Thursday, January 22, 2004

The Changes Keep Coming

Events have a way of seeming to accelerate on you when you're by nature a change-watcher, as I am. And today/this week/this month feels like a day/week/month full of rapidly moving events that are full of meaning.

If you've been a jaded political reporter, campaign worker or some other brand of hanger-on attached to the traveling minstrel show that is the race for the Democratic nomination, you no doubt feel a new energy today, awakening to a suddenly contentious four-way (?) fight. This morning's Times seems to nearly reverberate with a new-found passion and intensity. Meanwhile, my friend Bill Gunlocke, himself invigorated by John Edwards' choir-boy earnestness, is at this very moment enroute from New York to Manchester by bus to take it all in at first hand. My standing promise to him: send me periodic email updates on the scene, and you just may grab the brass ring: the coveted title as the first-ever Working With Words political correspondent. Or, if like Bill, you're a longtime fan of the New Yorker, the appropriate running title should be "Letter From New Hampshire."

WCPN Town Hall. Meanwhile, closer to home, our beloved public radio station continues to outdo itself in provocative morning programming, offering up back-to-back After Nine programs with the kind of intelligent, knowing talk that's becoming routine. And while some are already dreading the impending loss of host April Baer (who's leaving soon for a spot at the NPR affiliate in Portland, Oregon), I'm not so sure that will really matter. I think she's been more a useful cog in a larger successful news and information system, which has benefitted from a few things: including three-quarters of a million dollars in Peter B. Lewis's money and the fact that local radio and TV's utter collapse as sources of real news and information have left WCPN as the last one standing in the Winner Take All Society, as the title of a recent book put it. In any event, I'm expecting her successor to quickly pick up the baton. Yesterday's program had Roldo Bartimole, with 45 unhurried minutes of his take on the town and its dynamics (more about which later). And today it was the Weatherhead School's appreciative inquiry guru David Cooperrider, talking about the latest thinking on effective community planning. The real strength, he said, is when a community can look at itself as a whole, rather than in separate silos. For years, he said, management theory in study after study held that the most effective groups are composed of about 6-8 people. "But what we never asked is, effective for what?" Maybe the most effective way to do community planning is to convene a "strength-based summit" of as many as 300-400 people, or even 1,000, to take stock of a region's current situation and to then plan for its future. Indeed...And speaking of Weatherhead, the unfortunate news arrived via email this afternoon that the bloodletting/head-rolling at the school continues: Dean Moshe Anvari is stepping down into one of those infamous heading-up-an-exciting-new-initiative kinds of jobs which, if history is any guide, are but mere face-saving placeholders while he hunts for something more permanent in the musical chairs world that is top academic management posts. Even some pretty plugged-in faculty members were taken by surprise, which of course means he was forced out...

Mind Expanders. But all of this also comes on the heels of a couple of other giant personal mind-expanders: a first (of what will no doubt be many) get-together this morning with author/thinker/historian Steve Kurdziel, Cleveland's version of Jane Jacobs, and the man behind that increasingly illuminating series of six (thus far) pieces on the Plain Dealer's op-ed page (which I'll somehow link to soon, after we come to grips with's awful archiving feature), plus a catalytic planning session last night for SPJ. The latter was smoothly choreographed by my friends/colleagues Jack Ricchiuto, Wendy Hoke and Jay Miller, which should in short order enable this group to become even more of an emerging hub of interesting conversations and energy around some crucial and related themes about which Working With Words cares deeply: privacy, open records, literacy, good writing and (of course) a smart, honest and persistent media which delivers the building blocks out of which we can fashion an informed citizenry and a healthy community that works for everyone. Now, all of that might sound like a pipe dream to you, and perhaps 'tiz. But I say what the hell: should that really be too much to ask?


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