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I didn’t come here to have you two gentlemen combat and debate everybody that gets up here. We don’t want to hear your excuses. We want you to hear what we have to say.” Enthusiastic applause. For the ensuing three and a half hours, the Statesman was reamed out, for blaming Austin’s economic downturn on city land use policies rather than on bad business judgment by bankers and developers, for failing to understand cost of service electric rate computations, for failure to print certain letters to the editor, for accusing local environmentalists of unconcern for the plight of the poor and for being tacky to Sally Shipman \(who was in the audience along Frost even complained that the newspaper’s endorsement of her council candidate, developer Ken McHone, was made for the wrong reasons and was like “the kiss of the Pharoahs,” i.e., a death warrant. A few bones of praise were tossed Rosenfeld’s way. The consensus was that the paper does a good job covering state government. Most approved of the liberal editorial stances on international, national, and state issues. But as Peck Young, the political consultant, put it, “You people show a more consistent compassion the farther away from your advertisers you go.” Shuddie Fath, a member of the Electric Utility Commission, offered a list of recent editorials on protection of tropical rain forests, endangered plants, wild animals, the stratospheric ozone layer, and Alaskan caribou calving areas. On the other hand, she said, “you oppose Austin city council candidates who would protect our drinking water from Lake Austin and Barton Springs. . . .” Young chimed in that the Statesman’s council choices, Judy Fowler and Gilbert Martinez, “would have no scruples about shooting Alaskan caribou if they affected [developer] Gary Bradley’s land permits.” ROSENFELD, WHO describes himself as a “progressive Democrat,” claimed for himself the highest moral ground. “The orientation of this group is city politics, and that’s fine,” he said. “But we have not been questioned closely about the broad range of human issues that face the community. I’ve got to level with you, I think a lot of Austin politics are quite arid and without content.” Why, he asked, had no one “crossed my doorstep” to discuss the plight of the homeless, the Austin Community College tax base, aid for the indigent at Brackenridge Hospital, support for public and higher education, desegregation of public schools all subjects on which the Statesman had editorialized. He seemed to expect gratitude. Did he presume that because the Austinites in that room had not taken the effort to congratulate him on the paper’s stands on issues such as affordable housing, he held a monopoly on those issues? Ha. Many of the people at the meeting spend literally thousands of hours yearly in civic and political activism. Conrad and Shuddie Fath and many others at the Statesman gritch session have forgotten more about Austin than Rosenfeld and Kintzel will ever know . The Faths are here in Austin for the duration. In contrast, Cox chain editors are merely passing through. 0 0 ZC. 0 0 0_ Stuart Heady Stuart Heady gave the best response to Rosenfeld: “The people here created the civil rights changes and worked in the war on poverty. Everybody here has been involved in those issues for at least 10 to 15 years. That’s why people here feel like they are boxing with people on roller skates. We really need you guys to understand the need for change.” The petition signers reminded me of Texas Observer readers, prickly, opinionated, always ready to find fault, and fully engaged in public dialogue. I admired Rosenfeld’s willingness to confront his critics. I know how wearing it can be, especially when the criticism is scattershot and contradictory, as it was at the Statesman meeting. But isn’t it better for subscribers to care too much rather than care not enough? It’s hard to imagine Houstonians trooping out to the Houston Post’s castle on Loop 610 to demand a better product. In Fort Worth, a town that still has a strong sense of itself, the Star -Telegram, a corporately-owned monopoly newspaper, evokes local concern similar to that in Austin. The entire city council recently signed a letter asking the Startlegram to increase coverage of city government. It was done quietly. Fort Worth is more genteel than Austin. Many people are passionate about Austin city politics. Statistically, they are insignificant, but they define the issues. Many have become citizen experts on such arcane topics as municipal water districts, renewable energy, bond financing, mass transit, State Highway Department policy, water quality, city accounting practices, etc. In Austin, these activists have as much clout as their salaried adversaries in the city bureaucracy or the big fee-generating law offices. The activists are not much fun to deal with. They are positive they’re right and they keep on hammering. When I was writing about Austin for the recently deceased Third Coast magazine, activists would call me at 11 p.m. wanting to have long conversations about road routes or zoning battles. They go to parties only to proselytize. Many are one-trick ponies, and I respect them for their tenacity. They do not make life easy for the. Statesman brass. Editor Rosenfeld should be consoled by the fact that the Statesman has improved since the Fentress family sold the newspaper to the Cox chain in 1975. The current criticism is not nearly as virulent as it was under local ownership. Rosenfeld subsequently published a 56-inch report on the gripe session, warts and all. He concluded, “Perhaps more understanding and interaction will come of it. Thanks for everyone’s time.” But by no means was that the last word. There were articles in the tabloid, The Austin Chronicle, and The Daryl Herald, an idiosyncratic newsletter edited by Daryl Slusher and Daryl Janes, as well as some non-Daryls. Texas Monthly mentioned the meeting, calling it “An Editors’ Evening in Hell.” An edited version of the meeting was aired on public access television, and copies of the videotape were sent to Cox executives in Atlanta. The Statesman rarely has the last word in Austin, surrounded as it is by a small army of suburban weeklies, city government newsletters, neighborhood newsletters, and other alternative voices. There are hundreds of channels of information here, most of them iconoclastic. Austin is less dependent on the Statesman than are most cities served by a monopoly. After the Statesman’s candidates lost this spring and the Austin Chronicle’s won, the Chronicle concluded, “In a sense, the AmericanStatesman has become the second paper in a one-paper town.” THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7