We spend our waking moments in an interdependent world dominated by the Internet. But the place where we spend our time is infinitesimally smaller, sometimes no larger than the block on which we live.
And yet, though we spend our days in small worlds, our information tends to come from worldwide news sources, as removed from our daily lives sometimes as satellites spinning in space. And even when the information from newspapers or radio or television stations is local, it often is not about the block on which we live unless something happens there, like a robbery or fire. As to information about those living in our immediate neighborhood we use the oldest of all channels—speaking to people who live there.
We live in an exploding media universe of information, sometimes so much we lose track of what is important, the everyday lives of people like us and our neighbors. And that is why I am such a strong proponent of community based informational channels like BCTV.
Once upon a time, I was a newspaper editor and reporter, first for a large metropolitan daily paper, then for a chain of thirteen neighborhood newspapers. By far, the neighborhood newspaper got closer to the kind of news people experience every day. But even news at this neighborhood level felt somewhat removed from everyday life. Sure, we covered local government, schools, community events, and the local stock of weddings and obituaries, but the news still felt disconnected to where people lived. And that was because often those of us who edited or wrote the stories did not live in the communities we wrote about; we often were detached from the issues that impacted very local areas.
There’s a phrase going around these days that first sounded strange: hyperlocal media. Defined simply this term means information at the very smallest levels, such as neighborhoods. I take the local extension even smaller and mean by news at the block level, the smallest level of communication I can conceive unless one thinks only of individuals in a household.
Hence the title of this column, Block by Block. Face it, most of us don’t live in cities or townships or even villages. We live single or with a family in a neighborhood, but more than that – on a particular block. Perhaps that’s why Thoreau could write sarcastically: “I wouldn’t walk around the block to see the world blow up.”
I have lived on one block in one small neighborhood now for over fifteen years. I have seen people come and go, the block resembling many of the other demographic shifts taking place across this country. I know some of the people on the block, but not all, especially the newcomers. But I don’t really know my neighbors, and I mean who they are and what they believe, and what issues they see, and how we can help one another.
I have come to believe that real change begins from within ourselves, then our families, then our immediate neighborhoods and institutions such as churches and schools. Lasting, positive changes come from the places we spend most of our time at very local levels. That is why BCTV is so important. It is a community, citizen-based communication channel that empowers local people through media they help to shape.
I hope to explore what community media can mean in an increasingly large and impersonal world, bringing us together block by block to inform and support one another.