By Tony Palmeri
From the December 2006 edition of The Valley Scene
Welcome to the 5th annual TONY Awards column, a recognition of noteworthy media happenings in our region. I would like to dedicate this year’s column to Dr. Bernard Brock, a Professor of Rhetoric at Wayne State University in Detroit who left us much too early in March of this year. Almost everything I know about the power of rhetoric I learned from Bernie while studying at Wayne in the 1980s. He was a great mentor who motivated generations of students to work toward making the world a better place. Thanks Bernie.
And now the 2006 TONY Awards for . . .
*Best Bill O’Reilly Watchdog: Tom Breuer. Scene readers will recognize Tom as the former editor of this newspaper. Since leaving, he has co-authored (with Joseph Minton Amann) Sweet Jesus I Hate Bill O’Reilly. This highly entertaining and useful book, along with the companion website, www.sweetjesusihatebilloreilly.com, provides a wealth of resources for media activists seeking to debunk Fox News’ self-righteous pit bull. Tom also maintains a great blog, The Gray Sheep (http://thegraysheep.blogspot.com/)
*Blogger of the Year: Ron Hardy, Babblemur (http://www.babblemur.com/blog/). Ron is a UW Oshkosh librarian, Wisconsin Green Party co-chair, and grassroots activist. His Babblemur blog (which is actually a team effort featuring Babblemur Ron, “Akaoni” and “”RexusNexus”) features a provocative mix of local, state, national, and international banter. I think the Babblemur blog is everything Ed Garvey would like his FightingBob.com to be, but is too stuck in Democratic Party niceties to get there.
*Best Student Journalists: The Staff of The Webster Wave. The Webster Wave is the first newspaper in Wisconsin produced by elementary school students. The staff of 24 students attend Webster Stanley elementary school in Oshkosh, and are mostly 4th and 5th graders. The paper is 4 pages and is produced 4 times a year, with an online version linked on the Oshkosh Northwestern website. Student co-editor Elizabeth Redlin offers some great advice in her November 15th editorial: “Reminder! Everybody needs to be treated equally. If you are treating people differently by the way they look, or what they like, then you are wrong!”
*Comeback of the Year: Lyle Lahey. The legendary editorial cartoonist Lahey, a fixture on the pages of the Green Bay News Chronicle for years before the paper’s unfortunate demise at the hands of the Gannett Corporation, returned to cartooning in March with the launch of a website (http://www.weimar.ws/lahey/). In a press release launching the site, he said "With all the wackiness permeating our land, I could restrain myself no longer.” Lyle produces three cartoons each week, always hard hitting, humorous, and insightful. Check him out!
*Best Feature Story: “Lawyers Run Amok: Members of the Club” by Geoff Davidian in Milwaukee Magazine. Milwaukee Magazine is not a local publication, and it’s even hard to find a copy in the Fox Valley, but Davidian’s story represents the finest journalistic attempt to look for way to reform the corrupt legal system in Wisconsin that failed to provide a safeguard against corrupt individuals like former Winnebago County District Attorney Joseph Paulus. Davidian made some troubling discoveries:
If and when the legislature moves to clean up this system of lawyerly old boy corruption and cronyism, Davidian’s piece will have been a key reason why.
*First Amendment Enemy: Judge Robert Wirtz. This is an award that the recipient should not be very proud to receive. In March, Fond du Lac circuit judge Wirtz literally ordered the shutting down of a website based on the content of anonymous postings that plaintiffs who sued the website owner found to be defamatory. This kind of “prior restraint” is extremely rare and almost always applied in cases of national security. The website was eventually put back online, but not before the judge had created a chilling effect that could have long term effects on local blogging and other Internet communications.
*Citizens of the Year: Sharon Fisher and Jean Gams. Earlier this year the Oshkosh Common Council voted to allow the placement of a “Christmas Box Angel” statue in city owned Menominee Park. Citizens leading the effort to place the statue in the park were motivated by a sincere desire to create a grieving space for the parents of children who have passed away. Sharon Fisher led the effort with courage and integrity. She sadly died recently at the age of 46 after a 10-year battle with cancer.
Ms. Gams is an 87 year old self-described “rabble rouser all my life” who alerted the city fathers to the separation of church and state issues involved in the placement of the statue. Whether one agrees of disagrees with Gams’ view, her activism on behalf of Constitutional principles is admirable.
Here’s hoping that 2007 gives us many more acts of independent journalism and citizenship.
Prior TONY Awards can be found here, here, here, and here.
Tony Palmeri (www.tonypalmeri.com) is an associate professor of communication at UW Oshkosh.