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We're not a hospital, but we do need new blood

June 21, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

Almost nine years ago, at the suggestion of Publisher John League, I put out the call for readers to serve on a citizens advisory board for The Herald-Mail's editorial page.

Since 1997, the group has met monthly to talk over issues for the editorial page and suggest topics for my personal columns, which appear on Thursdays and Sundays.

The group has hashed over everything from the allowable length of letters to the editor to which syndicated columnists we should run, and covered a lot of ground in between.

The members have also talked to a variety of local people in the news, including two local school superintendents, members of the Hagerstown City Council and the Washington County Commissioners. One year the group heard from every candidate for the Washington County School Board.

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A few years ago, some members were my guests at a fundraiser for the Parent-Child Center, a United Way agency that works to prevent child abuse. The keynote speaker was Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who, as usual, provided a great speech.

More recently, one of the members with a background in banking sat in on a meeting between Washington County Hospital officials and J. Michael Nye, a local resident leading the charge against the hospital's proposed move to Robinwood.

When we formed the group, the fear was that, as happens to many advisory groups, it would become more of a cheering section than a source of constructive criticism. I'm happy to say that hasn't happened.

One member regularly sends me sharply worded e-mails when he feels our commentary has let local officials off too easy. And, at almost every meeting, another member decries The Herald-Mail's publication of "Mail Call" and "You Said It," alleging that it damages the area's image as a place with caring and thoughtful people.

I have no authority over either column, but part of my job is to listen to such criticism.

Why do I need such input? Back in 1992, The Herald-Mail staff went through a process called "New Directions for News."

Run by Jean Gaddy Wilson, a veteran journalist, we spent three days learning that, in many cases, we were putting out the newspapers that we wanted to read, as opposed to finding out what stories were important to readers.

Sufficiently concerned - scared out of our wits, really - with Wilson's help we began the process of reconnecting with readers.

The advisory board is part of that process and although we don't always agree, I consider the members my friends because we share the belief that public discussion of the issues is the way for a community to make progress.

But just as the newspaper needs new staff and new blood occasionally, so does the editorial advisory board. Over the years some members have moved away, changed jobs or gotten involved in other activities.

At this point, we could use four or five additional members. If this sounds like something that would interest you, send me a letter, telling me, in about 250 words, why you would like to join the group.

We are mainly interested in getting input from people who are working parents, high school or college students or people of color. We've had representatives from all those groups previously, but changes in employment and the need to leave the area to finish a four-year degree has left us short in those areas.

But aside from that, what we are looking for is people who have to make time to read The Herald-Mail, either in its newsprint version or online.

Like most journalists, I love newspapers. But like the parent who says "Not my child!" when told about some mischief the youngster has gotten into, the fact that I care a great deal about the institution and its mission doesn't always allow me to look objectively at my own performance.

The group also brings me news about things that are going on in the community that I would never have known about otherwise. Listening to those things - and passing them along to the news department - is not only a benefit to me, but to our entire readership.

If you're interested, send a letter to Editorial Advisory Group, in care of Bob Maginnis, The Herald-Mail, 100 Summit Ave., Hagerstown MD 21740. Please respond by July 15. Thank you.




Bob Maginnis is Opinion Page editor of The Herald-Mail.

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