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SG-W:/ Re: The Watchdog

Tom McElroy wrote to me about the Watchdog, how we started, etc.

I started to write him back and messed up and deleted it. So I'm starting 
over, but thought others on the listserve might like the same info, so I'm 
ccing the group this time.

The Watchdog is a newsletter we do in Pittsfield, and its a wonderful thing. 
I encourage activists in every township to do it! It's a lot of work, but 
also very fun.

It started after I hung up the phone one day, after talking to reporters at 
the AA News and Saline Reporter. The reporters have always been very 
helpful, but it's so hard to get them all the info they need, and hit or 
miss whether your story will get buried, skewed by another source (giving 
the WRONG side of the story from my point of view!), or even whether the 
story will make it in at all. I sort of jokingly told some of the people in 
Forever Green, "That's it, I'm starting my own newspaper!"

It started out small, just photocopied. I fliered the neighborhood and  
included a request for subscriptions, $10 for 12 months. My mom badgered her 
buddies into buying subscriptions, and a few folks subscribed from the 
neighborhood. That gave us a little working capital. (Subcribers get it by 
mail, hot off the press.)

Then Jim Walter came to the rescue, and started formatting it for me, hooked 
me up with a used computer, and even arranged to print thousands of them 
cheap on a digital duplicator. It now looks very professional, and we are 
developing a small but growing army who deliver them door to door for free, 
although we continue to plead for subscriptions in each issue, so we hope to 
eventually deliver many more by mail through subscriptions. Subscribers get 
color photos and other info, so there's some incentive to subscribe, plus we 
switch around the free deliveries, so if you really want the info, you need 
to subscribe.

Response has been very, very, very good, though I'd stop short at saying 
it's phenomenal. We're getting a lively back and forth with letters to the 
editor, and we bill ourselves as "Neighbor to Neighbor News." The masthead 
reads,"Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty," which is something Barry 
Lonik said to me one day. (My mom thinks I have that quote backwards; does 
anyone know?) Like the Ecology Center newsletter, we're copyright free, and 
we encourage folks to use it in neighborhood newsletters.

The feeling in Pittsfield is that residents are starved for information, and 
shocked to see all this development without having been told about any of 
it. We have a very repressive local government, saved only by Clerk Judith 
Walter who has a passion for getting the information out to the public, and 
a few others, like planning commish Jean Connell and TRustee Pat Lennington. 
The others operate under a patriarchial type of government model: they 
regard us as foolish children, and will make "hard" decisions secretly for 
us, like deciding that Pittsfield will be wall to wall urban building, a 
mecca for developers, and farming will be eliminated.

The Watchdog is by nature relentlessly focused on our local government, 
since we have to expose what they've done in the past and are doing now to 
make sure we elect better people next time. There is therefore some strong 
hostility from certain sectors, but we're way beyond the kid glove stage in 
Pittsfield; we tried for years to work with these folks, to no avail.

If you want to start a newsletter in your township, it might be kinder and 
gentler, but equally informative. We attend all meetings of Board, Planning 
Commission, Parks and Rec, and Historical Society and Commission, and report 
on them. We also track major developments and other issues, like ongoing 
drainage problems, etc., and I like to include some human interest stuff, 
too, like this month we're collecting donations for the Ladies' Homeless 
Shelter in AA.

So, the short answer, Tom, is YES! Start a newsletter, since the AA News 
can't cover the townships effectively. Hand them out free, but get 
subscriptions (you'll need a DBA and a checking account and a tax advisor; I 
can help you with some small buiness stuff if you need it.), try to do it 
regularly, and have fun! You'll really enjoy meeting your neighbors.

If anyone needs a sample copy, I'll send a Watchdog. email me your address. 
And if anyone else is doing a newsletter like this, can you send me a copy? 
151 E. Textile Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.  Onward, newshounds! All the best, 
Tina Lirones

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