By: Roldo Bartimole
[The following are slightly edited remarks made at the Cleveland Press Club Hall of Fame dinner by new inductee Roldo Bartimole last week. Bartimole, a local legend, self-published the newsletter of media criticism and muckraking reporting, Point of View, for more than three decades.]
I feel a little like Groucho Marx. He?s the one who said, “I do not care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as a member.” I say that because some people might think it strange for an outsider to be here.
However, I think I?ve been given this opportunity because some believe I?ve set an example that others may copy, to stray from the conventional path. Phil Porter wrote me when I left the Plain Dealer that I had a bright future there. Truth be told, I would have had a frustrating life there, straightjacketed into a conventional view of the world.
My journey as an outsider really started in my hometown of Bridgeport, Conn. As a young reporter, I took the 1960 census and identified the city?s worst census tracts. I traveled them, walking up tenement stairs to talk to the people who lived there and endured the conditions.
What I found and what I revealed was tragic. In more places I visited than I want to remember, people, including children, died in predictable fires. I learned from my reporting that not only did city government not care, not only did slum landlords not care, not only did most of the community not care, but the newspaper cared so little they ordered me to stop telling the story.
My short tenures at The Plain Dealer taught me other lessons. I saw how power, both individual and institutional, influenced public decisions. This was particularly true in the tumultuous 1960s.
There were many examples in Point of View of how that worked. Even the mild Plain Dealer column by Tom Andrzejwski hassling [developer] Dick Jacobs and the opening of the Galleria appeared in only Point of View after being censored by The Plain Dealer.
Reporters pick up from editors, who pick up from their bosses, what?s acceptable and what?s not. They more often than not stay within those bounds. Sacred cows, particularly corporate, are rarely the target of the conventional media. So that was another lesson I learned that put me on a different course.
In 1968, I started Point of View because I felt there was a need for a voice that didn?t share the worldview reflected by conventional news outlets and their corporate dominated thinking.
Though from time to time a story will get into the paper that?s critical of power, I still feel that need I saw isn?t being filled by The Plain Dealer. I pick on it because it?s the biggest and it?s the media leader. Television news is essentially useless and heading south. Commercial radio used to have a voice in this town but it?s now mostly irrelevant.
I was amused that a PD op ed recently noted, “The next governor of Ohio must be bold and bright.” I guess the paper didn?t check its endorsements for governor, mayor or county commissioner for the last decade or two.
Information is the glue of a community. It keeps it together. We?re getting much too much of this civic journalism crap. By the way, what is this idea? Is it: “Why can?t we all get along” journalism? It could be sponsored by Wal-Mart. Maybe it is.
This community needs dissent. It must be nurtured. I think it?s the responsibility of the news media to foster debate. But there needs to be critical reporting on big institutions for that to happen. They?re all accepted as “good.” Why? Who gives them their reputations? They don?t get the spotlight thrown on them. The brand of debate seems to be to bring these leaders together to tell us what we, not they, do wrong.
I want to know a lot more about the people and institutions making decisions in this community. I don?t get it in my morning newspaper. What we are missing in our daily news media is the information that exposes those vested interests: Essentially, who pays and who benefits. I hope in my years that I succeeded in some respect in giving that perspective.