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Creating Our City’s Narrative

by Kate McGinn:

Stories shape perspective. They contextualize information and package complex ideas into digestible insights. Our lives are filled with stories — about us, our family, neighbors, city, and country. When interconnected, these stories create a complex structure known as our narrative. This is what guides us through the world and defines our values. Narratives lead to cultural and personal shifts powerful enough to promote goodness and dangerous enough to destroy it. Considering this, who is in charge of contextualizing information through stories? Who is responsible for writing our shared narrative and determining our legacy?

During last year’s Tom Tom Founders Fest Hometown Summit event “Can Local Media Change the Narrative of a City”, Brian Wheeler, Chris Horne, Ben Speggen, and Kent Wyatt sought to answer this question. The four media leaders discussed journalism’s role in shaping a city’s narrative and pondered the challenges local media faces when attempting this. Throughout the discussion, one conviction quickly became apparent — these leaders in local media did not look to journalism to take full control of writing a narrative. Instead, they saw media as an outlet for others to create and own their city’s narrative. Media served as the enabler and outside parties were the storytellers.

The event speakers had already incorporated this journalistic method into their own publications. Chris Horne, the publisher of The Devil Strip and Unbox Akron, organizes “Drink Tanks” where writers, readers, and publishers meet to discuss ideas. Events like these let readers express what news is important to them and give writers the opportunity to share their professional perspective. Ben Spreggen, the program director for the Jefferson Educational Society, fosters a community-driven approach to his publication The Erie Reader and lets citizens publish news. This way, ordinary citizens can take part in the story-creation process that shapes a community’s narrative. Kent Wyatt, the co-founder of Engaging Local Government Leaders, is working with government to equip local media with more comprehensive, real-time information. This allows government parties to share the responsibility in publishing information that accurately represents a city. Horne, Spreggen, and Wyatt have started the movement to democratize journalism. They understand the importance of letting community members participate in creating their city’s shared narrative.

Local media should empower citizen governance. Community members, local government, small business owners, and outside local parties should take ownership for their city’s narrative. While journalists should serve as the enablers for dependable news and advocates of journalistic integrity, citizens can and should take an active approach in telling a city’s story. This way, we can write the narrative of a city together. We can utilize media to tell our story.


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