The town hall meeting was today. While most people are currently talking about Matt's pen being taken, I can tell you the little guy's story.
Let me make it clear: I am not Lee-Ann Stephens, the Minnesota Teacher of the year, nor am I a member of the press (as apparently Matt Bartell is considered), nor am I a well-known priest, rich business person, or a minority.
I am just some schmuck, who was invited because Jason DeRusha reads my blog.
Imagine being developmentally challenged and being invited to a MENSA meeting. That's how I felt this morning.
So here's my story.
I woke up early this morning, which I haven't really done in a while. The baby usually sleeps between 4 and 8, so getting up and moving at 6 was kind of hard, to be honest. Moving on.
Since it has been re-opened, I have not been to the Minneapolis Library. I know many people really like it, but I can't help it: I don't. It's really cold. Not in a temperature way, but in a design way. It doesn't feel inviting to me. It's narrow. Instead of saying, "Please...get a book, sit, and read for a while," it says, "You! Get a book and get out!"
The event was on the second floor. There was a nice continental breakfast, yada, yada, yada.
After checking in, I right away felt out of place. First of all, the woman to man ratio ended up being 8 to 1 in favor of women. I have no problem with that, but I somehow knew it would be that way.
Every man I saw was in a suit. I was not. Let me make this clear: I'm a teacher, a new parent, and on break. I wore a polo and khakis. This made me an outsider which was clear by the fact that NO ONE would come near me at my table. At one point a group of people (and I was shocked how many people knew each other) chose to sit on the floor (in really nice clothing) rather than stand at my table. I stood alone for a long time...until a priest named Dale joined me.
Very nice and articulate man. I put aside all of my feelings about religion and the Church while talking to him.
So let's get to the good stuff: the actual meeting.
I sat dead center. The meeting itself? Pointless. Nothing was really accomplished. While Katie Couric and Rome Hartman were well spoken (and sometimes humorous), there was nothing to really be gained. For every single thing one person said, someone else said the exact opposite. At one point it was mentioned that the news needs to be more objective. Thirty seconds later: the next person said the news needs to be "personal."
It was a shame.
I promised DeRusha I would not pull any punches, so here we go:
1. The entire event was amazingly political. I'm sorry, the make-up of the room was a P.C wet dream. I was easily one of the youngest people in the room, but there were African-Americans (I already mentioned Ms. Stephens), Hmong, Hispanic, old, young, intellectual, working man, Native American, etc.
At one point, toward the end of the meeting, a young black man had been holding his hand up for awhile (most people at the meeting forgot the whole "let's hold our hand up" thing and just stood up and talked). A woman walked down the aisle, caught Hartman's eye and pointed at the young man, mouthing, "You MUST call on him." The young man mentioned Africa, and the crowd murmured its approval. The whole event, though intending to get out "real opinions" didn't, which leads to my next point:
2. Minnesota Nice creates too many damn problems. Almost EVERY SINGLE PERSON, except for myself and one other guy, prefaced their thoughts or speeches with, "Welcome to Minnesota, Katie," or "I loved the Today Show." Sigh. Beyond that, they were unwilling to stir it up, yet afterward people were complaining. You had your chance to say something and you didn't. You're not allowed to bitch when you had the opportunity to talk.
One guy, beyond myself, was willing to actually comment on what people were saying and say something controversial. No one wanted to debate (which both Couric and Hartman said they wanted as part of their introduction). It was too bad.
3. Their questions weren't answered. They said, "We want to talk about the news, not ideas for what we should talk about," yet the group spent more time talking about what should be talked about. ("We're a fly-over state," one woman commented. "You should do stories that would make us interested...not just what's important on the coasts.")
What saddened me was that most people there didn't hear the "WORLD" part. They said the world should be talked about, but their ideas were Minnesota-centric.
So I know what you're thinking at this point: "Leab, you can't shut up, so what did you say?"
4. I did speak. I waited patiently and then said the following:
"My name is Leab, and I'm a high school English teacher. (This immediately had people coughing or talking. I'm not the Minnesota Teacher of the Year, so what does it matter what I say? To continue....)
First of all, you mentioned Murrow. Well, he let the beast out, and it's time to put it back in. The news needs to return to being objective, which it has not been in a long time. It's obviously slanted which is why certain people watch only certain channels. Most people nowadays might say that being objective is being wishy-washy, but they're wrong. This is a chance for you to prove that. (I heard no murmurs at this point, so either they agreed with me or thought I was nuts.) I teach a lesson on propaganda, and my students, more often than not, brought me one of two things: either a political speech, predominantly Bush, or news casts. Many were actually from the Today Show as well. They see it this way, because the news creates fear or tells us who to vote for instead of just reporting the facts.
Now if you ask my students where they get their news, they will tell you blogs, the web, or The Daily Show. Our own WCCO here has people like Jason DeRusha who have blogs, which leads me to ask (and here I turned around to Don Shelby) when are you going to have your own blog, Mr. Shelby?"
Shelby responded with, "Sssssh. Don't give them any ideas!"
I turned back and continued, "You need to embrace technology. Either through a blog, Ipods, or making the website work with the news. We don't really have the time to sit down and watch the news when it's on, so give us the chance to see it when we can."
I didn't get much of a response. The woman sitting next to me made a comment about how, "I shouldn't have said that."
Couric's response to what I said was a frown. She then talked about how blogs really cannot have journalistic integrity and how they are usually emotional and full of anger and hate. She ignored that there are some that aren't that way (again, see WCCO's), but whatever. I wasn't wearing a business suit, I wasn't a minority, and I didn't have a position like Hennepin County Coordinator. I was a nobody, so who cares what I think?
At the end, we were allowed to have pictures taken with Ms. Couric. I was in the final group and was allowed to talk to her. Here is how the conversation went.
"Are you a Mets fan?" She asked me. It was obvious she noticed my hat I had with me.
"Yes. I know you like the Yankees. Both teams are having great seasons."
"That's true, but the Mets are leading their division."
"But you can't count out Steinbrenner's cash and drive. Well, good luck with the rest of your day," I said to her.
"Thanks. May I ask you something?"
"Yes you may," I replied.
"Your students really brought in the Today Show?"
"Yes. One even brought in the Colonoscopy episode."
"Can I ask you another question?"
"Who invited you to this meeting today?"
"A local reporter put in my name. Wanted the 'Everyman' perspective. I'm the 'Everyman' apparently."
"I see." LONG PAUSE. "Well thanks for coming out M." (she used my name here, which was disarming as I said it only once."
I next talked to Rome Hartman.
"Did you really show your class Good Night and Good Luck?" He asked me.
"Yes. They understood it, though they found it slow."
We chatted for a while about news, websites, and blogs (he was surprisingly for them), then he asked me:
"So how did you end up here today?"
It was at this point I realized that I really did look out of place. I didn't kiss anyone's ass, which meant I was not exactly what they were looking for.
I told him the same thing I told Ms. Couric.
"Interesting." LONG PAUSE. "So how long have you been teaching?"
I talked to him for five more minutes or roughly until my bladder started screaming at me. We talked about teachers, how people don't really understand what it's like to be a teacher, and, of course, how everyone compares our education system to Japan's or another country's (and here's a tip folks: Stop doing that. Our system is not like anyone else's, so shut up with the whole, "Why aren't we like Japan?" crap.)
In the end, there were an amazing amount of Katie fans there. DeRusha had mentioned, at one point, that they wanted serious thinkers, not fans, at this meeting, but so many people fawned over her.
Still, I didn't have my pen taken, so I guess that's something...right?
Thanks to DeRusha for getting me invited, but I just don't feel that ANYTHING was really accomplished. They listened...and then decided they were going to do whatever they were going to do.
The bottom line is this: As one person said, "Until you decide who your target audience is, it's impossible to decide how your show will work."
That's really it. If you aim for older people, you'll need feel good stories. Aim for the younger crowd, and you'll have to explain EVERYTHING.
That's it. Still, I'll email ideas to you, CBS News. I have a lot of them.