Navigating an important civic debate

For most of the nation, this is an off-year election. But in Cleveland Heights, the November 2019 ballot will offer one of the biggest decisions residents have ever been asked to make: Should the city change its basic form of government?

The Heights Observer hasn’t taken sides on previous ballot issues, and won’t on this one either. Our guiding principal is to favor the individual voices arising from the community. So every opinion you read in the Heights Observer is that of the person or group whose name is attached to it.

I’ve heard criticism that the Heights Observer should do more to explain pros and cons of the ballot issue to help people decide how to vote. But as a paper built entirely on contributions from the community, we can’t claim that kind of expertise. Further, this particular debate isn’t one for which there are credible, objective outside experts.

So our approach has been to encourage those on each side of the issue to make use of the Heights Observer to explain their positions.

I chafe a little at the early results. I don’t think either side has done a good job yet of making its case. But unlike the marathon of a presidential campaign, local campaigns only last a couple of months. This one is just getting started, and I hope the next 60 days bring more clarity. I’m also realistic: No amount of information is likely to make this a simple decision for many voters.

After the August issue hit the streets, I saw a few complaints on social media that it contained too many opinions in support of the current form of government and not enough in favor of the change. We’re aware of the sensitivity, but we can only publish what we receive. If the result looks lopsided, it means the contents of the inbox that month were lopsided.

For the September Heights Observer, we’ve received more opinions on both sides of the issue than we have room to publish in print. Deciding which of those to print involves multiple variables—length, clarity, coherence, and factuality, to name a few. We aim to present a variety of viewpoints, voices and arguments on both sides of the issue. And we try to present a fair, representative sample of the entirety of what people submit, without preference to one side or the other. It’s easier said than done, but that’s the goal.

Finally, a word about the organization that publishes the Heights Observer: FutureHeights’ leaders don’t have a role in deciding what gets published. They don’t call or write, and we don’t ask. Executive Director Deanna Bremer Fisher, who also holds the title of Heights Observer publisher, does participate regularly in editorial conversations but, after she provides her perspective, the editor and I work together to make a final decision. 

Bob Rosenbaum

Cleveland Heights resident Bob Rosenbaum is co-chair of the Heights Observer Advisory Committee, and is responsible for its advertising sales and market development.

Read More on Opening the Observer
Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 1:28 PM, 09.02.2019