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
ned dominick says
Newswatch! Watch for it! Hah! I found you….email me, call me, Meg and I are STILL married, still living in Macon….but, like you, ever so different.
Bless you friend…..Ned
As someone who has lived in the Greater Cincinnati all her life and now in Cincinniati proper for the last 10 years, it IS absolutely possible to change civic perception of this town.
I mine changed so can others! It will happen word of mouth and one individual at a time.
Randy Weeks says
So good to reconnect with your voice and views, Bill. Thank you for your perspectives on our community. The awareness of gifts over deficiencies and needs is blooming all over as what I trust to be an innate part of an overall cultural awakening. It’s news these days to speak of possibility and gifts with power, invitation and presence instead of nesting it in promotion and persuasion, but I envision the world in which that is more norm than exception and I appreciate your work and heart. I look forward to seeing you again. RW
Daniel Johnson, Jr. says
In 2007 I saw an interest in people who were participating in online channels to begin meeting together and founded New Media Cincinnati. This social media networking group is working to promote digital literacy in the Greater Cincinnati community. It has been interesting to see how local practitioners use of social networking tools (blogs, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) is working to show that Cincinnati is indeed a social media town.
Nick Sweeney says
Thank you so much for this article. As a citizen of Cincinnati, I have a love/hate relationship for this city. But, just like the video articulated so well, there are good and bad parts to everything. The local news highlights enough of the bad, so let me highlight the good.
WVQC (http://wvqc.org): This is the new low-power FM community radio station founded by MediaBridges (http://mediabridges.org) and is a place for those who normally don’t get a voice can tell their stories and viewpoints. It’s a fantastic station, one which I often listen to at work. It plays a lot of local music, too.
Cincinnati Blogs (http://urbancincy.com/, http://cincystreetcar.wordpress.com/, http://cincinnati.blogspot.com/, the above mentioned http://soapboxmedia.com/ and so many more): These blogs show the true nature of what Cincinnati is all about. Our art and music scenes are top-notch and these blogs help to showcase why Cincinnati not only CAN be great, but IS great right now.
Over-The-Rhine: A lot has been written about this neighborhood, and while it is coming around slowly, the recession has hurt the efforts a bit. But the POTENTIAL is there. It is such a beautiful and eclectic part of the city and houses so much history and organizations (such as InkTank, a local arts and writing center http://inktank.org . We need to honor its potential in our city and help fuel its recovery.
My love/hate relationship with the city was highlighted in the short video. Yes, we have institutions, arts, restaurants, and architecture that rival Chicago, NYC, San Fran and other major cities. But we don’t wear it on our sleeve, like we ought. I sometimes feel like Cincinnati is the city version of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. “Oh, we’re JUST Cincinnati. We’re nothing special.”
But we ARE special and there is a teeming pool of us who really care about this city and are waiting with bated breath for it to blossom and show its true potential.
Thanks again so much for a great post about our fair city.
Leigh Sobran says
Loved the article, very thought-provoking. Terrific last line.
Randy A. Simes says
Are young people engaged in this process? By the looks of the video embedded here it appears to be all older individuals. There’s not anything wrong with that, but young people are playing a key role in Cincinnati today and a key role in the on-going narrative change. The greater the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds the better.
Casey Coston says
Soapbox (www.soapboxmedia.com) is a two year old weekly, web-based magazine that may inform your discussion. In fact, this column from February 9 entitled “Changing the Narrative” pretty much scoops your piece. http://www.soapboxmedia.com/features/0209soapdishchanges.aspx
In any event, great piece, and we certainly welcome any and all who share the same mindset. As a non-native who relocated here 6 years ago, I have often commented on the entrenched mindset of the natives…and not in a positive way. We at Soapbox and elsewhere are dedicated to spotlighting the amazing attributes that this city has in abundance–the creatives, the talent, the innovators. The architecture, the history, and how it informs the future….it’s all there waiting to be told.
Bill Weaver says
Scoop away, Casey! Great article!