Mike Schlesinger is an upstander in his community of Marshalltown, Iowa (pop. 28,000).
Several years ago, Mike read a story in a Sioux City, Iowa newspaper about a young boy who took his own life after being bullied. The paper ran an editorial on the front page saying that the Sioux City community must take a stand against bullying to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
Mike took action in his own hometown of Marshalltown, because as he says, "that could have easily been our town." Mike got involved with Not In Our Town, talked to community leaders and began helping his community take a stand against hate and bullying.
NIOT: For the past 33 years, you served as publisher of the Times Republican newspaper in Marshalltown. We'd love to hear from you about the power of local newspapers to not only keep communities informed but also to serve as a connecting force within the community. Why is local news important to you? And what would you say is the vital role that local journalists play in our towns?
Mike: Newspapers are going through tremendous transition right now. For years, the technology for print media changed very little. However, over the last 10-15 years, everything changed.
Print reporters previously accustomed to covering a story with a pad, pencil and camera began utilizing video, social media and instant spot reporting with Twitter and Instagram in addition to using the printed word.
But regardless of the methodology of equipment and methods used for bringing the local news to our readers and followers, local reporting using “boots on the ground news gatherers” covering what’s important to the community they serve is important.
Not everyone can attend all the meetings for the local school board, city council or county board of supervisors. But newspapers cover those meetings that determine how your tax dollars are spent, how your children will be educated and the rules and ordinances that will dictate how you live your life.
The newspaper reports the good things that happen in their communities to help citizens celebrate the successes and celebrations that make everyone proud to call their town home.
By the same token, a newspaper functions like a mirror and reflects back everything that happens in the town they serve — that sometimes includes bad things that happen in the town.
However, in addition to covering the events of a community, good and bad, a newspaper can also take the lead and help raise public awareness when there is a need.
In Marshalltown, our newspaper took the lead to raise awareness on bullying and hate and took a proactive and preventative role to try and make sure the tragic events that happened due to bullying and hate that had taken place in other communities did not occur in Marshalltown. By launching a citywide awareness campaign on what bullying and hate can do to people and a town, the newspaper helped make people see that being Upstanders to Hate and Bullying was important and essential to making our town a welcoming community.
|Mike and a neighbor in Marshalltown, IA|
NIOT: What would you say to others who are thinking about starting a NIOT chapter in their towns? How has Marshalltown benefited from being involved in the movement?
Mike: One of my proudest moments in my 33 years as publisher, was to witness the huge impact of NIOT on our community. The training our schools went through with Upstander programs has paid off and avoided what could have been a tragedy. Also, our training of upper class high school students going to the middle schools to train middle school students on anti-bullying and anti-hate has benefited hundreds of students.
NIOT has made a tremendous difference in our community and other towns thinking of starting a NIOT chapter can also benefit from the association and assistance provided by NIOT National as well as talking to other NIOT communities.
Inspired by Mike's story?
Stand up to hate and bullying in your community. Here are three ways you can get involved:
♦ Got 5 minutes? Take the NIOT pledge and share it on social media! The Pledge is a reminder to speak up — when you see someone being bullied or harassed; when you hear a bigoted comment or “joke"; or when you see cruel messages on social media.
♦ Got an hour? Ask others in your community, school or workplace to take the pledge, too. Print off copies of the pledge, and begin to spread this important message in your community today.
♦ Start a NIOT chapter in your town. Concerned about divisions in your neighborhood, town or school? Download our Quick Start Guide and learn all the ways you can get involved with the NIOT movement.