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West End News: February 20

Miami, Florida
Miami, Florida

West End News Feb 20 2014.mp38.92 MB

 The Bloodmobile will be back in Tofte on Monday, March 3rd from 2:30 until 6 pm. In a quick and easy process, you can donate a pint of your blood that will be used to enhance or save the life of another person. The professionals on the Bloodmobile, who work for the Memorial Blood Centers, make it very convenient and painless to perform this critical civic duty. You will get to have a friendly visit with a random selection of your neighbors and, best of all, they will give you free cookies and juice. You do have to schedule and appointment, by calling Carla Menssen at 663-0179 or contact WTIP for more information.

I feel a little sheepish to say that I spent most of the last week in Miami, Florida. I was invited to attend a conference sponsored by the Knight Foundation called the "Media Learning Seminar." The conference is a gathering of people who care about how important information is to a democratic society and how to make sense of information in a world that is changing at an alarming pace.

As you can imagine, the rise of digital technology and the decline of traditional news media are the concerns that run through almost every discussion at the conference. Commercial media outlets are putting less effort into local news. The internet has reduced their revenues and their relevance. Newspapers have gutted their news departments and local television news tends to report murder and mayhem rather than substantial news. The whole news business is changing so fast, that no one really knows where it is going.

According to the experts at the conference, small community radio stations, like this one, are a bright spot in the news landscape, especially in rural areas. The ownership that is felt by listener members and the deep roots that the professional staff have in their communities, makes the news programming at community radio stations, and small weekly newspapers by the way, particularly useful in keeping people actively engaged in their local community.

It wasn't mentioned at the conference, but I can't help thinking that the whole trend toward all things local: local food, shopping, arts, energy, etc. is helping to focus people on their local news organizations. Of course, it almost goes without saying, that good news reporting is critical to a well functioning democracy.

One of the most interesting presentations at the conference was from journalist David Bornstein. He organizes a weekly feature in the New York Times called "Fixes." His idea is that news should go beyond the reporting of conflict and controversy. If someone is having a problem or conflict, it is pretty likely that someone else in this wide world has already figured out a solution.

It is easier, cheaper and more immediately interesting for journalists to cover conflict. The cynical line in the news business is, "If it bleeds, it leads." Bornstein thinks that solutions can also be interesting to readers, if they are presented in the same format as a "who-done-it" mystery, except instead of "who-done-it" it is "how-done-it."

Let me give you and example. Here in Cook County it is generally excepted that finding affordable housing is a big problem for working people, especially young people. There may be many reasons for this, but it is obvious that supply and demand in a beautiful area with a strong tourism economy causes housing prices to be too high for many people who live here.

A reporter could go out and find other communities that have this same syndrome in play to learn how they have solved, or attempted to solve the problem. The news story would start out by stating that they have found a way to have affordable housing in their community and then reveal over the course of the story how they did it. It makes a good story and could be very helpful in finding a solution to a thorny issue.

Aside from the interesting conference, it was an eye-opener for me to spend some time in the heart of Miami. The downtown waterfront is ringed by giant high rise hotels and residences, which caused me to have a sore neck as a gawked at them like the country mouse that I am. Giant super-yachts are parked along the seawalls in front of the high rises. These symbols of luxury are fun to look at, but they do raise many questions about how wealth is distributed these days. It's hard to look at a gleaming 200 foot luxury yacht that cost tens of millions of dollars to build and operate without wondering if this is a smart way to organize our world.

On a Saturday night on South Beach, one of the world's trendiest neighborhoods, we found a sidewalk table and soaked up the carnival atmosphere. I overheard at least 30 different languages and observed a wide range of the human condition - all with club music blaring from every open front establishment. The closest thing I can compare it to is the bar scene from the original Star Wars movie - completely alien, but strangely compelling for some one from the little old West End of Cook County. And, I'm sorry to have to say that the weather was gorgeous and tropical.

Sorry about that.