OPINION: Defining Moments

Falls Church Times Staff

Recently, people have been struggling to define the Falls Church Times.  Is it a blog or an online newspaper; a community forum or a political website?  Is its tone conservative or liberal, progressive or reactionary, or assertively independent?

I guess that’s to be expected.  We recently hit over 500 readers a day, so our audience has grown far beyond our circle of family, friends, neighbors, and a few regular visitors.  With so many readers it’s inevitable that there will be different views.  I think it’s time I defined mine.

I started the Times with my neighbors, Stan Fendley and Dave Witzel, after a conversation about how under-informed we felt during the May 2008 election campaign.  Although we found it easy to obtain candidate-generated information, we all had difficulty objectively evaluating incumbents’ positions since none of us had regularly attended City Council or School Board meetings.  We also were unsure of what relevant experience new candidates might bring to office, beyond what was stated in their campaign literature.  With limited time and competing priorities in all our lives, we made our final decisions at the polls based on personal conversations with the candidates and word-of-mouth recommendations.  I felt there should have been a better way.

I also found myself spending more and more time on the Internet trying to track down essential information for schools, leaf collection and trash pickup (during holiday weekends), sports, and  community events.  Wouldn’t it be great, I mused, if it all could be in one place?

Stan and Dave thought the idea had merit.  Dave gently steered Stan and me from a word-processed newsletter, hand-delivered by our six children (among the three of us), towards a website.  When my ten-year old son came up with the name “Falls Church Times,” we grabbed the rights to fallschurchtimes.com.  Dave and I spent a Saturday morning choosing a template, and then we went to work creating an online news source for our community.  We are pleased several volunteers have since joined us and are proud of the site we have built.

Success brings change and challenges.  Our original business plan stated no commentary or opinion pieces, but we quickly realized that the community wanted a forum, not simply a news source.  Founders, writers, contributors, and commenters now have the opportunity to voice any opinion that they wish.  We only require that opinion pieces be identified as Opinions, Community Comments, or Letters to the Editor, with the author listed.  Readers are free to  agree or disagree, and we encourage debate on those opinions.  We have had our own  vigorous staff debate about requiring those who comment to give their full name but have not reached a consensus.  For now, the Times strongly encourages all who post to give their full names and city of residence to give greater credibility to their views.

As our readership grew, it became apparent that we needed a constant stream of news sources — City press releases, school calendars and newsletters, sports teams promos — to keep the content fresh and our readers returning.  Since our volunteer base remained small, we began looking for easier ways to obtain information, signing up for every RSS feed we could, and even walking to City Hall every other day to check out the bulletin board.  We introduced ourselves to the communications staff at City Hall and the school system and began receiving official press releases.  And we came up with the idea that we should post the City’s camera-ready weekly FOCUS after it had been printed in the Falls Church News-Press.

When we contacted the communications office, we certainly weren’t attempting to infringe upon any contract or arrangement the News-Press has with Falls Church, as we assured City staff.  In fact, we think it’s a good thing that the City publishes information in the News-Press.   Similarly, we believe Falls Church’s government and schools should use every other available means to disseminate information, whether at cost or free.

It certainly would make it easier for us to post timely information on our website and we hope we can offer that service.  It’s now up to the City Attorney as to whether they will take us up on the offer.  If not, we’ll pull the information together for our readers as best we can.  New volunteers are always welcome.

* * * * *

This last week, two things happened that reaffirmed my belief that the Falls Church Times is playing a valuable role in the City.

First, our story about possibly moving municipal elections from May to November has provided an open forum for residents to voice their opinions and debate an issue that in the past may have been discovered by many of them only after a Council vote had been taken.

Second, a friend mentioned that he had always been skeptical of the role the Citizens for a Better City plays in our local elections.  After reading various articles and comments about the organization in the Times, he was re-evaluating his opinion.  If you are unfamiliar with the CBC, you might enjoy reading “A Member’s Perspective,” which appeared last spring.

Those examples illustrate one of the main reasons why I wanted to start the Falls Church Times:

  • to write articles that inform people about community issues,
  • to offer different points of view,
  • to debate the merits of an issue in public, and
  • to give readers the tools to apply that information to their set of beliefs and values.
  • And perhaps change their mind or reaffirm their belief.

If you want to know more about the Falls Church Times and its volunteer staff, please visit www.fallschurchtimes.com, and click on ABOUT.  That’s who we are — we’re your neighbors, friends, and fellow citizens.* You decide how you’d define us:  a blog or an online newspaper; community forum or political website; conservative, liberal, independent, progressive, or reactionary.

As for me, I’ll stick with my original definition: a group of residents building an online resource for the City of Falls Church and looking for a few more volunteers.

* Except for our restaurant reviewer Jimmy Scarano, but I think all our readers agree, it’s worth letting him contribute — even as an Arlington interloper.

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By Annette Hennessey
November 9, 2009 


3 Responses to “OPINION: Defining Moments”

  1. TFC on November 9th, 2009 7:53 am

    All I can say is keep on doing what you do. I don’t worry about tagging you as a blog or an online newspaper….you are a source of information however you define yourselves.
    I really like the way you keep the info fresh and frequent. Some of the other info sources have only occasional postings so I’ve stopped visiting.

  2. Barry Buschow on November 9th, 2009 9:35 pm

    I don’t know the diff between all these “tags”. I do know that I feel more informed about city life and also have the opportunity to express my viewpoint and experience the thoughts and feelings of my neighbors. That’s Communications and I thank all your hard work at the Falls Church Times!!!!!

  3. Susan Earman, Falls Church on November 10th, 2009 8:44 am

    Great job to you and the volunteers. The information provided on this site has so much value. It is a huge task and I thank you. No label is required….thanks again.

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