Monday, April 12, 2010

What is our neighborhood magazine for? by Aukje de Vries

The neighborhood where I live has a neighborhood association which is open to all inhabitants. The association also has a magazine, which appears 6 times a year.

According to the statutes of the association the final responsibility for this magazine rests with the board of the association. There is an editorial committee and there are also internal rules which regulate the rights and responsibilities of the editors of the magazine. Now the statutes are a little different than the internal rules, the latter giving the editors slightly more rights. But in the end it is clear that the board has the final say about the magazine. A few months ago we learned there had been a conflict between the board and the editorial committee. The editors had resigned and the board had taken over the magazine.

The first issue with the board as editors was a great improvement in my eyes. The magazine as it used to be was printed on glossy paper, had lots of advertisements of local shop keepers and other independent agents such as lawyers, therapists, real estate brokers and the like. The magazine usually contained very little news of any importance, it was mostly filled with articles about a local shopkeeper whose shop celebrated its 25th anniversary, new trees planted in a street, the problems with sea gulls, which come into the city in the summer and make lots of noise, the history of a building somewhere in the neighborhood, an inhabitant who had written a book about a historic figure, but hardly any news worth knowing. The best read were the few pages filled by the board, where board members informed us of their activities regarding municipal decisions concerning traffic and construction and their negotiations with the city government on these issues.

In recent years the municipalities have taken on considerably more responsibilities for social services and community development. I should like to read about this in our magazine as well as about the many social and cultural organizations which must be active here, but about which I know next to nothing. But none of it. I found the magazine extremely dull and hardly worth reading. In previous meetings of the neighborhood association I had heard some criticism of the magazine, but there were always other members who immediately came to the fore saying it was an excellent production. I never understood why. Now the editorial committee has resigned, but a group of members has requested a special meeting of the neighborhood association to discuss the conflict.

I went to the meeting because I want to support the board and ask for more news in the magazine on social issues.

I don’t think I have ever attended a meeting of the association with so many persons present. There are barely enough seats. The President of the association tells us that the meeting will be chaired by an independent lawyer, if the meeting agrees. The situation is explained. The conflict is a classical conflict between the board of the association and the editors where the board has disagreed with some of the articles of the editors. The editors claimed independence and the maintenance of journalistic standards. The conflict has already existed for quite a while and at a certain stage help has been asked from an independent mediator. Without success.

The chair suggests that we do not go into all the details of the conflict; the positions are clear, it is important that the conflict be solved and the magazine can be continued.

Most of the persons who want the floor nonetheless ask for ever more details about the conflict and the mediation. Although the mediation was supposed to be strictly confidential, we are even informed of what has been going on in that process. When I try to take the floor and want to say that as a reader I am not very pleased with the contents of the magazine, others got a chance to speak first. They praised the editorial committee saying it did such a fine job, we have such a wonderful magazine, possibly the best of the entire city. Applause.

When I finally get the floor the speaker before me has again spoken very positively about the magazine, so I react maybe a bit too directly saying I do not think at all the quality of the magazine is good. I told them that I think it is rather poor and does not reflect what is going on in the neighborhood. I want to read about social issues and about the consequences for our neighborhood of the Act on Social Development. What plans does the local government have for our neighborhood and what do the citizens want? Murmurs but no applause. Someone says: “At least a clear opinion”. It is evident that the majority of the people don’t share my opinion. The meeting continues and closing time of the hall (10.00 p.m.) approaches.

The chair proposes to adjourn the meeting to give both parties, the board and the editorial committee, time to decide how to end the conflict. They get five minutes. They leave the hall and come back 15 minutes later. The outcome of the deliberations is thatthe editorial committee, which has already resigned, will get a big thank you in the next meeting of the association. I am surprised they reached this conclusion so quickly, but agree with the solution.

Next day I get a phone call from Geraldine, a highly qualified and active senior, who is, like me, interested in social issues. She says: I am glad you brought up the Act on Social Development. Geraldine too, feels that our neighborhood magazine was not at all informative. She tells me some stories about the editorial committee. Their policy was to represent the neighborhood as healthy, wealthy and happy in order to make the local shop keepers and entrepreneurs advertise, thinking the inhabitants are their ideal clientele. Therefore the editors did not want to publish any articles on poverty, loneliness, lack of care or other social problems. In the mean time the committee has built up considerable reserves out of the advertisements. According to Geraldine the committee had brought all its friends and relations to the meeting to speak favourably about them; that is why most people made such positive remarks.

Why don’t you write an article for the magazine, Geraldine asks. Because I do not know what is going on socially in this neighborhood, that is precisely what I want the magazine for.

Just wait, I’ll come back to you, Geraldine says. And, knowing Geraldine, I am sure she will. We’ll see.

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