Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

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How we got started: 20 years behind the masthead

Robert Downes - May 31st, 2011
How We Got Started: 20 Years Before the Masthead
       Simply put, Northern Express Weekly got started with an idea by my friend and co-publisher George Foster in the fall of 1990:  “What would you think of starting a newspaper about sports and fitness?” he asked one day as we were out running.
   Well, hell yes, why not?  In one of those lucky coincidences, we had a synchronicity of talents and experience: George was a certified public accountant, while I had been a reporter and editor in Detroit-area newspapers and a writer for  hospital public relations.  We were deep into the running, triathlon and XC-skiing boom of the ‘80s, and also habitues of the local nightlife scene.
   Both of us had grown  bored with our respective careers as well as the racing scene, so the idea of launching a newspaper was mesmerizing.  That’s what launching a new business is like: it’s a fever that consumes your every waking moment.  Soon, that fever was generating ideas for our new paper.
   We decided that the publication would need a larger scope to succeed; for starters, the region lacked an alternative newspaper similar to Detroit’s Metro Times, devoted to the arts, local issues, nightlife and the “underside” of the community.
   But, since Northern Michigan lacked the gritty urbanism and nightlife that supported the alternative press in cities such as Detroit or Chicago, we decided to model our baby on the alternative newsweeklies of the California coast, where the human potential movement, fitness and holistic health were mainstays -- the same as in a booming subculture in Northern Michigan.
   We evolved the idea for a paper which would mirror Northern Michigan’s laid-back style while looking “beyond the horizon” of this provincial paradise of ours to explore the larger world.  We put out an 8-page prototype to show potential advertisers in April, 1991, and the first issue of 10,000 copies of Northern Express rolled off the presses on May 3, 1991.

   In 1991, Northern Michigan was locked in the worst recession in decades and was also considered to be one of the most conservative regions in the state.  Downtown Traverse City was on the ropes, threatened by a new mall and the big box stores of corporate America.  It wasn’t exactly fertile ground for a free newspaper modeled after the alternative press of the California coast.
   Yet we never had any doubt that the Express would succeed, if only for the fact that there was a hunger here for a more progressive outlook in the local media.  It was an idea whose time had come.
   After kicking around a list of 50 names (“Adventure North” being the foremost), the name Northern Express magically appeared.  The name conjured the idea of a train, progress and speed along with the mystique of the North.  We knew it couldn’t miss.
   Tossing $2,000 each into a pot and purchasing a Mac Plus popgun of a computer, we had enough money to publish two issues of the Express before it dropped dead in its tracks.  Although the first 20-page issue had just seven paid ads (for which we were extremely grateful), succeeding issues took off like a rocket.  We had six or seven pages of ads by the third issue, and enough confidence to go from a monthly to a paper that came out every two weeks.
   But it was a “rocket” which managed to pay only for the printing and distribution of the paper.  It wasn’t until five years later that we publishers received a paycheck for our efforts, and even then they were infrequent at best.  
   Not wanting to borrow any money (most newsweeklies borrowed anywhere from $350,000 - $750,000 for start-ups at the time), George and I worked full-time at our other jobs until our ship came in.  That meant several years of working 14, 16, and even 18-hour days.
   It was tough.  A common scenario was to work until 3 a.m. on a deadline Sunday with Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and local folkie Victor McManemy (“Here Come the Tridents”) blasting at jet engine volume in the  kitchen/headquarters of my home on Mission Peninsula; then drive the layout sheets 80 miles to the printer in Gaylord, sometimes in a white-out snowstorm; then home by 6:30 a.m. for 90 minutes of sleep prior to working an 8-hour day; and then spending much of the night delivering the paper to 300 sites.  That exact scenario happened more times than I can count.
  Another unpleasant reality was that George and I had to take second mortgages out on our respective homes each year for quite some time in order to meet the payroll during the “off” season.  That’s a scary side of being in business that most employees are blissfully unaware of -- the risk of not just going broke, but also going deep in debt and losing your home to boot.

   By its third year, the now-weekly Express began distribution in Charlevoix, Harbor Springs and Petoskey, expanding from a 5-county base around the Grand Traverse area. But that gave rise to the problem of creating a paper that would be of interest across the entire region.  It‘s no secret that people living in small towns don‘t much care to hear about the doings of other folks living 20 miles down the road.
   Solution? We focused on  stories of regional interest or on lifestyle issues that could ‘go anywhere‘ to grow the paper to its 13-county coverage today.  We operate under the notion that Northern Michigan (always capitalized as a proper noun) is a “rural metropolis” that is united from Manistee to the Straits by the tourist industry.
   It has only been in the past five years or so that the Express has truly come into its own, however.  We finally came up with the resources to hire an investigative reporter, a position in which Anne Stanton performed spectacularly before moving on to her own independent projects.  Taking up that challenge is new-hire Pat Sullivan, who brings 10 years‘ experience in police beat and environmental reporting to the job.
   Five years ago, we moved to new digs in the Grand Traverse Commons, hoping to spiff up our operation.  It‘s been a welcome upgrade from the scroungey place we occupied on 8th Street when our 10th anniversary issue rolled around.
   We hired our first full-time feature writer last year with the addition of Erin Crowell, whose bright prose and witty observations are something I enjoy reading each week as editor. We‘ve also upgraded our fashion coverage with the talents of writer Kristy Kurjan.  We created the Northern Seen -- one of our most popular features -- along with the Tastemakers and Bottoms Up columns by Rick Coates.  Rick, by the way, is our ‘secret weapon‘ here at the Express -- he comes up with the most amazing leads and contacts in the celebrity world that go far beyond what anyone in the region‘s media could ever hope to access. Bookending our entertainment coverage is Kristi Kates, an authentic music pro in her own right who is as familiar with the rock world of New York as she is her hometown of Harbor Springs.  Most recently, the political commentary of new columnist Steve Tuttle has drawn a huge thumbs-up from readers.
   Well, I could go on and on, and that‘s exactly what we‘ve done in this issue, which is “All About Us.“  Self-indulgent?  Yeah, but our 20th birthday only comes around once, and in the following issue you‘ll get to know all about the Express family and the people who bring you the paper free of charge while enjoying every minute of it. Thanks for reading!

   Elements of this article ran in the 10th anniversary issue of the Express.
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