Dre's Dispatches: Vol. 1, No. 4 | Leaning into the Love of a Community

Image of downtown Minneapolis from Stone Arch Bridge

Above: Downtown Minneapolis, Minn. on Saturday, July 13, 2019, from a bicycle on the Stone Arch Bridge. No, I didn't crash it. Yes, really.

Hello, everybody!

I originally intended this edition to hit your inboxes during last week’s MLB All-Star Game. (BTW, go American League!!!). Instead, I’m finishing this while watching the season premiere of Mighty Trains on the Smithsonian Channel.

You’d think rebooting a newsletter in the midst of redesigning your web presence would be easy. No, it’s pretty hard. I haven’t sent one of these out since April. That’s a long time.

There’s a lot of stuff I’ve been thinking about in recent months. I’m still tackling many deep questions still unanswered a year after leaving Palo Alto. There’s more about that below. I’m going to dedicate the first part of this edition to observations from SRCCON 2019.

Leaning into the love of community
I got in early this morning from Minneapolis. Saturday can best be described as essential to my conference experience this year. The last two years were respites from anxiety related to life changes. I left both feeling refreshed even still unsure about the future. I arrived at SRCCON at a low point mentally - both personally and professionally. I was not in a good place at all. I didn’t really function that first evening. Despite the view in the photos taken, I wasn’t happy. It got a little worse after the first full day of the conference. Thankfully, it didn’t last. I credit the communities I’ve been lucky to be a part of in journalism and represented throughout SRCCON.

There was support at every corner. Whether via Hardly Strictly Young at Missouri, #wjchat, or the JSK alumni community. There were people who cared and understood the problems and pitfalls. They were able to make space for me and listen. It was the epitome of being asked, “How are you? Really?”

I’m grateful for people who care and who go beneath the surface. This is especially true in an age where it feels like we’re more focused on self or cluster instead of community. I struggle to use the word community unless there is a strong, invisible connection. It’s different than how the word is used today to refer to affinity groups. They may like something, but they may never talk to each other or know how to support each other when necessary. They’re more concerned about what they want instead of what’s needed for the greater good. I’m always grateful for the opportunity to reconnect to them. I was also grateful for the chance to dip into a well of support at a time when I feel disconnected from many things.

Rambling on the Return of the Ramblings
Incidentally, I realized I haven’t written about my post-JSK fellowship life too much. It’s because I’ve just started to grapple with the lessons learned from it. I’ve posted to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter often though. I recognize those thoughts and snapshots into life might get lost in a sea of noise.

The funny thing is I’m less concerned about when people see them. I’m even less concerned with whom. I’m trying to adopt the mindset I had when I started Dre’s Ramblings nearly 14 years ago this month. I didn’t start the blog because I wanted everyone to hear what I said. I assumed it’d never be seen by that many people and that quality was more important than quantity. I often find myself wondering if that mindset would work nowadays. Everyone seems to want more than one helping to their 15 seconds of fame. I wanted to reach those who I considered my friends. I was unaware of how it would help me find people who truly care (in addition to some who watch to be entertained). It’s why I’ll spend the next few weeks rethinking how that site functions. Plus, I may even get back in the habit of publishing on a somewhat consistent basis.

Random Thoughts
My thoughts have also revolved around what to do where I’m planted. This includes how to serve the journalism industry in a meaningful way long-term. (Or, as I’ve phrased it since leaving Stanford, “How do I best serve local journalism and myself moving forward?”)

The Chicago Defender’s recent decision to cease its print presence has me wondering how to explore. They aren’t choosing to follow the playbook, and that’s a good thing. We still have much to do to allow for everyone to be working from a similar place of hope (and resources).

How we choose to move forward in creating public space will be telling. The audience doesn’t always understand the difference between it and private space. They may also not understand the forces necessary to make or sustain these places. Bryant Park in New York always comes to mind, as does 30th Street Station here in Philadelphia. Both are “public” even as they turn to traditional sponsorships to help maintain them. Of note recently is what is necessary and who or what has the responsibility to lead the way.

The Cleveland Foundation recently announced plans to build a new home. The development, if successful, it will catalyze a part of the Ohio city long ignored by its leaders. I’m assuming the community raised its voices throughout the process. It will be worth watching to see how those words were received.

I’m on the road this summer
While I’m not traveling across the country by car again (yet), I am getting around this summer. I’m looking forward to catching up with people along the way.

XOXO 2019: September 5-8 | Portland, Ore. I wrote about what XOXO meant to me shortly after attending it in 2016. I get to attend again this September and it presents a chance to revisit some of those lessons.

JSK Mini-reunion: August 24 | Sacramento, Ca. It really means it’s an excuse to be on the West Coast for more than one weekend. A member of my cohort’s getting married. Yay!!!

Pittsburgh: mid-summer (TBA) | Pittsburgh, Pa. This one could be subtitled, “Finally.” I’ve longed to visit since first learning about Pedal Pittsburgh. The next opportunity to participate must wait though (see above date). I do get a chance to explore a city I’ve found myself interested in since college. Understandably, this trip will revolve around baseball, because… baseball. Any suggestions on places to explore during a weekend when I’m not at PNC Park? Reply to this email and let me know.

Finally (though completely out of reverse chronological order), one could say we’re getting the band back together again. Four Hardly Strictly Young attendees will be presenting at this year’s Online News Association conference in New Orleans, La. (September 12-14).

The other three participating? Technically Media’s Christopher Wink, The Arizona Republic’s Kim Bui, and Advance Alpha Group’s Senior Director David Cohn. It’ll be the first time I’ve been back to the city since the 2006 National Trust Main Streets Conference (where I did the French Quarter on crutches. Seriously.). We’ll be tackling “Real Life Experiments in Local News Revenue (That Aren’t Advertising).” It'll also be the first time I am part of an ONA session since the first ONA Lightning Talk session in Boston in 2011).

The Bookshelf
Spying on the South by Tony Horwitz. I’d already planned on buying the Pulitzer Prize author’s latest at some point this summer. Then, I learned of his sudden death and then immediately ran out and picked it up. My hope is to finish it this week. I’ve long admired the prominent influential landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and was happy to learn more about his days in journalism and the South before the start of the Civil War. I knew there was still much more to see than the sliver of it I’d been exposed to for the better part of a quarter-century. Horwitz’s retracing of Olmsted’s routes shows how much hasn’t changed. The book has me frustrated yet still longing to get back in the car or on the train for another extended journey.

Every Tool’s A Hammer: Life is What You Make It by Adam Savage. Most people reading this book will find it hard to not hear the voice of the Savage Builds host (and former Mythbusters co-host) in their head as they do so. I may end up reading it again before I get on the plane to Portland for XOXO - if only to remind myself of the power of making. It has me pricing sewing machines for reasons to be unveiled later this summer if I pull the trigger.

Songs on the Brain
Four years ago on July 4, The Roots freestyled over WPVI-TV’s Action News theme song. It also means it was when I finally realized why I recognized the music the first time I heard it back in September. Yankees fans of the 1980s will recognize WPIX’s use of portions of the song for its primetime news theme music. (You’re still bobbing your head right now, I know you are.)

Big Daddy Kane’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert set. The comments are right: he’s your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. (There are a couple of you here where he’s your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.) I paid less attention to NPR while out west in 2018, meaning I missed this classic set.

Shake the Dust by Anis Mojgani. It’s not a song, but it’s a poem I lean into often from the two-time national slam poetry champion (and friend - I’ve known him since I was his orientation leader at SCAD). It helps to refocus on what’s important in life. Hopefully, I'll see him in Portland in September.

Your Moment of Pete:

Pete on the window sill

Until next time,