Nine days ago on March 13 a sharply divided Elon town Board of Aldermen decided to alter its existing law regarding electronic signs and allow Elon University to begin operating a non-stop news ticker outside the School of Communications, on Citrone Plaza overlooking the main drag — Williamson Avenue. The ticker had been shut down almost since its inception by an existing town law calling for a delay between messages. It’s an ordinance common to all municipalities in North Carolina and probably targets larger electronic signs like the one at Burlington’s Savannah West Shopping Center.
That Elon Mayor Jerry Tolley cast the tie-breaking vote was mildly historic. Tolley began serving as mayor in 2001 and he said before announcing his vote that he had only done so on two previous occasions. “So the motion carries,” Tolley said in conclusion as he broke a 2-2 deadlock. I also noted to myself, because the newspaper story didn’t, that Tolley was a highly successful football coach at Elon from 1977 to 1981 winning back-to-back NAIA national championships. When he stepped down as coach, he continued working at Elon and is still an important figure I see on campus every so often. I’ve known and liked the coach for years.
So his vote didn’t surprise me and I agree with it. Jerry would certainly be loyal to Elon. Another longtime friend on the town board, John Peterson, voted against the ticker. He feels it makes a hazardous road area even more dangerous because it’s another distraction in a section of Williamson Avenue lousy with traffic, weird intersections, short stoplights, a railroad track and students who sometimes meander into crosswalks without paying attention and drivers who don’t understand they are bound by law to stop at crosswalks once someone enters.
John’s point is a fair one. I didn’t like driving in that area even before the ticker was activated.
The university turned on the news ticker on March 15 and a few days later I decided to venture over to the School of Communications from my office on campus and take a look. On first glance I wasn’t sure what the fuss might be about. The ticker is relatively small, a narrow crawl. The video board inside the Snow Family Atrium in the School of Communications might be more visible. On a sunny day it’s hard to read at all from the street or up close.
I went back a couple of days later when it was overcast and much darker outside. The ticker has a higher profile under these conditions. The same effect occurs when shade or a shadow covers that area. The text becomes much easier to see.
I haven’t had the chance to view it during nighttime yet, but I will take a look.
The issue divided the town and people who drive through Elon just as it did the board. I have spoken to several people leery about the the potential distraction the ticker might cause. And an Elon parent I know who has a daughter who graduated from the School of Communications asked if work by Elon students would be displayed on the news ticker. He feels it should and so do I. So I asked Paul Parsons, dean of the School of Communications about it. Paul told me he hoped so but only for big events and noted Homecoming or the announcement of a new university president as examples. The ticker could be an outlet for university news when it fits into a “major” category of interest to a wide range of students. At the moment Paul’s largest concern about content is the contract with Reuters, the vendor supplying the ticker crawl with information. It focuses far too much on international news. Paul would like to see a contract with another news provider that would balance it out with more U.S. information and include the ability for people at the School of Communications to add local content when the need arises.
I was wondering why Brexit and the European Union seemed to dominate the headlines over the past week.
Overall I’m glad the news ticker was activated and look forward to how it evolves. It’s emblematic of the education provided in the School of Communications to the next wave of journalists and the news business in general. Will it be a distraction? It’s too early to tell. Williamson Avenue has been closed to through traffic since March 17 for work linked to the renovated McEwen Dining Hall. The sample size is far too small and during Spring Break this week with no students on campus.
I’ll continue to monitor this breaking news story.