Why I won’t run for public office: Bill Moyers’ advice to me

US journalist and commentator Bill Moyers
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When I was first hired by The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1998 (my job interview was on day two of the Chiquita apology), I wasn’t sure if journalism was for me.

My job was as a news aide, the equivalent of a “copy boy,” which meant I did tasks like answer the phone, sort faxes, pick up proofs at the now soon-to-be closed “Western” (the Western Avenue printing plant) and other tasks that I’d either invent for myself to do or get asked to tackle. Things like finally entering tubs (literally) full of birth announcements – months and even more than a year behind the actual birth. We used to joke that the kids themselves could have called in if there was a mistake and ask for a correction. They were that far behind.

But the best part was who was working there with me. Night side at the Enquirer and the great folks on the copy desk, a few reporters I pestered to no end and a begrudging editor or two whetted my appetite even more and solidified my career goal. I wanted to be a journalist. But I had a dirty little secret: I’d once ran for public office.

The Northwest Local School District – located in northwestern Hamilton County – school board was my goal. I was 19 years old and a recent Colerain High School, a school in the district, graduate.

School board races, by state law, are non-partisan. Though affiliations are often touted and known by the public, officially they don’t exist. So, I didn’t run with any political party’s backing or even knowing one member of the local political scene. And I lost. Big time.

Wessels for School Board canvassing flier (1993)

I came in ninth – out of 10 on the ballot (plus one write-in). But I did get 3,325 votes (6.2 percent), about 3,450 shy of the third-place finisher, Helga Schwab (12.6 percent), an incumbent. Dan Mecklenborg – a leader of a movement, pretty sure the first, that was an organized opposition to a school levy – came in second. (It’s worth noting Mecklenborg was an early leader in a movement that spawned COAST, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes). I take solace in the fact that I was the last serious vote-getter. The guy on the ballot who finished last had about 1,197 votes. The person above me, Bruce Gehring, a current school board member, garnered about 4,750 votes.

A few people at the paper knew my political background secret and someone at the Enquirer, I can’t remember who exactly, told me I might not want to bring that up as I attempted to land the critical reporting internship and eventually a job. So, I didn’t. That was until someone found the column that former Enquirer reporter John Eckberg wrote about me at the time, photocopied and posted it all around the newsroom, including in the restrooms. It was a good-hearted jab at me – that made me slightly apprehensive.

After I lost the election I was invited by the Colerain Township Republican Club to get involved. They were the only ones who asked, so I did. They assured me they could help me get elected next time. That was even after a then-current school member and prominent youth pastor – who had a penchant for crying at the drop of a hat – had clandestinely asked me to drop out of the race on behalf of some community members and others in the race, promising similar later success. I flatly turned him down. That was not what democracy was all about, I told him.

Politics had soured me somewhat and, among other distractions and interests, by 1996 I was working at my college newspaper. It was, I rationalized, my first true love (I did a quasi-internship at WKRC-AM in 1992 and watched everyone there get fired after they were purchased by their former rival, Jacor, parent of WLW-AM).

But parts of me were always conflicted. I ran for office, even at 19, because I wanted to make a difference. School boards managed kids, so, I felt an adult closest in age to one of those kids ought to be on the school board. Despite this assertion, I was repeatedly told I was too young – something that still irks me to this day. This idealism doesn’t die easily. I still have it.

In 2004 I attended the Society of Professional Journalists’ national convention in New York City. The closing session’s keynote speaker was former White House press secretary for President Lyndon Johnson and journalist, Bill Moyers.

After his rousing speech to the journalists – many of whom came to their feet – he stuck around and signed autographs and chatted with the crowd that had encircled him in the hallway outside the convention hall. I approached him to ask a question that had been bugging me ever since I slipped from politician to journalist. He was a person I thought possibly best suited to answer this question.

“Mr. Moyers, I ran for office once. Now I am a journalist. Where do you think I can have the biggest impact on my community? What should I do?,” I asked him.

He actually paused, among the chaos around him and looked right at me.

“Keep being a journalist,” he said. “You can make a much bigger impact there.”

It was the confirmation I needed from a man whose work I truly respected. I was best being a journalist. I can still care about my community, shine light where light needs to be shined and not be in political office. It felt good to hear that.

It was noted to me that a local political reporter was so good at what he does because he just simply didn’t care about who was who in politics – he just loved the fight. I found out later he helped organize unions before he was a journalist. And he doesn’t care? He has to care, I thought, but maybe his writing and his reporting doesn’t show it. That’s more important.

As journalists we pick and choose the stories we tell. Before that, we pick and choose the aspects of the story we share. That is the very nature of what we do. We judge the facts and make a decision about which facts get included. Bias? Sure. But I think the best reporters actually listen, observe, talk to all sides and try to share all aspects of the issue, event or whatever. In the end, the readers are ultimately the ones who decide. This has been my “angle,” if you will, since I have been writing for newspapers. Integrity, I guess. I do it because I care about my community, schmaltzy as it sounds. This is the overriding factor in why I want to create a new, non-partisan, non-ideological news source for Cincinnati. Because we need it.

And even though I get asked from time to time, sometimes seriously and most of the time in passing, I will not be seeking public office. Not now; not ever. But it’s not because I don’t care. It’s because I do. And I will keep trying to hold those elected and other community leaders accountable whenever I can through finding the stories that matter and expose the people and the decisions they make.

So, thank you for thinking of me. But I am fine right here where I am. In the end, it’s probably better for me – and maybe better for you.

Cincinnati and Hamilton County Election Night coverage using Qik video

I will be running around downtown Cincinnati – including the Hamilton County Board of Elections and various campaign victory parties – reporting on what I am seeing using Qik video. Check out the video below to see the latest:

http://qik.com/joefoto

Jerry Springer is Satan’s first friend on PC World’s fake Facebook page

Technology publication “PC World” created a “Facebook page they would like to see” for Satan (the devil, Beelzebub, Lucifer). It’s pretty funny – espeically for local Cincinnatians – who see that former Cincinnati mayor and current talk show host Jerry Springer is Satan’s first friend (or last friend, I suppose – but at the top of the page).

\PC Worlds fake Facebook page for Satan
PC World's fake Facebook page for Satan

Still one of my favorite articles from the Driehaus campaign

Just going through my documents folder on my PC (why doesn’t Google Desktop search work on OpenOffice.org documents?), and came across the media clips file I kept while the communications director during Congressman Steve Driehaus‘s 2008 campaign.

I have to say that some days working for the campaign felt like we were trying to slay a dragon with kitchen fork, but when articles like this came out, I remember thinking, “Gee, we really are going to win this campaign.” We did. And I am happy for being a part of it.

Chabot told PolitickerOH.com that Driehaus isn’t as well known as Cincinnati councilman John Carney, whom he ran against two years ago.

via Chabot: Driehaus softer than Carney | Politicker.com.

Not to knock the reporter who wrote this. We all make mistakes. But this one seemed rather poignant in the face of what we were doing. Sort of made Steve Chabot’s point, well, pointless, if even the reporter he was talking to did not even know that “Carney” was actually John “Cranley,” a well-established, well-known and term-limited Cincinnati City Council member.

I printed this article out and taped it to my door. I then called the reporter and had a little chat with him about balance. Next time he called me before he wrote a story.

Cincinnati census office opening to be a grand spectacle

Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and Hamilton County Commission President David Pepper are celebrating the opening of the 2010 U.S. Census Cincinnati office with an amazing amount of fanfare.

Here’s the “Who” part of the press release sent out this morning. Note that the regulars are at the beginning, added by an ever-increasing amount of, well, relatively strange folks to be at a census office opening.

Mayor Mark Mallory, Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President David Pepper, Ohio Governor’s Regional Director Brewster Rhoads, Ohio State Representative Denise Driehaus, Director of the U. S. Census Bureau Detroit Region Dwight P. Dean, Cincinnati Local Census Office Manager George Conner, Reverend Doris Hoskins, Lebanon High School Color Guard, Cincinnati Public School of Creative and Performing Arts harpists and vocalist, and a host of Cincinnati and Hamilton County leaders and dignitaries…

Why night have the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, all the employees of Duke Energy, the Westwood Blue Devils 4th grade softball team, Larry Flynt and the ghosts of Marge Schott and Peanut Jim there, too?

It’s all happening at 2 p.m. today at the local census office, 801 Linn Street, 4th Floor, Cincinnati, Ohio 45203-1603 (map).

I agree the census is important and more important than past city leaders have made it. It just seems like a lot to do for an office of literal bean counters. Funny, too. Might have to go just to see the grand spectacle.

Nixon tree infested with bugs

Nixon tree infested with bugs

Originally uploaded by hjoew

In Memorial Grove at Cincinnati’s Eden Park there are trees planted in honor of each President of the United States after they leave office. The tree honoring President Richard M. Nixon had to be chopped down recently after, ironically, it was infested with bugs.

Two exceptions to presidential trees so far: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Why? Well, Bush’s tree is coming it just hasn’t been planted yet, I’m told. While Clinton never responded to a courtesy letter from the Cincinnati Park Board notifying him that it would be planted. Other presidents have acknowledged the plantings prior to their tree’s roots being sunk into the ground. But Clinton did not, so park officials never planted it.

Eventually, I’m told through a second-hand source, that a tree will be planted regardless. But, hey, President Clinton, can we get a little acknowledgment here? A letter, a phone call, a visit to town to turn the first shovel of dirt?

Tweet Congress: Missing our locally electeds

Out in the community
Driehaus calling TwitterFone?

So, does your Congressional representative or Senator want you to know what’s going on? Well, if you look around the Greater Cincinnati area the answer would be mostly no.

Using TweetCongress, an amazingly great use of the Twitter API, you can follow exactly what is going on with your federally-elected officials. What’s even more amazing is that they publicly harass those Members of Congress who are not on Twitter to join.

Here’s what the intro to their site says:

“We the Tweeple of the United States, in order to form a more perfect government, establish communication, and promote transparency do hereby Tweet the Congress of the United States of America.”

via Tweet Congress.

I love it!

As Steve Driehaus‘s campaign communications director, I worked hard to get Driehaus into as much social networking and new media as possible (much was done before I got there, but there was still plenty to do). He was open to it, but, as I think he openly admits, it isn’t his strong suit. Plus, too many politicians think the mainstream media is their best shot and the other stuff is just “extra.” True, to a large extent. But not for long.

I am proud to say Driehaus got much better at it as the campaign wore on (even agreeing to have a blogger meet-up, which was fantastic). TweetCongress says Driehaus is not on Twitter, which isn’t exactly true. It just hasn’t been updated since I posted the last Tweet the day after election day thanking everyone for their support. Get on it, folks! It’s a great way to keep in touch with your constieuents…

Who else is on Twitter locally? Well, if you ask TweetCongress, House Minority Leader John Boehner of West Chester, Ohio – just on the outskirts of the Cincinnati Metro area – is the only one. Rep. Jean Schmidt of the Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District (and my representative, now that I live in Mount Washington) and Rep. Geoff Davis of Kentucky’s 4th Congressional District do not Twitter.

My work on this political campaign and consulting communications on another this past year made me realize one amazing thing: Politicians are waaay behind the curve on the technology front – with one major exception. President Barack Obama. ‘Nuff said.

Driehaus’s Congressional Web site live

Steve Driehaus has his Congressional Web page up and running, though there isn’t much listed on the site yet (plus he has had his new campaign Web site up for a while with it’s new domain name, www.driehausforohio.com, suggesting a possible future run for higher office).

There is on Driehaus’s Congrssional site, I noticed, a crapload of links to just about every social networking and bookmarking site known to man, though. I think this is an interesting and smart step forward for the new Congressman as he faces the challenges of crippled media in Cincinnati and the ever-important need to communicate with his constituents. Now he can easily ask visitors to his site to share what they have read with their social networks.

File photo

I have to mention (being the new media guy that I fashion myself), too, that there is not a link to “Share This,” the locally-founded (still with a local presence) social sharing service, that would take the clutter notch down about 10-fold. I’m sure they will work on this as they tweak the site in coming weeks/months. A quick Google search shows the Congressional site – which currently has a zero Page Rank – has about 42 pages, most of which are empty or needing content. It was likely a pre-packaged template that will eventually be filled with information and finish much higher in Google searches (especially after it gets passed around the blogs and other places).

What is conspiculously missing is any information about the Driehaus’s stances or record thus far in the new Congress (which I admit is new), including any mention, much less a transcript, of the speech he gave after his ceremonial swearing-in Friday in Cincinnati City Council chambers. In it he lobbied for the need to deficit-spend – something President-elect Barack Obama has been saying will be necessary and others have urged him to do once he takes office Tuesday.

“I can’t believe I am saying this,” Driehaus said in his Friday speech when calling for more federal government spending.

After the speech Driehaus shared some about his personal experiences so far in Congress. He told a story about being unexpectedly asked by Congressman Barney Frank to briefly run the Congressional debate as he was about to speak on the floor for the first time. Frank apparently had to rush to a quick meeting out in the hallway and called on Driehaus to take over the debate as he was waiting in line to speak for the first time. The drama only lasted a few minutes, he said, because Frank returned much quicker than either expected.

“It only took about two minutes,” Driehaus said. “I was very nervous.”

A side note: What was missing during Friday’s event? Reporters. There were, I think, two TV cameras there, but, aside from this columnist, no journalists of any stripe. And I had not come to report, but to watch. Further proof that Driehaus will have a difficult time making his case for why he voted the way he did when it comes around to election time next year. The only thing voters will hear will be an overload of political commercials with nary a speck of insight or objectivity. Welcome to the post-apocolyptic journalistic world. Scares the crap out of me.

Facebook Lexicon and “Cincinnati”

The Facebook Lexicon is a searhable application tracks the usage of terms used in Facebook on group, profile and wall pages. It’s an endlessly fascinating way to take a bird’s eye view of what people are talking about – and, frankly, what they are not.

Because of Facebook’s global scope, I think it’s hard to be able to get a true measure of what local people think. But, with our overall obsession with what the world thinks of Cincinnati, it’s a interesting way to see when exactly people talk about Cincinnati.

Here’s the chart for Facebook and the word “Cincinnati” for 2008.

Using the Facebook Lexicon, the word Cincinnati, Jan to Dec 2008
Using the Facebook Lexicon, the word "Cincinnati," Jan to Dec 2008

What exactly gets people talking about Cincinnati? I’m not sure. My memory is not that good. But maybe a look back at news coverage will give us an idea why there is a spike, for example, in early- to mid-March? Or big drops in mid-December? Or how can we better take advantage of the interest in Cincinnati during the warmer months of the year?

There has also been much said about Obama’s superior utilization of the Internet, but more specially new media, during the campaign. And that’s obvious with another feature of the Lexicon, comparative searches (up to five terms possible). I searched for “Obama” and “McCain” and zoomed into 2008.

If, presumably, McCain did not about this and he did, would he or his campaign staff worked harder to embrace new media?

There is not enough data to do the search I would really like to do: “Driehaus” and “Chabot.” No surprise, I am a big proponent of social media and politics. But surprisingly, there is still quite a bit of resistance to it.

There are loads of other possible searches. I have done a few others like “election” and “Cincinnati”; “boring” and “Cincinnati”; “fun” and “Cincinnati”; “streetcar,” “useful route” and “Cincinnati” – with not enough data present to render results. But I bet in the future there will be and this will be a great and very useful feature. What other searches would you do?