Planning a community forum is no small task, especially four sessions in eight nights.
Beyond logistics, there are often concerns that only a handful of people will attend. I still remember a night elsewhere in Ohio where our newspaper’s community forum on a critical school levy drew only a handful of citizens.
The good people of Akron helped erase that memory Tuesday night when about 100 showed up for the first of four “This is Akron” community forums sponsored by the Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com, WKSU and The Devil Strip.
Even more impressive was the conversation inside the Buchtel Community Learning Center cafeteria.
Unlike the troubling strife we see every day on social media and elsewhere, it was refreshing to see adults of all races and ages sit down at tables and discuss ideas for improving their neighborhood and city. There was no arguing. People listened to each other, politely applauding some points.
That’s also what happened Thursday night when about 25 people attended the second forum at East CLC.
We’re not publishing details of those conversations in advance of today’s 2 p.m. session at Jennings CLC and the finale at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Innes CLC. We want those sessions to be as compelling as the first two.
We’re hosting these forums with the assistance of Your Voice Ohio, a nonprofit collaboration of news organizations from across Ohio led by retired Beacon Journal Managing Editor Doug Oplinger. Michelle Henry, principal and co-founder of the Center for Marketing & Opinion Research in Akron, also has donated her time to the cause.
Oplinger uses an outstanding format he’s developed from leading similar community conversations across Ohio in recent years, giving journalists a chance to hear directly from the citizens they’re serving. Beyond providing meaningful input to shape our coverage, we hope those personally meeting journalists will have more trust in our work, especially in these turbulent times.
Every note written down by participants will be transcribed and shared via e-mail with attendees in the coming days. Reporter Doug Livingston, who has spearheaded our effort and our “This is Akron” series in recent weeks, will tackle the tall task of boiling down all of the feedback into a comprehensive report for publication planned for April 28.
Where it all goes next remains to be seen. But we will use the feedback for covering the May primary and the November election. We also hope to connect those who attended and have a mutual interest in addressing a community challenge. It would be wonderful to share success stories stemming from this dialogue someday in the future.
We’re also committed to continuing our dialogue with residents across Summit County through a variety of means, including coffee with editor sessions on a monthly basis across the county.
So, if you can’t join us today or Tuesday, keep an eye out for more opportunities to come.
Michael Shearer is editor of the Akron Beacon Journal and regional editor for GateHouseOhio. He can be reached at 330-996-3750, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MichaelJShearer on Twitter.