Childs, who spent 25 years as top gun of the Grand Traverse County government, mailed the report over the Fourth of July weekend to Peter Kann, chairman of the board of Dow Jones & Company, which owns Ottaway Newspapers, which owns the Record-Eagle.
He said he hasnt received a response yet.
Childs said he prepared the report out of his belief that the town needs a credible paper. He alleges that its hard to tell the difference between the Record-Eagles straight news reporting and the editorialsclaiming that both have such a strong point of view. He also dislikes that the paper repeats the same negative news in follow-up stories and editorials.
My wife said we live in one of the best cities, and if you read our paper, youd think we lived in one of the worst.
The newspaper is inarguably more aggressive under editor Bill Thomas. It has run critical front-page stories that range from a Northwestern Michigan College program that drained $1 million from college coffers each year to several articles on state Sen. Jason
Allen, who is vying to become the next senate majority leader. A major story was about the $8 million septage processing plant that partly collapsed 30 days after it was built.
Childs is in many ways connected to these stories, either as a friend to those whose judgment is questioned, or directlyhe sits on the board of Northwestern Michigan College and works as a consultant on how to resolve the Grand Traverse County septage plant dilemma.
Editor Bill Thomas said the newspaper is simply doing the job newspapers are supposed to doreporting about the abuses of public office and protecting taxpayers. He said that complete strangers have emailed him and stopped him on the street, saying, Keep it up.
We have had a great response, Thomas said. Carol (his wife) and I were shopping at a store, and the shopkeeper recognized me and said, Were with you Bill. I walked outside to this 4-H stand and the woman there said, Youre Bill Thomas arent you? Keep it up! Its just been very, very heartening. These are the people we write for, the people we publish this newspaper for, not the people who are dedicated to secrecy.
The newspaper is apparently not backing down, having just run another critical story on State Senator Jason Allen.
Childs said that about 250 individuals contacted him and helped him collect 875 signatures (still more are coming in). Those signatures along with 30 letters of complaints and in-depth analyses of eight articles were indexed and shipped off to Peter Kann.
Petition signers have come from the six-county area: Antrim, Benzie, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Kalkaska.
It started out as a small thing. I thought Id do four or five articles and get half a dozen letters. What made this change was when your [June 22nd Northern Express] article came out, Childs said.
Ann Reed, publisher since May 22, pointed out that 875 signatures out the papers readership of 100,000 is not a large percentage.
It hasnt hurt our circulation, Reed said. Our circulation is dead even with last year, which for the newspaper business is a very good thing. The website viewership is growing by leaps and bounds; 30 percent year after year. And we have not noticed any impact on advertising sales
Still, Reed does not want to get into a slugfest with Childs and his group of supporters.
It doesnt serve the community very well. I want us to continue to report the news, to be fair and accurate, and to not hold back. We also need to restore good civil relationships with each other.
Since Childs began this project, rumors have been flying. Childs acknowledged that he has been meeting and talking with former Record-Eagle reporters, but denied that he has talked to local auto dealers about pulling their ads and putting them into the Grand Rapids Press.
What about the rumor of looking for a new buyer for the paper?
Childs said that he has formed a group that has outlined some options if the Record-Eagle wont budge. He declined to elaborate on those options until he hears back from Dow Chairman Peter Kann.
Our first purpose is to try to bring it back to credibility,“ Childs said. “Some even and fair reporting. If we cant get it done with the Record-Eagle, we have to look at other newspapers... I have researched the business of publishing and its been an enlightening experience. Ive learned a lot about the Record-Eagle and where some of the dissatisfaction is... Newspapers might not be a very good investment in their present format. You look at the annual reports from Dow Jones and Dow Jones has been divesting themselves from their local papers over the years. A lot of [newspaper] advertising has gone to the Internet. People are saying, Internet is the new thing.
The paper I would love to get here is the Grand Rapids Press, Childs said. Theyre a good paper. I get it periodically.
Yet the word on the street is that the Grand Rapids Press is discontinuing its circulation north of Cadillac. The papers publisher Dan Gaydou hedged his answer about the papers plans: We are always evaluating our routes. I cant tell you for a fact [that were discontinuing delivery in Northern Michigan], but I wouldnt be surprised.
Gaydou said that Childs has not contacted him.
Childs said his effort to change the newspaper has nothing to do with the yes-vote effort on the controversial Traverse City parking deck, which he supports.
Last question: What about mediation?
I havent really considered it, but that wouldnt be ruled out. I think mediation is a great idea, Childs said.
Said Reed: I really cant comment one way or another and partly because I havent seen the petition or the specific issues he has problems with. Once I have a better understanding, we can make a good judgment of where we go from here. I will say, its important that we all heal as a result of this. I dont think we can continue on the way we are.
It sure was controversial when it was first proposed, but at last Friday‘s dedication of the new bus Transit Center on Hall Street in downtown TC it was smiles & high-fives all around for mass transit in the region.
The Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) celebrated by inviting the public to ride its buses for free all day with prize drawings, hot dogs and refreshments at the new station.
The new BATA Transit Center makes possible expanded bus service with scheduled stops throughout the Grand Traverse area including service for Leelanau County. The Transit Center offers restrooms, comfortable seating and will be staffed during service hours. Free wireless Internet access will soon be available. Long distance commercial bus service is now available.
This facility represents a giant step forward in addressing the need for viable public transportation in our area, said BATA Executive Director Joe DeKoning. Having a permanent transfer point greatly expands our capacity to deliver dependable, comfortable and convenient service.