Prez Column – Mike Argento

By Mike Argento, NSNC President
York (PA) Daily Record

Mike ArgentoA new baseball stadium opened this summer in our small city here in the heart of what we fondly call Pennsyltucky.

It’s a beautiful ballpark, even if it is still under construction. It sits in a crook of the Codorus Creek, which flows through the center of town and on good days, doesn’t smell too badly of the upstream paper plant. The left field wall is taller than Fenway’s. It has luxury boxes and is named for a bank. The beer’s reasonably priced.

To the west of the ballpark is the main north-south drag, George Street. Along George Street, there are new condo developments, conversions of factories that at one time produced automobiles and train cars. Restaurants and bars line the street. Just a block up is the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center and the new county courthouse.

To the east of the ballpark is one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. Drug dealing is fairly open on some corners. Gunfire is commonplace. The streets are strewn with filth. A rowhouse collapsed. It just fell over. Not long ago, an 18-year-old kid selling crack learned the hard way that you don’t shoot at the cops when they come for you. Eleven bullet holes later, he was dead.

Shortly before opening day, I spent some time in that neighborhood. Nobody had asked these folks what they thought about the ballpark so I thought I would. I talked to a lot of people – a lot of people who feel trapped in a lousy neighborhood. They once had decent jobs that paid decent wages. Now, they try to scrape by on Wal-Mart wages in a Wal-Mart world.

Not surprisingly, they didn’t think too much about the $35-million ballpark. They wondered what it was going to do for them, other than give some neighborhood kids part-time gigs hawking hot dogs. They saw the money and effort flowing into to the area west of the ballpark and wondered whether the wind would ever change course.

The column that resulted ran the day the ballpark opened.

I was the most popular guy in town that day.

Why, people asked, do you have to be so negative? Why couldn’t you write something nice about the ballpark for opening day? Why did that column have to run that day?

To answer the last question first, it ran that day because it was one of my usual days. And besides, when else should it have run?

I heard, indirectly, that our publisher was upset with the timing of the column. Turns out the York Newspaper Co., which owns the paper, is among the signature sponsors of the ballpark. The company’s name is emblazoned on the outfield wall.

In my defense, I was doing my job. Not to get too graphic, but if you’re going to throw a parade, expect me to show to pee on it.

Smart-assedness aside, I was doing what we’re supposed to do in journalism – give voice to the voiceless.

And that brings me to Mike Harden.

Mike is our Will Rogers Humanitarian Award winner this year. He’s a great columnist – check his stuff out at the Columbus Dispatch sometime.

Mike made a proposal when he accepted the award, and later at our membership meeting, that we as an organization devote at least an hour during every conference to discussing how we cover the poor and the homeless and those whose hope has crumbled under the weight of circumstances beyond their control.

I hope we do that.

Of course, next year in New Orleans, if all goes well, we will be spending almost all of our time doing just that. As you know, we plan to keep conference stuff to a minimum and spend most of our time out on the streets finding stories and giving voices to those whose voices drowned that day the levees broke.

Mike’s proposal also made me think of the late, great newspaperman J.W. Gitt. J.W. owned the paper that was the predecessor of my paper. It was called the York Gazette & Daily. It was a progressive voice in a not so progressive area. For instance, Gitt had written editorials and columns advocating civil rights – in the 1930s.

The old Gazette was a strange creature. It contained all the agriculture news and chicken dinner items and stuff like that. It also committed some ground-breaking journalism. It was a great paper and it all began with J.W.

There’s a story I heard from a former editorial page editor of the paper that illustrates what J.W. was all about.

When the editor began his duties, he asked J.W. about the paper’s editorial philosophy.

J.W. asked him, “You ever read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?”

The editor said he had.

J.W. then asked him if he had ever read the Sermon on the Mount.

The editor said he had.

J.W. told him he knew everything he needed to know.

Amen, brother.

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Mike Argento, whose column appears Mondays and Fridays in Living and Sundays in Viewpoints, can be reached at 771-2046 or at . Read more Argento columns at or at his blog, Argento’s Front Stoop at

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