Ahoy! February 2009

January 30, 2009

By Katherine Keller

This must be what it feels like when the sky is falling. If not the sky, then when one is in freefall. I’m talking about the feathers-in-the-solar-plexus sensation, as when one descends precipitously, on a swing or a rollercoaster or in turbulence 35,000 feet up.

Yesterday the Labor Department released its unemployment claims numbers. In the week that ended Jan. 17, there were 4.776 million active unemployment benefits claims, the highest number since 1967 when these data began to be collected.

Not too many months ago the White House and other optimists were loath to characterize our country’s economic state as a recession. The terminology was eschewed for a long time, long after, I thought, it was clear that the economy was in recession. Finally the White House said it considered recession a possibility, then abruptly, it seemed, President Bush was using the word in the present tense. Since then we have had varying assessments of the degree of its severity-not color-coded as were the post-9/11 security alerts, but parsed with adjectives that became grimmer and grimmer to the point, recently, when more and more news organizations and pundits are beginning to use the more dire term depression or depression-like.

Parallel to the alarming news about the deteriorating state of the U.S. financial state is the rate that newspapers and magazines are folding. Some have vanished, while others are cutting newsroom staff. Some are paring down hard copy or in many cases, completely abandoning their hard-copy editions.

The Compass is facing forward and trundling on with a distinct belief in the role of community journalism, buoyed by readers’ often passionate praise and compliments about our work, with an old-fangled commitment to hard copy, along with our web presence.

We print 15,000 issues of the Compass. Generally we have less than 600 copies left at the end of the month. I see people of diverse demographics reading the Compass in public venues that range from Laundromats to parks to cafes to the county bus and airport. That indicates we are playing a role in the community.

Recently a Bay View resident opined somewhat bitterly about those news organizations that make only part of their web content available for free. He said he disagreed with that and thought online content should be free. If only. If only web-hosting companies didn’t need or desire compensation; or city, county, state, and federal tax agencies; or publishers and their writers, photographers, editors, and web producers; or business and car insurance agents. (Millions of independent publishers, small business people, and freelancers can only dream about the possibility of being covered by health insurance.) Free of those pressing requirements, it would perhaps not be unreasonable to expect free online content from those who produce and publish it.

But even if their budgets no longer possess line items for hard-copy editions, publishers are required to pay bills to produce and publish web content.

Perhaps it is time for me, and other publishers like me, to start a conversation with you, readers and members of the Bay View and Milwaukee community, about community journalism’s role but also the role of its readers, who may have to begin to forego their expectation that our publications are free. The question many independent, small publishers here and across the country may pose is, Do you care and believe strongly enough about the role and service we provide to financially support our work and contribution?

This month’s contribution comes to you by way of the good work of the Compass talent. Sheila Julson reports about the evolution of Alchemist Theatre, a brightly faceted little gem on KK, and she also previews Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Ball at the Marian Center.

Bay View native and UWM journalism student Matthew Sliker makes his feature debut this month with his report about RDI Stages’ grand opening. (See News in Brief for information about Bay View Neighborhood Association’s annual meeting to be held at RDI.)

Kathy Mulvey, a former publisher and editor of a community newspaper, doppelgangs in this issue. She contributed a thoughtful editorial where she argues that the 84 acres adjacent to Seminary Woods should be protected. She provides an update about Bay View Historical Society’s successful fundraising last year. Their goal is to keep the Beulah Brinton House in the society’s possession and under its protection.

Jennifer Yauck introduces the aquaponics vision of Jon Bales and Leon Todd, and experiments that could be the beginning of transformative green technologies that enable cities to produce a great deal of food inside city limits. Popular columnist Anna Passante’s Historic Bay View topic is a brief chronicle of mass transit modes that once served Bay View. And Michael Timm reports about plans for a biodiesel plant in Milwaukee. He also updates the transformation of Broad Vocabulary bookstore to A Broader Vocabulary co-op.

On Jan. 1, we launched our online contest (bayviewcompass.com). January’s winner is Mary Groppi of St. Francis, who won a pair of tickets to Bay View Community Center’s wine and art event. This month the prizes are two photographs by local photographer Josh Bollé framed by Shelly Lalonde of South Shore Gallery & Framing. You can enter the contest once per day and the contest is open from Feb.1 through Feb. 20.

Before I close I direct you to the subject of this month’s Q10, Franklin Di Vilio, proprietor and chocolate maestro of Franklin’s Fine Chocolate, and a relatively new member of the Bay View business community. Valentine’s Day is just two weeks away.

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Compass to you!

Katherine Keller

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