I attended last night's InterNeighborhood Council meeting at Golden Belt to try to get the community group to read and participate more in The Durham News. Herald-Sun editor Bob Ashley and I asked the group to send both our papers its news and to let us know when they have interesting issues or events to cover. (This essay applies as much to The Chapel Hill News, so I'm posting it on both blogs.)
Bob, a thoughtful editor I once worked for, noted how he sometimes ends his conversations these days by telling callers his paper might not be able to cover an event but if they have someone taking pictures or who could offer a small write-up to please send it. I do this too. In fact, community newspapers have always done this. There are many small but important events -- charity fundraisers, volunteer projects, recognition ceremonies -- that we can't staff but can publish, letting more people know about them.
It stung to hear criticism last night that the papers are no longer doing a good job covering neighborhood issues. Some of the strongest words ("no way to run a newspaper") came from a community leader I interviewed during the Watts-Hillandale July Fourth parade in Oval Park, a story we started on the front page of The Durham News with a big picture of three generations of women carrying American flags and continued inside with a full story and more photos. In fact, we are all over Durham's neighborhoods, covering events like the parade, the annual Beaver Creek pageant to benefit Ellerbe Creek, the speeding complaints in Trinity Park, the slow but much hoped-for resurgence of East Durham.
I didn't sleep easy last night, though it may have had as much to do with the afternoon coffee as the meeting. This morning, I realize that that community leader's words are a challenge. We can say we're doing the best we can with what we've got, or we can continue to find new ways (and return to proven old ways) to bring you the news. I started my day with a thank you email to INC leader John Martin (not the critic and actually quite supportive last night), inviting the group again to send us letters and guest columns. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
But the bigger request, one I touched on last night, is to simply talk to us. Too much of the conversation in our country and communities today takes place in"silos," blogs and email lists where like-minded people or groups of people with a common interest talk to one another and sometimes no one else. Newspapers, print and online, have been a place where disparate groups come together, or at least the place where you might bump into a new issue while reading about something else. But we need your help, and yes, your participation.
Thanks again to the INC for the opportunity to talk with the members last night.