Good news, bad news in the world of journalism

Good news: The News launches Outdoors page

Beginning with the Sept. 14 edition, The News will launch a new page dedicated to coverage of the outdoors. It’ll appear in the middle of B Section, just after the local sports pages, every Saturday.

The page will feature columns from Northeast Michigan conservationists, updates from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and coverage from around the country by the Associated Press.

Most importantly, however, it’ll feature news and images from you, our readers. We want photos of that buck you bag this fall and your grandson’s first fish, and any other stories and images you have of living life in God’s bounty in Northeast Michigan.

Send your stuff to newsroom@thealpenanews.com, to The Outdoors Page, C/O The Alpena News, 130 Park Place, Alpena, Michigan, 49707, or stop into the newsroom to drop it off.

With your photos, please include the names of everyone in the photograph and a way for us to identify them (for example, listing the names from left to right), and include information about when and where the photo was taken and who took the photo. We prefer typed submissions to handwritten ones, and electronic submissions to snail mail, because it helps us with accuracy.

Bad news: State censors news for inmates

The Lansing State Journal reported last week that the Michigan Department of Corrections had forbidden inmates at the Ionia Correctional Facility from viewing some of the State Journal’s editions that included prison coverage (read the LSJ’s full story here: https://tinyurl.com/y274ma4k).

Essentially, the Corrections policy says the department doesn’t want inmates seeing things that might rile them up and potentially cause a riot or other violence, and they don’t want inmates seeing stories that identify where a correction officer or his or her family lives, because that could invite an inmate to ask one of his or her friends on the outside to pay a visit.

I understand the need for safety. I spent a lot of time with corrections officers when I covered state workers for the LSJ, and those brave men and women endure horrors most of us can’t imagine. They deserve protection.

But I understand a couple of other things, too: 1.) Inmates are subjects of the government’s most awesome power, the power to rob us of our freedom, and, 2.) the government doesn’t always use that power correctly. Perhaps no one more than inmates need access to information about the inner workings of the government that yields that power. Newspapers are the best place to get that information.

Part of the problem, per the LSJ’s coverage, is that the Corrections Department’s policy is being enacted inconsistently, with some inmates able to read the LSJ’s stories and other inmates not.

The state needs to get its act together and be consistent. And its policy should emphasize that transparency is presumed, that inmates get their paper unless there’s a clear reason why they shouldn’t.

The only good thing about that story is that it shows the government recognizes the awesome power of the printed word.

Good news: PA launches watchdog network

Speaking of the awesome power of the printed word: The Philadelphia Inquirer has partnered with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, several other media outlets, and Temple University to launch Spotlight PA, a news organization dedicated to watchdog coverage of the Pennsylvania statehouse and its policies (read the full story here: https://tinyurl.com/y3jnoloj).

Very little has excited me more than that news.

Watchdog journalism — work that reveals information the government would rather keep secret and that holds the powerful accountable — is what newspapers do best. It’s the most valuable service we can provide and the reason our founding fathers carved out a space for us in the Bill of Rights.

To see not multiple news outlets dedicate themselves to that effort makes me almost as proud as the first time I saw my son hit a two-run double.

Even more exciting, Spotlight PA will have not only the resources of its member outlets at its disposal but also has set up a fund through which readers can donate to their effort. The trendline shows us advertisers will count for less and less and readers more and more of newspaper budgets, and the success of Spotlight PA will show whether readers want the kind of in-depth coverage newspapers offer.

Michigan has something similar in Bridge Magazine, a nonprofit, donor-funded news outlet launched eight years ago by the Center for Michigan. That outlet does great work, and some of its content is syndicated in some other Michigan papers.

But I would love to see Michigan launch an initiative that partners some of our great papers, such as the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News, the Lansing State Journal, and the Grand Rapids Press, with other outlets around the state entirely dedicated to investigative, watchdog work.

If anybody’s working on something like that and thinks The News can play a role, hit me up.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.