My Independence Day column, about the couple thousand mentally ill Pennsylvanians who will find their rides to psychiatric rehab dry up by mid-month, spurred more than 100 comments, and countless e-mails.
Only one reader, a subscriber, complained to my editor. I thought I'd answer him here.
He wrote: That column seemed like an old model of journalism to me. Find a sad story, blame whoever's making it sad now (bad government, bad bad bad), and that's it. I wonder..... if that model of journalism was ever a very good one, is it now? Hasn't the world changed in some ways? Haven't we learned, yet, that the government (which is who, again?) can't always do every wonderful thing someone might want it to do? ...
I know there are always readers who will respond emotionally to a story like that of Jessica Gridley -- who wouldn't? But isn't there something a little manipulative in the way it presents "the problem"? Don't you think there are many readers -- and probably an ever-growing number of many -- who find that model a bit limited, and dissatisfying? Who think there are other sides to the story, other possibilities that are not being considered; and that those constant forecasts of doom, as quoted in the column, have proved in most cases to be entirely too pessimistic.... in other words, false?
It IS an old model of journalism, the one that compels a columnist to call attention to something overlooked, and give voice to the voiceless. It's what we do. We can't help ourselves when people are hurting.
Here you have a state agency giving 30-days notice to the weakest members of society that the transportation they'd been receiving for free from their counties is going to disappear soon, and if they are to work their way back into society, it will have to be some other way than by traveling to these day programs that build community and coping skills.
A column is not an article, sir. (And thanks, by the way for identifying yourself as a subscriber. I am available to mow your lawn, under our current promotion.) A column takes sides after the columnist has investigated the issues and given serious thought to the arguments. A column makes you uncomfortable sometimes. That's the job description. Impact is the goal. Action is the hope.
A column is also short - it's supposed to run the narrow length of a newspaper page and take a few minutes to read. That's its virtue. But all aspects of an issue are not represented. So when there are significant developments, the columnist should return to the subject and show what has happened.
One reader - one with paperwork from the FBI showing he's been approved to work with children - has offered the family to give rides to the woman I wrote about so she can keep attending the daily rehab she and her family credit for her progress. If that happens, that would make a good follow-up. So would someone coming up with the money to make these peoples' lives easier. When and if that happens, I want to write about the subject again.
Ok, I've cleared my throat. Back to next Monday's column. Thanks for the mail, good and bad. And to the lady who said she was tired of paying for everything, and can't these people just walk to rehab? The answer is, No.