Head In Sand Vs. Heady Decisions; Thoughts On 1 New Retiree

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What if Credit Union Journal just didn't report some of the "bad" news? The corporate stuff. The NCUA proposals. The branch closures. Would you as a reader and CU decision-maker be better off if you just didn't "know?"

Hey, what if you could avoid the media altogether? Would you even have any idea a raging recession was going on?

Obviously (although not for everyone), the answer to the former question is "No," the latter is "Yes." Yet many people are blaming the media, at least in part, for only serving to make matters worse by just reporting the "negative." While more broadly aimed at the mass media, trade publications such as Credit Union Journal also get a good share of similar criticism. During CUNA's GAC two weeks ago, for instance, several people remarked to me that there is plenty of good news that should be reported, although when pressed for what some of those silver linings might be, well, um... "Our used car loans are up," one CEO finally told me.

During GAC, incidentally, liberal pundit Paul Begala was asked by one CU audience member whether the media shouldn't limit its reporting on economic conditions. "For once we're covering something that matters...Does anyone believe that the economy is really great but cable news brought it down?" he asked.

In a recent issue of the Journal, as part of a story themed "Putting George Back Together," we asked credit union CEOs what they would do if they were the new president to repair the economy and the country. Several of those CEOs noted in their responses that among the executive steps they would take would be to "rein in" the media and require reporting of positive news.

In large part, a good newspaper or media outlet should be much like a mirror, accurately reflecting that which is facing it. If you take up permanent residence on your couch and go on an all-fudge diet for the next year, you can cover or even break the mirror - it's not going to change what's reflected. Similarly, Credit Union Journal could ignore news related to U.S. Central and other corporates, for instance, but the problems would still be there and you would be poorly served as a reader and, in turn, your members would be poorly served by you.

One final note: Credit Union Journal does, in fact, place great emphasis on reporting the positive. The Journal's Leaderboard series (on page 4 in this issue and most others) profiles a peer-leading CU. In nearly every issue there are other stories focused on success strategies that are working at credit unions. And, of course, Credit Union Journal hosts Grow Show April 27-29, the only conference dedicated solely to growth.

* On the cover of Credit Union Journal's Aug. 5, 1998 issue is a photo of five men, their arms all raised in victory after the passage of HR 1151. Four were and are well known to credit unions, including NAFCU's then-CEO Ken Robinson and CUNA CEO Dan Mica. The fifth, Larry Blanchard, is well-known only to the inner circle of credit unions, and that's just the way he likes it. Many may recognize his name, but are unsure of his job title. But the title never really mattered, Larry was simply best known for getting things done, usually with quiet diplomacy behind the scenes.

Larry has retired after an astounding 50 years in credit unions, working in just about every capacity. At a well-deserved retirement dinner hosted by CUNA Mutual in Washington, the room was packed with well-wishers in the kind of evening all good folks should have at least once in their lives. At the tables people joked that they wanted to stand up and tell embarrassing stories about Larry-but in real testimony, no one had any.

Blanchard is another of the vanishing pages of CU history, too. He began his career working at a shipyard credit union collecting quarters on paydays for deposit into accounts. He would during his career go on to work at NCUA, CUNA, NAFCU and CUNA Mutual, and also published some newsletters aimed at credit unions. At his retirement dinner, Blanchard observed, "It's been a wonderful career. But in all the battles we've been through we were always able to blame the bankers. Now, we can't. We need to come together and that will get us through this."

Mike Beall, president of the DC & Maryland CU Leagues, noted Blanchard could always be found in the "middle" of the fight, such as the battle to get credit unions the power to offer share drafts in the 1970s. In the late 1990s, Blanchard perhaps served his most critical role, chairing what had been a divided CU movement before he took over the Campaign for Consumer Choice. And true enough, there in that photo in CU Journal in 1998, is Blanchard, standing right in the middle between CUNA and NAFCU.


Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.

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