You’re probably aware at this point that there hasn’t been much going on around here at Citizens’ Call. Hardly anything. So after plenty of stewing and ruminating, it’s time to come clean.
The message here is about change, both journalistically and personally. My drive to generate local news stories on a regular basis has been depleting like tap water from a badly leaking faucet – relentlessly and rather dramatically. Kind of like a wildcat strike (what the heck, another metaphor) that engulfs production. The resistance to regular work routines by management and workers – that would be me on both counts – has been fierce and, by all accounts, thoroughly successful. So something had to give.
Things really crystallized by the end of the year when Bill Cosby showed up for his initial court date. With Elkins Park being trumpeted as ground zero in stories blanketing the globe, where was Citizens’ Call? Carrying groceries, if you really want to know. Not that pitching in more on the grocery shopping is high on my bucket list, but it does speak in a way to the personal upside of what comes next.
I’ll be moving on in a new rhythm. Released from the chains of lining up stories for every tomorrow or fretting about my Google Analytics will definitely bring a new spring to my step. Fewer meetings, free evenings, more cooking, more pleasure reading. Vacations without the specter of the next story hanging over my head. Pursuing old interests (there’s already a growing chorus of “please, anything but that!” when it comes to picking up my trombone) and finding new ones. You get the picture, the jewels of retirement. Except for one thing: I don’t exactly want to retire. And that’s where things get a little confused and, no doubt, why it’s taken so long to crank this out and talk about the future of Citizens’ Call.
It’s not going away entirely, but if you’re an email subscriber, don’t expect to start finding it again in your mailbox every morning. Still, I don’t know what’s next, although, clearly, there are some big issues for Cheltenham (beside the day-to-day news that will be largely left to someone else) that will continue to cry out for coverage. Major development projects and comprehensive zoning changes; possible new ownership/management of the township sewer system; addressing the “achievement gap” in the public schools; flood protection; periodic looks at the local housing market; a fair role for non-profits in contributing to the local public purse – just to name a few.
There are also a range of broader issues that I’m passionate about, which seem worthy of attention. Voting rights and election administration, campaign finance reform, aspects of the local criminal justice system and a whole lot more. Focusing on those kinds of themes might well transform Citizens’ Call from a local news site into a blog, or involve projects outside of either format. In any of those other scenarios, its function would be very different and its routine community service role changed and, most likely, diminished.
For the most part, it’s been a great ride. I’ve met so many people who I now consider friends who I probably wouldn’t know at all if it weren’t for covering all those meetings and events. And I’d like to think that Citizens’ Call opened up some eyes to the possibilities for local journalism. We’ve tried to fill a piece of the growing gap between what the mainstream media delivers in this age of diminished possibilities for local news (especially for suburban communities and those of Cheltenham Township’s size) and what vibrant democracy demands. Of course, you can’t separate the role of the press from its underlying economics in a digital world. The lack of impetus on the business side is certainly a factor driving this change. We needed to be bigger and take on a larger presence, which didn’t happen for a variety of reasons.
It will be interesting to see how the local media scene evolves. Will the restructuring of Philadelphia Media Network (The Inquirer, The Daily News and philly.com) to facilitate charitable giving for news coverage represent things to come? Will Digital First Media, the parent company of Montgomery News (the string of suburban media outlets in these parts owned by a NYC hedge fund) finally be sold off, and, if so, what will take its place? Like any concerned citizen, I will be following how the media landscape takes shape and what it will mean for our communities. In some way, I expect to stay a part of what goes on.
Thanks to all who have supported Citizens’ Call – contributors, email subscribers, readers, commenters – for your enthusiasm and encouragement. Hopefully, you’ve gained information or considered perspectives you found valuable, but even if we left you gnashing your teeth more times than you care to remember, it’s been a privilege to be of service and a part of such a dynamic community. See you around town.