|Bethlehem City Council candidates|
Matt McKernan and Michael Colón
Most of the players in this crowd were the usual suspects. The urbanistas who think that the answer to everything is more bicycles. But there were young people I never saw before in my life, including numerous minorities. Whether they were forced to go as a result of some professor's demand, or came on their own, is unclear. But their message clashed sharply with the faux liberals who came in Volvos and Prius'. They're more concerned about getting by than getting by in a bike lane. They notice, and resent, the de facto segregation in our schools and that comes from redevelopment projects like the Allentown NIZ.
Few elected or public officials bothered to show. Lehigh County Exec Tom Muller and Easton Mayor Sal Panto were the most notable officials, along with Bethlehem Planning Director Darlene Heller. Muller came in quietly and went to work, while Panto treated it like a campaign event, glad-handing as many people as he could. Panto left soon after a video that showed him was played. Muller stayed.
Bethlehem City Council candidates Matt McKernan and Michael Colón were there, too.
This symposium split into five different groups. Alan Jennings, Roger Hudak and The Bethlehem Press' Paul Willistein were stuck with my group, which was fairly large.
The Lehigh Valley's Chief Problems and Successes
People in my group complained about the socio-economic divide in Allentown, where the rich get richer and the poor get shoved out; an un-responsive Bethlehem City government that seems to be out of touch; warehouses; "New Jersey's Affordable Housing Program" (Jennings); sprawl; segregated and disparate public schools; the talent drain of young people leaving the Lehigh Valley; police officers who need better training; the need for better mass transit with more north and south routes; and a need for more regionalization of municipal services in a region with 62 municipalities, 48 police chiefs and 17 school districts.
They had positive things to say, too, mostly about Bethlehem. The casino, Musikfest, Moravian heritage and St. Luke's Hospital, which is actually located in Fountain Hill, were mentioned as positives. The Lehigh Valley was described as a "great place to raise kids."
Is the Media Doing Its Job?
The reason that blogs came up is because Harris Sokoloff, our moderator, asked whether the"media" is doing a good job of covering local issues. One person who works at PBS-39 actually admitted he reads no newspapers or blogs. he later said he has read mine and pretty much disagrees with me. He gets his information by watching The Young Turks and Democracy Now. An older gentleman who lives in Easton's College Hill, relies exclusively on print media because the journalists there actually do research before writing stories, unlike people like me.
Everyone lamented the absence of old-fashioned investigative reporters
If people aren't interested in local news, why are they so interested in sports stories, asked Sokoloff. Several people claimed that's different, and this is where I chimed in.
The media is not doing its job. The Express Times, which helped sponsor this event, has just gone through another round of layoffs and has lost some good people again. That paper, along with The Morning Call, is increasingly absent from local meetings. Reporters instead rely on news releases. So when people stop following these news sources, it's because they no longer are doing their jobs.
You can see that pretty clearly in a recent Morning Call story about airport traffic, which basically regurgitates information provided by airport officials who are mostly interested in keeping their jobs. (My story about that is below this one).
I also detest the notion that a report is somehow inaccurate unless it is "objective." There is no such thing. That's why I like sports news writers. They can tell you the Eagles or Phillies really suck and then give you all the hard data. Could you imagine any good sportswriter who tries to cover a game like a local township meeting?
Print media is dead, and the new journalism is going to be in the form of online newspapers, of which blogs like this are progenitors. Right now, the chief problem is monetizing this source of news. But once that's done, and journalism adapts to the Internet, it will hopefully rebound.
The Two Lehigh Valleys
At the end of the evening, as people shuffled out the door, Northampton Community College's Paul Pierpoint stated that his group had described two different Lehigh Valleys - one for the haves and another for the have nots.