Signing Off … for Now

Regular readers of TLR have probably noticed that I haven’t written any new stories in a while. Even the first anniversary of TLR came and went without comment. Sorry about that.

The reason for the radio silence is that my wife, two cats, and I recently moved north to Frederick to pursue some new career opportunities. And as a result, I’ve decided to put TLR on hiatus.

I’ve enjoyed covering planning and economic development in Charles County over the past year and sharing it with you. Along the way I broke a few stories, reported on complex issues in depth, interviewed public officials and people behind the scenes, and generally got to do the things that beat reporters love to do most: bring you news you need to make informed decisions about your life. That’s what we do. I hope you found it useful and informative.

Looking back on the first year of TLR, obviously the dominant variable was the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a month of launching the site, my plans for covering events in person — which would have included much more photography and videography to complement written stories — were suddenly completely shredded, to be upended along with all of our lives.

The switch to virtual meetings as a result of COVID was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, considering I was writing TLR as a sideline gig, it allowed me to watch meetings any time, rewind to double check a quote, and “skip to the good stuff.” The time saved was invaluable, yes. But it came at a very tangible cost. There are benefits to being in the same room at the same time. You can have a private sidebar with an official or staff member during a break. You can chase down a disgruntled citizen in the lobby after their testimony and give them your card to wangle an interview. You can take photos of the people and the action as it’s happening. And above all, you can gauge the mood of a room — all of which a good reporter uses to craft an informed, engaging, readable story.

(You’d think an introvert like me would have an easier time doing his job sitting in a chair in a home office, communicating by phone and text and email, than getting in his car and going to talk to people in person, walking the hallways and knocking on doors, standing in line at the court clerk’s desk waiting for copies. But being an introvert isn’t the same as being shy or asocial. I thrive on that contact, and it’s been a hard year in that way.)

So if it’s hard covering news virtually while living in the same community, imagine how much harder it would be to do that while also living elsewhere. Local news is best written by local reporters, and soon enough the county will be returning to live meetings and when they do, I won’t be there to do the things I mentioned that make a news story a good news story.

Living in Frederick now, I’m going to have a new government — governments, actually, both city and county — to learn about from scratch. New issues and challenges facing residents, planners, developers, and elected officials. New names to learn. And there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll want to write about all of that soon enough. But since I’m pretty much unknown up here, name recognition won’t work at the outset. A news blog titled “The Lagasse Report” isn’t going to mean anything to anyone — for a while, at least.

If I have any words of wisdom to share based on my experience covering planning and economic development — first at the Indy and then here at TLR — it is this: people generally mean well. I know it sounds trite, but I really think it’s true. People are complex creatures who do things for complex reasons that sometimes aren’t clear, even to them. People do things that lead to good results and bad results. They do things for the right reasons and the wrong reasons. They do smart things and they do dumb things.

Unless all of that gets reported on — thoroughly, fairly, accurately, and impartially — it will be much harder for us to find common ground. The county will remain divided into mutually suspicious camps that don’t want, or know how, to work together to help their communities thrive and grow. We have to find reasons to trust one another again. We have to base our decisions on fact, not on rumor or speculation or fear. But in order to accomplish those things, we must be informed.

We have to know what we’re talking about. We have to accept that complex issues are going to require complex solutions. And we also have to accept that, sometimes, those solutions may not be the ones we wanted or hoped for. But if they are come by honestly and fairly and openly, then for the sake of the greater good they must at least be tried.

Until we meet again, be safe, do good, and stay informed.