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Solution Journalism

The U S Post Office has been responsive to planning for the future in the past.  What will it look like in today’s future?
Unknown (artist), National Savings Committee (publisher/sponsor), Fosh and Cross Ltd, London (printer), Her Majesty's Stationery Office (publisher/sponsor), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The U S Post Office has been responsive to planning for the future in the past. What will it look like in today’s future?

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The book is “How the Post Office Created America” by Winifred Gallagher.

Winifred Gallagher does something I seldom see in journalism. She pitches plans and suggestions to solve current difficulties she may be writing about.

The vast majority of journalism stories tend to be he said, she said, they said. In part, he said, she said, is a method to get around the lack of expertise by journalists who tend to be generalists. So, by being conduits they can publish information without having to know the subject. This falls short when one or more of the sources is lying.

He said, she said also falls short when expertise is needed. And expertise is often suspect in the newsroom, seen as possible bias in the subject.

Gallagher has crafted a superbly researched and detailed history of the Post Office with reflections on the Post Office’s effect on the country. Her research covers past threats to the Post Office and past innovations such as postal telegraph, RFD, the Postal Savings System, and Parcel Post.

When we get to the book’s afterword. Gallagher writes:

“The first hurdle to expanding postal services in the twenty-first century would be convincing Americans and their elected representatives that such a thing is still possible.”

In June 2014, I was interested in a new book by author Ta-Nehisi Coates. The book was getting high praise and Coates was being lauded. Reparations for descendants of slaves in the U.S. How would this work, I wondered? Who would qualify?

Earlier in 2014, the compensation master for the Twin Towers destruction of September 11, 2001, was in the news regarding difficulties determining who would get compensated and how much with money from the designated funds. The 9-11 victims were largely known, yet help was often hard to pin down.

Many victims, such as first responders, were added later, with afflictions from working conditions at ground zero.

More comparable to Coates’ theme, I had been noting stories about determining which tribe someone belonged to among Native nations. It can get very complicated. People could be included or dis-included depending on their ancestry and on relationships, who they married, who was adopted and more.

The article on reparations that I read in “The Atlantic” was well-worded, but nothing new. And - Coates did not list how to execute reparations. Surely, I thought, that must be elsewhere in his book.

Before I could buy the book to find out, I ran into an interview with the same question as I. Coates answered that his responsibility was to list the grievances and lay blame. He pointedly assigned the role to politicians to come up with the solutions, the very people with a stake in not repairing long-lasting damage from the time of legally owning human beings.

Frederick Douglas’s famous statement that power gives nothing without a demand, had in mind a pitch with detailed plans to achieve a solution. Many laws and regulations are not derived from the imaginations of politicians and staff but from interested parties who often draft legislation in full - then drop it on the politicians who expect donor money.

In Gallagher’s suggestions she views the Post Office as a community good:

“As in many nations, they could become community information hubs that offer computers, Internet access, and even simple rooftop aerials that provide free or low-cost local “intranet” web and phone service. The local Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts could even move into the post office, space permitting. This type of public-private collaboration could attract more customers for both enterprises; help maintain a town’s identity, ZIP code, and gathering place; save on new construction; and preserve architectural landmarks, some of which the USPS has already sold to private developers amid significant controversy.”

There is a full chapter more. All Winifred Gallagher lacks is a MacArthur Genius Award and lobbyist money.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club

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