Friday, June 23, 2006

Language is the flashpoint in the immigration debate

Second only to the war in Iraq, immigration is shaping up as a defining issue in the November national elections.
In Wisconsin, we’re about as far away from the Mexican border as you can get without being in Canada, but that doesn’t mean we’re detached from the debate.

One of the flash points of the immigration debate is where the Spanish language fits in American culture. It’s a topic that most people have an opinion about.

I’m reminded of that each month when we include Vista magazine in The Week in selected communities.
The insert is included in many of our papers this Sunday. Vista is a monthly national newspaper magazine of Hispanic news and culture.

We include it as part of our mission to bring news and information to as many of our readers as possible. The Hispanic market continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments in Walworth County.
The more people who read and are engaged by The Week, the better vehicle it is for our advertisers who depend on us to get the word out about their businesses. And because The Week is delivered free, it’s the advertisers who in effect pay for each subscription to The Week.

Last month, for example, I received a call from a vendor who will be at the Taste of Whitewater over the Fourth of July. They thought adding Vista attracted just the kind of consumers they were looking to reach.
But not all the calls I receive are positive. Many feel a publication like Vista has no place in The Week.
One phone caller said, “We shouldn’t print Mexican and put it in a general newspaper. It should be English.
“If you don’t have enough respect to learn the language of this country, maybe you shouldn’t be here, the caller continued.

“It’s not helping people. If people want to do more than just stand out in front of Home Depot waiting for a job, they should learn to speak the language. It’s not doing anything for the immigration cause when you’re putting out Mexican instead of English in an English newspaper.

The e-mail bag brought these responses:

“I am a former teacher. Illiteracy in America is a very important topic to me. Your circulation of Vista magazine only contributes to the problem of functional illiteracy.

“If you cannot read and write English in America, you are functionally illiterate. This is not a racist or judgmental statement. It is a fact. If you are in America, you need to speak and read English. If you do not, you will miss out on many opportunities.

“If you moved to France, would you expect the entire country to change its official language to English, just for you? Of course not.

My view is that we’re not promoting Spanish as our national language, nor are we promoting illiteracy.

I think everyone agrees on the importance of knowing English to function in our society. It’s a requirement of citizenship. In fact, Walworth County is one of the few counties nationwide who has passed a resolution declaring English as the official language of county government.

If I did move to France, I’d certainly learn the language and would not demand that the French speak English just for me. All I’d ask is that I could still read The Week, even though it was in English.

In any case, we’ll be hearing more about these issues in the months ahead. We’re interested in your opinions as well.

You can comment online at www.theweekextra.com or send a letter to the editor at theweek@theweekextra.com.
~Dan Plutchak, editor

Links to story on controversial memorial

Donna Lenz Wright's original story on the Hitler memorial built by Ted Junker is here, with links for comments.

The follow-up story on the cancellation of the grand opening is here.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Grand opening cancelled, and other stories from The Week

As you've read, the grand opening for the Nazi memorial near Millard has been cancelled.

We'll have more information in Sunday's edition. Feel free to add your comments here.

I'll use a moderated format for this blog posting to encourage comments directly related to how we've covered the news or how the news affects us here in Walworth County. (You can also let me know about this moderated format.)

I'll publish selected comments beginning Monday.

~Dan Plutchak, editor

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Comments on Hitler's memorial

Add your comments on the memorial to Hitler and Nazi Germany being dedicated in Millard ...

After 61 years, still fighting Hitler's War

Ted Junker is an affable man.

He’s a kidder, with a twinkle in his eye, like many a retired guy around Walworth County.

But Ted Junker is not like most retired guys around Walworth County.

As Donna Lenz Wright reports in this week’s cover story, Junker thinks the world has gotten Hitler all wrong. And he’s built a memorial in the grassy hills behind his home near Millard in Hitler’s honor.

We found out about Mr. Junker the way we do many of our stories. Junker has been making the rounds of civic groups in Whitewater talking about his project. One of our readers called to tell us about him and to say he’d make an interesting story.

From the outset, I wondered why a man who describes himself as a former German SS officer would even want to draw attention to himself.

His beliefs will obviously offend many, especially those families who fought or had loved ones die in World War II.
There are plenty of people with unpopular and offensive opinions in the world, but in this country, you have the right to believe what you want to believe. Just because a person holds contrary opinions doesn’t mean they’re worth writing a story about.

But Ted Junker doesn’t just have his opinions. He wants to convince us that what we’ve known about World War II is all wrong. And he’s holding a public event at the memorial to publicize his cause.

I don’t think this is the type of story Fox had in mind when the came up with their “fair and balanced’ slogan. It’s like giving equal weight to the Flat Earth Society of those who deny we’ve been to the moon.

But in this case, we’ve decided to publish this story because Junker wants to make his beliefs public.

In some ways, Junker’s spin on history isn’t that far off. It is true that Hitler pulled Germany out of the social turmoil that gripped the country between the wars. And yes, Hitler’s book ‘Mein Kampf did provide direction for the country.

But how Hitler accomplished all this is what lead to war and the holocaust.

In other instances, Junker simply disputes the historical record. His assertion that the deaths in the concentration camps were fabricated is impossible to believe.

As we were looking into it, we found there is a whole Holocaust denial movement. Lenz-Wright contacted several Jewish studies and history organizations for comment on the notion of dismissing the worst atrocities of World War II. In each case however, she found them hesitant for fear of being drawn into an endless debate.

In any case, Junker does have one thing right. In this country you can say and believe what you will.

Whether or not he’ll be able to convince anyone else is something you can judge for yourself.

~Dan Plutchak, editor

Friday, June 02, 2006

Faith at work in Walworth County

Faith has many faces. Faith and religion have become a powerful force in politics. Faith and worship are an integral part of community life.

But after weekly church services let out, and after organized interest groups have influenced the political process, the real work of faith begins.

Ideas, policies and plans are one thing, but putting one's money-or faith in this case-where one's mouth is turns concepts into reality.

Sunday's cover story, written by reporter Mike Heine and photographed by Terry Mayer, is one such example. We're tough on criminals-a reflection of what society deems appropriate consequences or criminal actions.

Incarceration, however, is the easy solution. The nagging question is: How do we prevent crime in the first place, or at least keep people from going back?

That idea is behind the work of Jail Chaplain Mike Dale who, with a group of volunteers, seeks a spiritual path to turning lives around.

"We're not here to accuse them or condemn them," Dale tells Heine. "We're here to show them there is a way."

So people like Mike Dale remain undeterred, tackling society's most difficult and vexing problems.

Even an atheist would agree that the work that comes from faith is a powerful force for making our communities strong and keeping them healthy.

Faith at Work is a theme we've been pursuing over the past year, and today's cover story is just one more example.

It's a theme that pops up over and over again as we tell the stories of our communities each week.

What makes them unique is that these stories aren't simply about people spreading their faith, but about people trying improve the lives of people in their communities.

A few examples over the past few months include:

Charlotte Huntley's profile of a group of East Troy women who gather once a week to pray for their children's schools. Their prayer is just one aspect of their involvement and commitment to the schools that their children attend.

Huntley also wrote about a group from Calvary Community Church in Williams Bay that traveled to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast to help with reconstruction. While federal and state agencies were agonizingly slow in getting help to those who needed it. Church groups quickly mobilized to provide direct and lasting help.

In the midst of winter, Donna Lenz Wright reported on area churches that banded together to provide shelter for the homeless. The shelter rotated among churches in Lake Geneva, Delavan and Elkhorn.

We'll continue to cover how our friends and neighbors, motivated by their faith, are an important institution in the life and health of our communities.

If you know of an example worth covering, e-mail us at theweek@theweekextra.com, or comment on the blog at www.theweekextra.com/blogs/editor.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

What's new is often familiar in the news business

By now you've probably heard that the days of the traditional newspapers are are going the way of the eight-track tape, and that bloggers are the new news media.

But wouldn't it be funny if the news media faded away and nobody noticed?

Perhaps there would simply be an endless cycle of bloggers writing about what other bloggers were writing and then writing about that.

Eventually, I would hope, someone would discover that no new news stories had actually been created for months. Then what would we do?

It's true that the Internet is changing how people interact with the news.

For example, do you want to know what's on the minds of people in Elkhorn these days? Gas prices. And their neighbors. And socialism.

That's what people were talking about Tuesday on Elknet's community message boards.

The Elknet message boards are probably the longest-running in the county, and are an unvarnished, spontaneous-and sometimes funny-look into what the contributors are thinking about the topics of the day.
Like most people who like their news and information fast and frequent, I'm increasingly drawn to online sources of information.

Message boards like Elknet's are a direct link to our neighbors and the blogging (originally derived from the term Web log) revolution that keeps news and opinion updated continuously.

Little scoops of news are broken every day on sites like these.

But that doesn't mean traditional news-gathering organizations are becoming obsolete. If anything, they are increasingly important as readers are looking for information they can trust.

Despite the hype, blogs are different from news. In the old days, we'd call them columns of personal opinion. These just happen to be posted to a Web site.

Run a blog posting like this one in print, and its called a column.

And just like traditional columns in their print counterparts, blog postings can be interesting, provocative and engaging to read. They can also be confusing, incoherent and impossible to finish.

What we'll always need are those age-old news gathering organizations whose role it is to talk to people, observe, do some research and report on life as it is actually is.

Eventually, I think, readers will demand a level of trust from their online news sources and hold blog sites to the same standard of accuracy that they hold print newspapers to.

In today's wild West of online news, authors carry little of the ethic of fact-checking and devotion to accuracy that is common in a typical print newsroom.

For example, the Los Angeles Times recently tried to track the origin of a list of "facts" on immigration that the newspaper supposedly published. It turns out to be a hoax.

Matt Welch of the paper wrote that at least 130 bloggers have posted what they claim is a Los Angeles Times list of "facts" about immigration. "Meanwhile," Welch wrote, "we've tried to assess the veracity of the various statistics from online sources as well as representatives of federal, state, county and city officials."


The revolution is here. Blog sites like huffingtonpost.com have done for liberals what Rush Limbaugh's talk radio program did for conservatives a decade ago. People are paying attention in big numbers.
But behind the opinions and spin, someone still needs to report the news.

When I think of the death of printed newspapers, I like to think of the people who held on to radio stations after the invention of television. Video didn't kill the radio star; if anything, it made them richer.

In the future, I think we'll still be around. We'll just take our place alongside the online news sites, bloggers and Elknets.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The view from Mound Road

When I need to drive to Lake Geneva from our offices in Delavan, I typically take Mound Road east. It’s quiet and un-crowded. There’s a small bridge where the road crosses a creek, which at some undermined spot upstream becomes the Delavan Lake inlet.

I continue on to Highway H, which takes me in to Lake Geneva the back way, from the north.
Coming back, if I have time, I prefer the leisurely route to the south of Geneva Lake. Just past Big Foot Beach, I’m quickly out of the city and into the country. There are barns and fields and cows grazing off in the distance. It doesn’t really seem like it’s the gateway to one of southern Wisconsin’s top tourist destinations.

I was on Mound Road Wednesday morning and I made sure to commit the view to memory because, as Mike Heine reports in Sunday’s cover story, the view could be very different in a few short years from now.

I’ve never felt it is this newspaper’s role to take a side in the inevitable tug of war over development.
There are those who will welcome these huge residential developments for the benefits it will bring to the tax base and the economic livelihood of our communities.

There are others who will decry the destruction of what are now quiet rural areas—the very environment that draws people to Walworth County.

Sunday's cover story gives the debate some perspective.
Our great advantage in Walworth County is that we haven’t screwed things up—yet. And we won’t if we’re careful and thoughtful about how we proceed.

Development is an unpredictable science. One of the issues in the Elkhorn mayor’s race, for example, was how to balance residential and small retail. That’s a difficult balancing act for any community.

Yes, there have been some missteps over the years. The benefits of jobs and tax revenue that were to flow from Delavan’s dog track were never realized; however the whole state fell for the mirage of easy money that dog racing promised.

There is great prosperity in Walworth County, but there is great need as well. Escalating home prices far outpace wage growth in this area. The old saying goes that if you work in Walworth County, you can’t afford to live here—not exactly accurate, but there’s a grain of truth.

Walworth County is an attractive and popular place to live. I doubt we could stop growing if we wanted to. But if we engage in rigorous debate, political compromise and visionary thinking, we can make the most of the benefits of development while keeping the downside to the minimum.

I’m not quite sure what my drive down Mound Road might look like 10 years from now, although I am quite certain it will be very different. My hope is that it will remain one of my favorite drives in Walworth County.
~Dan Plutchak, editor
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