What constitutes good local news coverage?

Jason Truitt, Online Editor of the Palladium-Item newspaper here in Richmond, recently asked what readers are looking for when they ask for more "local news." My response:

For me, a good local news story is one that reflects the things that are happening and the experiences people are having in and around our city and county. For it truly to reflect a local point of view, the story should include the perspectives, thoughts and emotions of local people, and preferably be written by someone who has a local context for (even, dare I say, a personal investment in) why those things might matter.
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Why do we leave the communities that love us?

Summersault Staff and Family, Holidays 2007As I was preparing to graduate from college, I had already decided that I would be staying in the same town (Richmond) for the foreseeable future, and so I was a spectator to the strange but customary phenomenon of having all of my friends from the past four years pack up and prepare to leave town. In many cases they were good friends - loved ones with whom I had experienced some of the most challenging and growing years of my life so far. They knew me, and I knew them, and we had found a rhythm together in that bubble of academia. In other cases, they were people who I hadn't really had time to fully know despite wanting to, and watched whatever sense of possibility that existed there fade away as they went. At the time I had a feeling in my gut that it just wasn't right, wasn't natural to spend so much time building community with others only to see it scattered to the wind of change blown forth by the fairly arbitrary milestone of graduation day.

Since them I've come to wonder with even more bewilderment why we so often leave the communities that love us. We spend so much of our lives trying to find our identities, trying to establish who we are in a given context, trying to find people we can connect to, bond with, lean on. Why do we then also seem to be able to so quickly give those things up because of a job change, a shift in our passions, a thought of journeying across the state, the region, the country, the world to find what we're looking for?
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Links for the Week - January 12, 2008

Links of recent interest:

To challenge and be challenged in conversation

I attended a presentation recently where the person speaking was talking about when it is and is not appropriate to challenge your host's views, perhaps at a dinner party or other social event. He noted that in some cultures, it's perfectly appropriate and expected to have a heated discussion about the topic at hand, and that it is done without introducing any sense of offense, malice or personal attack. In the U.S., he noted, we tend to make (and take) everything so personal that it is generally not acceptable to challenge someone's views unless (the narrative goes) you are prepared to take extraordinary measures to dance around their ego and perhaps walk away never to speak to each other again.

As I thought about these observations (which I suppose are fairly obvious to those who hop between cultures), I realized that I'm definitely someone who prefers to be challenged, and who gets the most out of a conversation when I feel safe doing the challenging. But I know that in the course of seeking healthy dialog, especially dialog in the public sphere amongst relative strangers, it can still be quite a balancing act to engage in challenge with a positive outcome. And I worry that our fear of challenging or being challenged, or being out of practice with actually doing it, means that we end up missing out on great opportunities for conversation and building shared vision with those around us.

So I thought it worth writing down some of the ways that I find useful to challenge and be challenged, in hopes of eliciting comments and refinements from others who find themselves aware of their own tendencies and preferences in these areas.

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Presenting to the EDC Board on Peak Oil

Open Flame in the WorkplaceEarlier tonight I had the honor of being a guest speaker at the monthly meeting for the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County's board of directors, presenting a version of my talk on how we can build a more self-reliant Richmond, Indiana in the face of peaking availability of natural energy resources, global climate change, and the decline of the U.S. dollar. As I said about the November 2007 presentation, it was somewhat especially nerve-wracking because the topics covered are so important to me and, in my view, so important to the future of this community. Today it was also always a growing experience to step beyond the safety of the traditional, "business world/tech guy" kinds of interactions I have with some of these folks, exposing another side of my interests and passions along the way.
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Earlham College Senior Disorientation

Today marked the last day of the 2008 Earlham College Senior Disorientation event, which helps soon-to-graduate college seniors to transition to the "real world" more smoothly. I've been participating in the event as a speaker/workshop facilitator since it began, and it's always an interesting experience to interact with "the Earlham kids" with an ever-increasing temporal distance between my era at the school and theirs. On one hand, I envy them for the newness and possibility that life holds at this particular time, but on the other, I find myself cringing at how seemingly unaware they are of just how many choices they get to make, and how important those choices are. And then I find myself thinking those thoughts and suddenly feel quite old. And then I tell the Earlham administrators who put on the program that it makes me feel old, and then I realize that I've just essentially called them ancient, and I feel them glaring at me a bit. And then I digress in a blog entry about it.

But what I really meant to say was that I appreciate very much that Earlham puts this event on - I imagine that I would have found it incredibly useful and impressive during my last semester there, and part of the reason I participate year after year is to try to make up for that sense of lost time that I experienced learning some of these things (from how to eat properly at a nice restaurant to how to be a young leader in your post-grad destination community) on my own. And of course, I also carry out my super-secret secondary agenda of showing at least some of the students that there are scenarios in which one can graduate from Earlham, stay in Richmond, make a living here, and really love it.

Local coffee shop Charlie's closes its doors

As they are seemingly wont to do, another locally owned coffee shop, Charlie's Coffee Bar and Gallery, has closed its doors. Sigh.

This is not an isolated incident. This is not a bump in the road on the way to a better Richmond. These things must not go unconsidered in the context of larger trends. This is about more than coffee shops, and an adequate response requires more than our sympathy and wistfulness.