Pen City Current marks third year this week


Seven hundred sixty-three days and counting.

Pen City Current will enter its third year of writing about the people of north Lee County on Dec. 6…. and we couldn’t be happier to still be here.

I’ve been reading a lot lately on the shape and future of community news gathering. The landscape is slowly improving and media experts are pointing to community journalism as the models that produce the most trustworthy news. If you follow social media a lot you’ll see that people are starting to filter what they are reading, but it’s a cycle that’s taking way too long to sort itself out.

As we continue to carve out our hyperlocal niche, and figure out growth strategies, it seems a good time to look at how things are changing in the world of reporting local news.

Pen City Current spent a year working for the release of video taken at a public school. A video that attorneys for the Fort Madison School District said wasn’t releasable due to it being a personnel matter and therefore confidential. With the help of Tri State Public Radio, we acquired the video and released it to the public to make its own determination. We’ve heard both the issue was serious and the issue was much ado of nothing.

Our goal wasn’t to sway anyone’s opinion but to fight for the release of the record. It’s our hope to continue to shine a light on public bodies even if that light isn’t the best for those public bodies. We also don’t hold the district responsible. It’s sincerely our opinion that this is a learning curve for everyone.

Over the past two years several things stand out as evidence that the stripping of the local newsroom is having a dramatic effect on public bodies and organizations that deal with them.

A representative of Vikings Cruise line spoke to the full Dubuque City Council earlier this fall and as part of the discussion handed out a presentation that went along with a video. The representative said he wasn’t really prepared to discuss the specifics of Vikings plans, and asked that the presentations be returned as they weren’t ready for public consumption. This was a discussion in front of one of the state’s largest cities with an international company, and neither side realized that the information was automatically public when it was handed to elected officials.

Maybe no media was in the room at the time. That’s an assumption, but in newspaper’s heyday that would have been contested at that moment, at a minimum cleaned up after the meeting.

I can say that covering most public bodies in north Lee County, at one point or another there was an issue where open meetings records or processes came into question and we do our best to question and work with the groups to make sure things are handled correctly. It’s not a “gotcha” mentality, but a relationship-building approach.

I didn’t take body language classes in high school, but I think I’m pretty good at reading people from the body language. It’s no secret that some in the district are upset with the coverage of the video. We just hope it serves to show that we are here to report the news to the best our resources at this point allow.

This business, like all others, is constantly evolving. Relationships change and new sources become part of the fold. It is the sincerest intention of Pen City Current to work with, and not against, our sources and resources. It our intention to follow the good news, and yes, the unfortunate news. We expend our resources to follow one student eight hours to a state cross country meet just as we would a team.

We strive for fairness in political reporting, keeping the space and time between major political parties equal. We wait for confirmation on news so we aren’t putting things out that aren’t verifiable on our part.

This is all our passion. It comes with a price. We look to the communities of north Lee County to help support this project of ours through advertising and subscription donations. Covering schools, athletics, governments, and business has intrinsic costs, but those costs are akin to a commodity and the value is determined by each consumer. We fully subscribe to the saying that you can’t please all the people all the time. And we don’t try that, but what we do try to do is be as complete of a service to this area as we can.

In a twist of an old Italian saying, success has a hundred parents, but failure is an orphan. To that end, we thank the 5,837 current Facebook users that like our site and those that have visited our site more than two million times, for your continued patronage as we continue to learn what it is to be your news source and information source.

There’s also an old paraphrase that says the only thing needed for evil to succeed, is for good men to do nothing. There was a burglary Monday morning at Rashid Pharmacy in Fort Madison. There’s a private reward offered by Joe Rashid for information leading to the arrest of those involved. CrimeStoppers would be interested in information as well, but that’s Beside the Point.

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