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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Sports And Courts

When our daughter interned at the law library of the US Supreme Court, she took Hubby and me to see some things that are not open to the public.  One area was where justices (and other senior employees) could go to relax, a basketball court in the dome of the magnificent building.  They call it "the highest court in the land."


I've been thinking about sports and courts.  Our only local newspaper (not even close to a true daily newspaper anymore, in terms of print) keeps pleading poverty, despite the fact that even an electronic copy costs almost a dollar a day, and more importantly, that its advertising is undiminished.  Most of this advertising is aimed at buyers who have no connection to professional sports -- and yet here we go again:  as our public health crisis worsens and governments from the international level to the local must deal with countless unknowns, there's still plenty of information about games. 


And there's ink to write about overpaid game-players and their views on anything and everything, as if throwing a ball makes them experts.  I'm tempted to say that the businessmen (I'm sure they are men) who make decisions on what topics are worthy of coverage are the sort that conservatives love to hypocritically decry.  As in ancient Rome, these news-deciders offer bread and circuses to distract us from reality.  Yet I don't think they really intend such a plot.  Instead, they are just creatures of habit; they have a full sports section because they've always had a full sports section, and they lack the curiosity to ask if that is what readers really want to read in our perilous times.


Which brings me to the "court" portion of the subject line.  For several weeks, I've been looking in vain for a report on how courts, as in the judiciary, are dealing with the pandemic.  We've seen stories about overcrowded jails where close spaces spread disease, and less often, stories about early release because confinement in these conditions may mean a death sentence.  Still, we are more likely to see a sports stat than one on jails -- and almost nothing about how the third branch of government system is functioning.  Or even if it is.




Like so many things, historians eventually will settle it.  We will skip over what the Rays did or didn't do today, and write about the transformation of justice during the pandemic.  That won't happen anytime soon, though, and we remain ignorant in the here-and-now.  What about the constitutional right to a speedy trial?  How many defense lawyers at this very moment are drafting appeals claiming that their clients are entitled to "time served" because they have languished in jail without a trial?  What about those who didn't get their right to a jury of their peers, something first gained in 1215?


A retired judge told me that it's already difficult to assemble a jury of intelligent, diligent, diverse people – and that with continued social-distancing protocols and fear of contagion, it may become impossible in the future.  Some people have been advancing the idea of professional jurors for years, but I've never taken to it and suspect that most of you feel the same.  Yet where is the discussion, the research, the writing on a jury of one's peers?  Instead of asking these important questions, most media folks just follow the herd of daily distraction and entertainment.


I learned that some judges are experimenting with virtual conferences that include the defendant and his defender/prosecutor, but I wonder if that non-jury justice will stand up in higher courts?  Torts, or civil cases, present an even greater problem, as it is very hard for people suing or being sued to face each other in court – let alone offer witnesses, expert testimony, and other factors that make up complex litigation.  Landlord/tenant cases predictably will explode once people are allowed inside a courthouse again.  Divorce, child custody, and all sorts of family-law cases are bubbling below our turbulent surface.


Nor is this crisis alluded to in the mailers I've been getting from judicial candidates running in the August election.  I know that rules bar them from saying much about issues, but if a candidate is thoughtful, a message can be conveyed.  The only mailer I've seen from someone who is thinking in a futuristic way is incumbent Judge Michael Scionti.  He speaks to the Veterans Court that he has created, which is proving successful in diverting traumatized veterans from prison.  As a veteran of Afghanistan, Mike is thinking outside the box.  We need more of that.


So, I don't know the answers to these questions – but my job is limited to raising questions.  I'm a columnist, not a reporter.  But please, assignment editors, get your reporters out of the Trop and into the county courthouses, where you truly can do some public good.  And voters, when you listen to candidates, please ask about a judicial system that will be forever changed because of our dark days.




I was talking on the phone recently with a California nephew who, until the global lockdown, had an international management consulting firm and read newspapers around the world.  He's stuck in Napa Valley now, and this isolation has made him more aware of how many papers are going under.  This certainly is not a new thought:  Mass media was failing apart already in the 1960s, when I worked at US News magazine in Washington, and we witnessed the demise of competitors with mass appeal -- Life, Look, and The Saturday Evening Post, begun by Alexander Hamilton. 


But television replaced a great deal of the traditional raison for mass magazines, and the problem now is the lack of newspapers for small and mid-sized towns.  Journalists in New York, Washington, London, etc. presumably will continue to report on national and international news, but who, as my nephew said, will cover Napa Valley's local governments, the city councils and the school boards?  Will we know anything about zoning hearings, bus routes, garbage disposal, and all the other necessary minutia of our daily lives? This lack of local news coverage is true all over the nation -- and it's serious, as the vacuum of public information almost becomes a license to steal.  It's much easier to bribe someone if no reporters are lurking.


So, in a challenge to Mark Twain's observation about weather, talking, and doing, I'm going to offer a modest proposal.  You doubtless have been getting the same emails I've been getting about the imminent demise of the US Post Office.  No, it isn't in any real danger of collapse – even Republican congressmen wouldn't dare – but the rules have been rigged so that it suffers financially compared with profit-making competitors such as Fed Ex and UPS.  Postal workers become "bureaucrats" who make good strawmen.


Here's the proposal:  the PO is in trouble, as are newspapers.  Why not combine the two for a win/win?  The post office could offer delivery rates to newspapers that are nearly cost-free, given that it means no route increases, and newspapers could reach everyone without the risk of paying employees to deliver.  Sure, your paper would arrive a few hours later, along with your mail, but the probability is that these days, it isn't arriving at all.


I look back with happy nostalgia at the image of my brother and me delivering the afternoon paper from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  Our town was a few miles over the border in Minnesota, and the morning paper was Minnesota's "Pipestone County Star."  I never thought about who delivered it during winter morning darkness while we went to school.  After school, though, he and I were eager to jump up on front porches and leave the paper.  We collected the subscription fees on Saturdays, filling out forms and learning business skills. The paper sent us a weekly check, and I filled a big mustard jar with coins from tips.


It would be impossible now for a business to even consider hiring pre-adolescent kids, but although it's seldom mentioned, this change doubtless is a factor in increased newspaper delivery costs.  There's no reason, though, why the postal service couldn't replace the newsboy.  (And girl.)  It's important to remember that the nation's founders understood that communication is essential to democracy.  They created Committees of Correspondence to publicize their work throughout the colonies, and the Continental Congress created the post office before the nation itself.  Let us not give up on either it or newspapers.  Written word matters.



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