsroom TVs out their cubbyholes to dust behind them. That prompted the then-reporter who was acting as editor that day — whom I now consider a great mentor and friend — to ask me why I wanted to be a journalist.
“To make an impact,” I said without blinking. He laughed at me.
“I have been doing this for 40 years, and I can count one or two times when anything happened as a result of something I wrote in the newspaper,” he said.
He’s Jewish, and that’s why he worked on Christmas Day. No one else would, he said.
Having written this CityBeat column for a full year now, I’ve been lucky enough to hear quite a few times that readers liked what I wrote. Thank you. The impact? I’m not sure.
Nonetheless, here’s a little of what I liked from 2008, with my eye toward making our city a little better place to be.
• In my first column, “Looking for Help That Helps,” I lamented church groups using Over-the-Rhine’s Washington Park as a food giveaway destination because it doesn’t provide long-term help for those they feed nor does it specifically contribute to the neighborhood’s betterment. The do-gooders responded by inviting me to come along on a feeding excursion, which I did.
Turns out I did understand their impact: No matter how many sandwiches you give away on a Saturday afternoon in Washington Park, people still get hungry at dinner time.
• In March, IKEA opened in West Chester. At the time, streetcar talk was at a fervor. I proposed linking the streetcar-to-nowhere with the Swedish-owned IKEA. Not really, but I wouldn’t be against it if it happened. I think our city is full of well-intentioned people who get defensive if you question anything regardless of intention — in this case the streetcar supporters. Just ’cuz you ask doesn’t mean you oppose. That critical crossroad of ideas and disagreement is where true conversation begins. I fear that’s sometimes what keeps this stubborn region stuck. And I still love IKEA.
• In October I wrote about the decline of journalism in all its forms. Sadly, it’s only gotten worse, and I expect a further decline in 2009. The good part? I recently attended the first meeting of local media executives, retired executives, reporters, editors and other interested parties to talk about how we create a new narrative about our town to include the community. With the decline of traditional journalism and the chasm in our society created in its wake, it’s the perfect time to try to re-invent this wheel.
• I got into politics this year, namely becoming Steve Driehaus’ campaign communications director in July. It was a wonderful, eye-opening experience. In March I suggested that the new-fangled voting systems in place today don’t work. Though Driehaus won his Congressional race, I saw firsthand how convoluted the Election Day system has become. At an Avondale polling place I witnessed election workers giving voters misinformation about when to use provisional voting, advice that ultimately voided their ballots. It was an innocent mistake, I believe, but one that was likely duplicated all across Ohio, if not the nation. Election reform is needed now.
• In September I moved out of my beloved Over-the-Rhine. After experiencing an attempted robbery in front of my house in January, the move seemed overdue. Now I miss the place a lot. In June I found out Kaldi’s Coffeehouse on Main Street had lost its lease, its days as a neighborhood institution numbered. It stayed open longer than anyone expected, but the owners have made the decision to close Dec. 31. It’ll be a sad day.
• “Think the ‘Princess Diana tiara’ that will adorn the planned Great American Insurance Building at Queen City Square looks tacky?,” I wrote in January. “Try a big K-E-N-D-L-E lighting up the nighttime sky. From where else? Atop the beloved Carew Tower.” I didn’t hear much of anything from readers after this column ran, though I’d understood that Cincinnati City Council might not approve Kendle’s plans for the sign. Just recently I heard the opposition has melted away, so keep looking up. Carew Tower is going to get the sign soon, I’m told.
CONTACT JOE WESSELS: firstname.lastname@example.org