The stars (and the gold medals) lined up for Vancouver. Even those who are most critical of the Olympics caught the fever, and most of the world now sees Vancouver as a gleaming mecca of culture, possibility, and hope. A feeling of unity and pride still permeates this historically progressive city, and citizens will continue to ride that high and tap its potential far into the future.
For every Vancouver, Portland, Victoria, New York, and San Francisco, there are countless other towns and cities that, for some reason, fall victim to a pall of inferiority. In many cases, there are solid reasons for this: runaway pollution, cultural clashes, ugly histories.
At the same time, there are other amazing places that have a delightful array of positives going for them. Yet for some reason, those traits just don’t mirror back to a lot of the citizenry.
Cincinnati is a perfect example. While an outsider like me might see the beauty and intrigue of this historic city, an insider might look at me like I got off the wrong bus. This unfortunate attitude, which can permeate an entire populace, seems not so different from how we can let our own personal self-image run astray. As we would say in the media biz as well as the therapy biz, there’s a bad narrative afoot. Is there a cure?
A couple of years ago, Peter Block invited me to Cincinnati, Ohio. Peter is a high-end corporate consultant, and now a great friend. I know him best from his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, which is a great read for anyone who cares about where they live and who they live with.
Peter adopted the beautiful hill town of Cincinnati as his home many years ago, and since then, has been putting his resources into improving the city’s human landscape. Peter has a lot to say about media these days, and it’s not always complimentary. Media is the neural network of a community, and in many places, even the most earnest of local media can end up fueling a downward spiral in a city’s self-regard.
Peter cares about the local media as much as he cares about the rest of this city, and asked me along to be part of a dialogue with a roomful of those journalists. They’re great people, full of pride for their hometown. They are the complete antithesis of WKRP. They all want something to shift in the Cincinnati mindset.
I came along on this venture because of my 40-something years on both sides of the mike and camera in broadcasting, and because I host a yearly conference called Media that Matters (more on that in future missives) that wrestles with a lot of issues like this. Also on the journey were two other colleagues who work with an initiative called Journalism that Matters. Our mission: planting the seeds of a new narrative in that city.
Here’s a rough, partial sketch of some of that trip, to be completed at some future date. It touches on the concept of “possibility journalism”, or “future-focus journalism”, which I think needs increased attention these days. I hope this excerpt offers some food for thought. When I spend some more time tweaking it in the edit booth, I’ll post it again…
I loved Cincinnati and its people. I think what I loved most was that it was far from the overly comfortable progressive circles I’ve been immersed in for the past 30 years. Sure, there were troubles in Cincinnati, but it also felt more alive in some way. Cincinnati is an edge place. It’s a meeting of red state and blue state, of urban and Appalachia, black culture and white culture, industry and environmentalism.
Everyone should visit Cincinnati. It’s an important touchstone for understanding the complexity, the challenges, and the hope of America. A perfect place to hone our elemental media, and practice En’owkin, the Okanagan concept that translates as “Please give me the viewpoint most opposite of mine so I can increase my wisdom.”
“Cincinnati Taylor Southgate Bridge “Shadows on the River” David Paul Ohmer @ Flickr.com. Some rights reserved.
Feature Photo by David Paul Ohmer