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Who —or what —is creating our reflection?

Published: Sun, February 8, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

Now the rest of the nation is experiencing what Youngstown has faced, the educator says.



YOUNGSTOWN — Beauty, as the saying goes, is in the eye of the beholder.

Perhaps this is why it’s not uncommon for people who haven’t been in Youngstown for a substantial time to think the city is dying or dead.

But what about those who have lived here all their lives, growing up and witnessing the economic decline?

When “de-industrialization” happens in once-booming economies, people caught in the middle roll with it and learn to live with it, says John Russo, co-director of Youngstown State University’s Center for Working Class Studies.

“There are some common patterns, and one of them has to do with a sense of economic loss, loss of faith in institution, a growing sense of helplessness and a questioning of the community’s identity,” he said. “De-industrialized communities learn to accept the loss and failures that occur as somehow earned.”

Rebecca Marquis, 31, of Youngstown, works inside 20 Federal Plaza downtown, and said she hears and sees people down on Youngstown every day.

“It’s because this area is so depressed,” she said. “I can only speak for myself and what I’ve seen, but it seems that everyone has such a high rate of depression, and I think it has a lot to do with the economic situation.”

Russo said these people often come to define themselves as losers — but not without outside help.

“In many ways, that self-definition is shaped by the way the community is portrayed and used by the media,” he said.

Jordan Klucinec, 35, of Canfield, owns the Draught House downtown. He said media coverage of crime and negative events pushes people to face the issues head on.

“Crime’s going to happen everywhere, but it seems like the only things really reported on here are negative,” he said. “It becomes the only thing you hear about, so it’s easy for people to view [Youngstown] that way.”

The media may have had a role in shaping outsiders’ view on Youngstown, but the city has played its part in the portrayal of itself.

“Look at the way the history unfolded in Youngstown, in terms of research in looking at reporting over the past 25 or so years,” Russo said. “The city went from being a poster child for de-industrialization to a site of loss and failure and desperation.”

He said one reason the community’s attitude never recovered is because, as with many media outlets, local media tends to focus on criminal activity, making Youngstown an object of ridicule.

“That treatment of how others see us becomes somehow ingrained in us,” Russo said.

Klucinec said some crime stories may get too much coverage.

“Do we have murders happen here every day? No,” he said. “But when it does happen, it’s on the news for five days in a row. It’s all you see.”

Russo’s most recent example was during the 2008 presidential election.

“In the last election cycle, reporters once again came back to Youngstown,” Russo said. “This time the story had changed because now the rest of the nation is experiencing what Youngstown has faced.”

At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, three nationally known journalists, Connie Schultz, of The Plain Dealer; Marilyn Geewax, National Public Radio correspondent; and Jonathan Kaufman, Wall Street Journal reporter, will gather in Kilcawley Center on YSU’s campus for a panel discussion on these issues. People attending the lecture can park free in the Lincoln/Fifth Avenue deck. Tell the attendant you are attending the lecture.

Russo said the city has become a stand-in for other communities also on an economic decline.

“People wanted to see if Youngstown ever recovered,” he said.

James Young, of Boardman, said he just took a buyout from General Motors after 25 years. He was blunt in his opinion, saying he doesn’t see the city ever bouncing back.

“I haven’t seen any new jobs come in. I only see parking lots and abandoned buildings,” he said during his Friday in downtown Youngstown. “And it’s not just the city. It’s all around here.”

Russo said the city also becomes a model to look at in terms of how race and gender were portrayed throughout the election.

“They wanted to see how working people were relating to the issue of race and gender,” he said. “Once again, Youngstown becomes the stand-in for a national discussion about racism and sexism.”

Marquis said the question of what will change the mind-set of people in and out of Youngstown is a tough one.

“If there were more jobs, more good paying jobs, it would help,” she said. “I’m not sure, given the city’s image, that it would even help all that much.”

Klucinec said people can break the negative barrier by making a choice to be positive.

“Everywhere has good and bad things, and if you continue to dwell on the bad it becomes like that,” he said. “You just have to pick out all the good things.”

Russo said in order for people to break from the negative, they need to understand that the troubles extend past city limits.

“It happens in the suburbs too,” he said. “But people would rather talk about Youngstown than talk about their own communities.”



1outsider(1 comment)posted 7 years, 4 months ago

City Dweller hit it right on the head and very eloquently so! As someone who moved here five years ago I was initiated into the attitude of the area by the inevitable first question "Why would you want to move HERE?!?" It gave me such a warm and fuzzy feeling knowing that I had moved my children to an area that life-long residents consider the Armpit of America! I am choosing to live here but I am also choosing to do my work outside the Valley - the culture of negativity will never lead to a productive or successful work environment.

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2DoctorGonzo(728 comments)posted 7 years, 4 months ago

How in the hell can a city expect to ascend on an economic level when the same "leaders" keep getting elected. Youngstown has one of the highest taxe rates in the NATION. Where is the base to support this? Why would any type of industry want to locate in Youngstown?
Crime is one problem, but as the Draught House owner alluded to, there is crime everywhere.
It will take a viable business plan put in place by "leaders" who have the requisite intelligence and desire to bring the city back.
Having quaint discussions with media members is not the answer. The media is a part of the problem. They look at Youngstown as a story opp because of the blight, not because any progress is being made.

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3thinkpositive(10 comments)posted 7 years, 4 months ago

To see a perfect example of what helps to keep our image down, you need to look no farther than Mr. deSouza's column printed the same day as this article.

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4ricnsherri(41 comments)posted 7 years, 4 months ago

Have you ever read the posts in here? Hate and ignorance abound. The people who sit and cry about how bad things are ruin the image. People who sit and complain about how the same politicians ruin things ate the problem. We need to get involved and joing together to fix things.

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5ytownsteelman(680 comments)posted 7 years, 4 months ago

I am a local historian, and it strikes me as odd that as far as many of our residents are concerned our area's history began on a Monday in September, 1977.

Before that day our community did not have an identity crisis. On the contrary, the Mahoning Valley existed on this planet to do one thing, and that was to make steel. We did it so well that a group of Youngstowners created a company that grew to become the fourth largest steel producer in the United States in the 1920s. Our own grandfathers and great grandfathers worked for companies such as William B. Pollock, United Engineering and McKay Machine inventing, designing and building the steelmaking machinery that was critically needed all over the world to smelt, roll and forge steel products. Our valley was a place where if it could be dreamed, it could be built! Built by the trainload, day after day, decade after decade. It is this legacy that should be remembered and celebrated.

If you want to study our past, it would do us good to set aside the last thirty years and study the time period from 1846 until 1977. You will learn that the people of Youngstown were ambitious, intelligent, motivated people who could turn mere rocks into bridges, buildings and automobiles. Youngstowners were fearless, unafraid to handle hundreds of tons of 2800 degree molten steel at a time. We did not let anything stand in our way when there were important things to be accomplished.

When the industry left Youngstown it left us with an identity crisis. We put all of our blood, sweat and tears into making steel and did not know what to do when we were no longer needed to make steel. Over the past three decades it has been a long road toward finding what our new purpose should be. But we are finding that new purpose as each of us individually pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, harnesses that deep down Youngstown "Can Do" attitude and creates our own new purpose for being.

Perhaps we need to start thinking of our past as something to be proud of instead of something to cry in our beer about.

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6cityguy(109 comments)posted 7 years, 4 months ago

Hmmm...I think the media portrays us in a negative light because let's face it crime IS a huge problem, we tolerate corruption and cronyism at all levels, and uh the area is kind of racist, no? The job of the media is to report the truth, and the truth hurts. So maybe we should stop playing victim and do something about it...

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