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Which Youngstown does The Vindy portray?

By Todd Franko (Contact)

Published August 11, 2008

Last Friday, I hosted summer camp kids from the Jewish Community Center. They spent about an hour visiting The Vindicator.

One of the last places I have guests visit is our hallway of historic front pages. The pages cover many significant events of the 20th Century -- up until Nixon's resignation. Many of the pages deal with the tragic events of that century: MLK, JFK, Titanic, World War II, Nixon ...

While the hallway isn't absent of glorious events, the emphasis is largely on the tragedies.

A teenager walking the hallway shook his head staring at the pages. With his eyes scanning the pages, he said to no one and any one "Youngstown has always been about bad things."

I asked him what he meant by that. He snapped out of his gaze and realized his words had an audience. "I don't mean The Vindicator. I mean the town."

I asked him to wonder how much his perception is shaped by how much he's exposed to the bad: TV footage, newspaper front pages, radio announcements.

He shrugged and offered that, yes, that could be the reality.

I asked him to hang in there with us -- that we're working hard to show a different Mahoning Valley.

That was Friday. On Monday, I kid you not, this email came in:

Todd: I just wanted to pass along some compliments that I've heard throughout the community. Everyone who has commented on the "new" Vindicator has said that they are so pleased with the interesting, positive articles that are gracing the front page of the publication.  Most people were "tired" of the negative publicity that the Mahoning Valley was receiving, especially from our own paper. Thank you.

The stories that have filled the Vindy for years are as valid a selection of news stories as I've read. It's a formula for news employed by many newspapers. I'm fine with the formula.

But I also love to employ a tweak on that formula that I've learned over the years. That tweak is to showcase the community at its best — and to do so in as equal of doses as you show the community at its worst.

I think it's important to do this for big things, from high school graduations to football; from Kelly Pavlik to new
shifts at Lordstown.

But I also think you need to work hard at covering – or uncovering – more community-based things such as each and every one of the 53 Italian festivals in the area, Eagle Scout projects, YMCA programs and more.

It's a slow process.

It's reassuring when folks e-mail me like the person did on Monday.

But it’s rewarding when we can impact the perceptions of teens like the kid from JCC so that he sees more in Youngstown than all of the bad.


1Tugboat(759 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

The formula is simple: It is your duty and mandate to present information fairly and as objectively as you possibly can, both positive and negative.

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2Cbarzak(110 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

The newspaper is a community's eyes and ears. We understand ourselves and what's going on in our community because of it. So it's only fair to report both good and bad. Lean one way and the community thinks too well of itself; lean the other way and the community perceives itself (or parts of itself) to be no good at all, which isn't the total reality of a place (as oldmangrump would have it) either. So good for you for noticing this, and for hearing that kid. I mean, really hearing him. That's awesome.

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3Maggie_Pentz(88 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

With a "How We See It" Vindicator editorial from a few weeks back entitled "Positive news on Youngstown shouldn’t mask negative", I think the Vindy made itself pretty clear as to which Youngstown it portrays. I understand the sentiment but I still find it to be pretty insulting. I can't imagine saying that about anything or anyone. Imagine it - well don't let the positive aspects of your spouse/house/car/child outweight the negative. What?!

There are negative aspects to all communities in the "valley" depending on one's perspective. The usual suspects (crime, schools in academic watch, etc.) are an obvious problem for cities across the nation. However, there are negatives in the suburbs as well - a pervasive sense of superiority and entitlement, the lack of diversity, sidewalks and front porches as well as indemic racism. Depending on your personal philosophy and lifestyle some negatives trump others and we all choose to live where we do accordingly.

That said, I think that the teenager might have caused you to look at your paper with a more critical eye and you are now seeking people to make you feel better - to tell you that you're doing everything right with equal representation of the negative and positive aspects of the Youngstown area.

I have to say that I think you still have a lot of work to do in this department. I'm glad that this is on your radar and just remember that there is a lot of good happening in Youngstown and it might just be worth looking for before you publish another article on Boardman kids learning to knit and crochet.

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4lucy(135 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

Todd, while I admire you for asking the question, especially in a public forum, I think the answer at which you've arrived is perhaps a little too easy. Boosterism isn't necessarily the job of a local paper, but you can't deny that the Vindy is a product of the time and place in which it's written. The community and the paper reflect and influence each other; it's vital to consider this relationship.

Interestingly, one our local bloggers wrote about "regional negativism" today http://yoments.wordpress.com/2008/08/...

Oh, and while we're on the subject, the Talk of the Valley boards are in serious need of some monitoring. LOL.

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5YoungstownKidd(40 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

Good post, Todd. Balance is the key, however, I wonder if it would be possible to have a "Police Report" section or something to that effect rather than splicing mixed pieces into the pieces such as MetroDigest (for example). I believe it confuses readers, which, generally speaking, leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the casual reader and adds to the city vs. suburb mentality as an unintended consequence. For example, the current MetroDigest might read something like this:

1. Warren Prepares for Festival
2. Southside Man Robbed
3. Community Groups Organize Clean Up in City
4. North Side Home Vandalized
5. Arson Claims East Side Home
6. Canfield Rotary Keynote Speaker Addresses Zoning

Youngstown is a city and it a city, generally speaking, you find crime (lots of it, in our case) and in the suburbs, of course, you generally do not. I want to be clear that I'm suggesting to "bury the bad news". Rather, I'm suggesting that it is "packaged" so that if you want to read about the bad guys, you know exactly where to go. Where you put it doesn't matter. Put it on A2 under the weather for any matter. However, a number of cities do this and it helps to keep things seeming more balanced given the current disparity of the Valley yet delicate but important revitalization efforts the city is currently under going, in my opinion.

This is something of a reoccurring suggestion that I hear from a number of folks when discussing Youngstown revitalization efforts and what is, at least, perceived to be negative local media coverage. I made the same suggestion on Media Day at Leadership Mahoning Valley when asked for suggestions by the Vindy and Trib reps. They didn't seem too interested in the idea then but the class of 40 valley leaders did. So, you know – take the suggestion for what it’s worth. However, I will say that I believe that the Vindy's coverage has become increasingly exceptional and I think you (and some staff writers) are doing a great job and should be commended for it. In fact, taking the time to blog - as editor - about our community and being willing to even bring a subject such as this to the forefront for discussion/debate speaks to the progressiveness of the local media in and of itself. Thanks for doing all you do. It's noticeable. Others, well, not so much and that’s noticeable too but welcome to life, right. In all, keep up the good work and I hope you can maybe take something away from this rant.

Phil Kidd
City of Youngstown

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6toddfranko(101 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

Nice job folks. Thanks for the chatter.

Touching on some points:

TUG: Right on ... That's the track we're on.

OMG: Check your glasses. There must be muck on them that is allowing you to see more bad than good. We do make sure the most important of the bad news gets on the front page. My point is to make sure the positive news gets there as well.

ERPLANE: I think the good news at Lordstown of late has had ample, ample space on A1. The Vindicator has been the leading media in the Valley in reporting the successful news surrounding Lordstown, Cobalt, the new car and the new shift. Jim Graham seems to want folks to think otherwise, so I hear, but the proof is on our A1. I'll put it up against any other media.

Cbar: Cheers as always.

MAGGIE: Measure a group in many ways; not just one. There is a role and a voice on The Vindy editorial page. But there are many roles and voices throughout The Vindy organization. We find the Youngstown stories, too. I have to believe you saw our salute to the Fellows Garden marking 50 years, or the "Joy of Youth" package last Saturday touting the wonderful program at United Methodist Community Center -- both pretty decent options to knitting in Boardman.

LUCY: Boosterism certainly isn't our job. But offering a complete view of our region is. I think it's as important to get excited about GM, Pavlik and high school graduations as we would homicides and deadbeats. If you hear anyone tag that good news coverage as "boosterism," then paint me guilty. To get excited about bad news and not get excited about good news is, well, bad news, at least in my book.

PHIL: We're on it. Maybe this fall; definitely with the new press.

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7jimb(4 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

As long as the Vindicator features the type of negativity that is at the core of everything Bertram de sousa writes, the Vindicator does a diservice to the community. No matter the "good" things the Vindicator may do, they are not an antidote for the venom of vindictiveness de sousa spews. I've said it before, I'll say it again: Reading de sousa is like eating a radish. You know it will come up again and again. Reading de sousa is like being taken to the cemetery where the dirt de sousa digs up covers dead politicans and dead issues.

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8lucy(135 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago


Thanks for answering all of the posters. I admire your connectedness to your readers.

Just to clarify, my point WASN'T that the Vindy is guilty of boosterism, but rather to remember that the mood of the press influences the mood of the community and vice versa. In other words, it's too easy to be not fully aware of the community's immersion in a negative mindset. Let's face it, we're all so used to this mindset, that's it's easy to overlook how it seeps into our views. I'm not calling for boosterism, and I'm saying that the Vindy is too positive when it covers GM, Pavlik, etc.

"Good" and "bad" are oversimplifications. It's not merely a matter of covering a some "good" things to balance out the "bad" or including pieces to "booster" the spirit of the community.

Honestly documenting the struggle to find a new identity for the Youngstown area is vital in making community members feel informed (rather than frightened and entrenched).

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9lucy(135 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

I mean "I'm NOT saying that the Vindy is too positive when it covers GM, Pavlik, etc."

Sorry for the less-than-careful editing.

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10bobhogue(102 comments)posted 7 years, 10 months ago

A very good thread here, and good comments. I think Tugboat's initial comment probably sums it up best.

Personally, I don't feel that the Vindicator is slanted positively or negatively, overall. I do have disagreements with some of their editorials and have sent letters to the editors about them. Those letters were published, so the Vindy is not afraid to publish viewpoints that differ from those of the editor(s).

P.S., Dennis Mangan is a wonderful writer. I don't get to see him under his own byline very much, but he did a piece a few years ago about the late Mark Shutes (from YSU) that was a masterpiece.

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