Life As We Know It: September 16, 2013

      Back in the day, when I was dealing with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune -- in other words, Blade readers with a complaint -- an occasional bouquet would get through. Usually it went like this (I’m paraphrasing here):

     “I wanted to let you know that we just returned from a long vacation and I have decided I like The Blade more than I thought I did. I tried to read the papers everywhere we went and there wasn’t anything in them. It was good to get home and see The Blade again.”

      While I truly believe The Blade is worthy of those accolades, I also know that part of it is familiarity. When we travel we don’t know the cast of characters in other communities. We don’t really comprehend the issues that divide a town or the political maneuvering occurring behind the scenes.

      I spent 10 days with my daughter and her family in Birmingham, Ala., which means I also spent 10 days reading the Birmingham News, a metro newspaper roughly the size of The Blade and the largest paper in Alabama. You might expect that a big paper in the deep South would look and read a lot different than a big paper in the North, that the issues and challenges facing Birmingham’s leaders -- and readers of the Birmingham News -- would not be at all like those which confront Toledo, Lucas County, and readers of The Blade.

      But you would be wrong.

      Over the course of 10 days I decided that Birmingham and Toledo, and I suspect, most large American cities, have pretty much the same problems. There are never enough jobs. Young people head for what they perceive to be greener pastures. Capital improvement projects, especially highways, go unfunded. The public schools are in trouble.

      So it didn’t surprise me to see a letter to the editor in the Birmingham News that sounded a theme I heard expressed so many times over the years in The Blade’s Readers Forum. I’ll share parts of the gentleman’s letter to the News.

      “Why do we feel so bad about ourselves?,” he asked. “I read letters in the News from folks in our region who say they will never shop, eat, or visit Birmingham again. Do we all hope Birmingham fails?”

      What would life be like, he wondered, if the region’s dominant city deteriorated into a wasteland? The area’s economy would “crumble,” he said, without Birmingham.

      Then he asked the 64-dollar question: “Who wants to live in a big doughnut with a burned out middle?” Finally, he argued that while Birmingham has what he describes as an unbeatable quality of life, “we’re too quick to concentrate on our weaknesses and overlook our great strengths.”

      Boy, I thought, Birmingham and Toledo might as well be sister cities. It’s not uncommon for a newcomer to sing Toledo’s praises while many of our lifelong residents can find nothing good to say.

      The Blade, just like the Birmingham News and most other responsible newspapers big and small, holds a mirror up to society and reports what it sees. When necessary, we -- and they -- comment editorially. It does not make a newspaper relentlessly negative if the majority of its editorials find fault. Often it’s how things get fixed.

      It always made me feel good to get those calls from traveling Blade readers happy to be home and reading our paper again. It also makes me feel good to imagine that the editor of the Birmingham News gets the same calls.