Saturday, August 21, 2004

The Conscience of Cleveland Finally Gets His Due

Over the years, he's been variously referred to as a curmudgeon, a pamphleteer, even an angry prophet. The Chicago Tribune once called him the conscience of Cleveland--appropriately in my view and in the view of many of his longtime readers.

I'm speaking of course about Roldo Bartimole. But prophets are generally more popular with average citizens than with institutions, which sometimes give them their due (if at all) only after they're dead and gone, no longer able to stir up trouble and ask uncomfortable questions. The late PD reporter Harry Stainer once offered the opinion that Cleveland will erect a statue to Roldo, "but only after he's gone."

The Press Club of Cleveland has a Cleveland journalism hall of fame. Each year since its founding in 1981 it has added a handful of new inductees. And for years, I've chuckled aloud as I read over the list. It's full of some great names that are no-brainers for inclusion, to be sure. But it's also larded with people that--well, let's be kind here--have been more modestly endowed with talent, perseverance or journalistic courage. And some of these names elicited that much more snickering--and often outrage--because certified giants of journalism aren't among them. But that was their problem, I figured. It was rather like the Nobel Prize for Literature, which has suffered more lack of respect from failing to have chosen a few literary geniuses than have the geniuses' reputations suffered from never having won a Nobel. It's safe to say that a Cleveland journalism hall of fame without Roldo Bartimole isn't much of a hall of fame, really, and raises doubts about the credibility of the entire enterprise.

But all that changed this week. We got word that the membership of the Press Club, to its everlasting credit, has finally decided to give the man his due while he's still very much with us and still writing. In fact, Roldo attracted the highest total of votes in his category. He'll be honored at a dinner at Windows on the River in the Flats on the evening of October 28th. I hope you'll keep that date open, and join us in Filling The Room For Roldo. We expect to use this occasion, and the weeks and month leading up to it and after it, to find various ways to celebrate Roldo's vital life work and his unique legacy for community and alternative journalism in this town. His life and his work constitute a walking, talking curriculum on journalism as community activism and engaged citizenship. For two generations, through his Point of View newsletter and his columns in the Cleveland Edition and the Free Times, and now in his columns distributed by Cool Cleveland and the What's Up in Northeast Ohio listserv, he's been an example to literally thousands of journalists, writers, activists, theologians, urban planners, government figures, academics--you name it. And he's been a personal mentor to easily hundreds, constantly giving his time to educate, arouse and inform anyone who sought him out. In short, he's been--and continues to be--a community treasure.

Now, my friends, it's payback time...


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