MARSHALL: Macon in the Mirror: What do you see?

April 7, 2013 

For several weeks now, students from Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism have been interviewing people in Macon and Bibb County for the collaborative’s first community engagement project, called “Macon in the Mirror.”

As part of its partnership with Mercer’s journalism program and Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Telegraph signed on to do two such projects each year.

The Telegraph has produced plenty of projects. This one is different. The combination of professional journalists, student journalists, CCJ faculty and GPB staff expands our total resources. More importantly, though, this project puts community front and center. It will be driven largely by what Macon residents tell us is important to them.

We are asking residents to tell us why they live here, what they like about this place and what they don’t like. We want to paint a picture of Macon through the words and observations of the people who make up the Macon-Bibb community in all its complexity.

Students have taken to the streets to conduct interviews, and residents also have filled out surveys online. We want to talk to even more people. Over the next month, Telegraph journalists will be talking to neighbors, church members and most anyone willing to give us 20-30 minutes of their time.

When folks who are not from Macon ask me about the community, I tell them this: It’s a city that seems to think less of itself than it should. People in Macon and Bibb County can appear to be our own worst enemy. No doubt, this community has serious problems, and no doubt those problems have cost us, but doesn’t this community also have the resources to cure whatever ails us?

There are smart people, great institutions, great neighborhoods and folks willing to work hard to make this a better place to live. There are people with deep roots who are anchored to this place, who care deeply about its future. There are newcomers who see what locals often cannot: streets lined with beautiful historic homes, relatively painless commutes, a bounty of good restaurants and small businesses, quality higher education institutions and a downtown growing more vibrant every year.

The trick is to tip the scales so that the positives always outweigh the negatives. The newspaper can’t balance that scale, but maybe a whole community working together can.

Journalists are trained to have their finger on the pulse of the communities they cover, but like most people, we have our biases. We are trained to filter those, but we’re not always successful.

With this project, we want to allow residents to speak directly to readers. We want neighbors, colleagues and friends to hear what the other has to say. Where we see trends in the answers residents provide, we will bring our more traditional reporting muscle and expertise to bear. Is crime as bad as we think? We’ll share what readers say. We’ll also examine the issue, look at the statistics, deal head-on with the perceptions, and tell readers as objectively as possible what we find.

The more voices we have, the better picture we can paint. We want our readers to be a part of this project. We are willing to come to you, or your church group or club. You can also fill out the survey on our website.

We will publish the results of our efforts later in the year. We may confirm some long-held views about our town, but we may also dispel some myths. Whatever the results, we expect them to be educational, enlightening, entertaining and, perhaps, even healing.

Sherrie Marshall is The Telegraph’s executive editor. She can be reached at (478) 744-4340 or via e-mail at smarshall@macon.com. Also follow her on Twittercfont fontname="ITC Franklin Gothic Book"/>

To sign up for an interview contact Debbie Blankenship at blankenship_dr@mercer.eduor 301-5770. To fill out a survey online, go to

www.macon.com/mirror.

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