June 18, 2024 Your Source for Brentwood News

Brentwood Beat: From Brentwood News to OUR NATIONAL CONVERSATION

Back in 1991, when I started the Brentwood News, I wrote that Brentwood’s new community newspaper would remain politically neutral forever.

I figured, if we endorsed a candidate in one election, we’d anger half our audience. In the next election, maybe we’d anger the other half.

If readers think a newspaper has a political agenda, then that can make that paper’s news coverage suspect. And who cares what the local newspaper editor thinks?

I believe, over the years, we’ve done a pretty darned good job of keeping our pages open to all sides, giving everyone a chance to weigh in.

I surely have stated my fair share of opinions over the years, but if someone disagreed, we gave that person plenty of space in which to state their views. That policy just felt right to me.

Community publishing is still relatively tame, relatively speaking, but political conversations about national politics – on cable TV and in podcasts especially – have turned into blood sport in recent years.

I think most would agree, things are bad. But nobody seems to know what to do about it.

For the last three years, I’ve been working on something called OUR NATIONAL CONVERSATION, or ONC for short. ONC is an attempt to create a news, opinion, and public policy gathering place where all sides are welcome. It’s like a community newspaper, only in this case, the community is our entire country.

Over 650 student interns have participated in this endeavor so far, guided by 175 experienced professionals. Our goal is to get America talking again, with a focus on problem-solving, not finger-pointing. In Brentwood News fashion, we are neutral. Republicans, Democrats, Independents – all are welcome at OUR NATIONAL CONVERSATION.

Notice the sources across the top of the story. At OurNationalConversation.org, site visitors

can see the same story as told by multiple media outlets, in real time.

Together we wrote a book, “Let’s Fix America,” available on Amazon. This book is filled with 34 nonpartisan policy proposals intended to make America a better country. The book is a little dry, but filled with good information and balanced, thoughtful, well-researched proposals.

“Let’s Fix America” is filled with balanced ideas polls say most Americans would agree on.

We also built a website, OurNationalConversation.org. We’re also producing podcasts and a weekly e-newsletter.

At first, many seemed very skeptical about what we were setting out to do. America was too divided, I was told. People are so polarized they only want to hear “their” side, said others. Why would anyone want to go to a site where all sides are welcome? Besides: How boring is that?

Media outlets have surely catered to this division, picking sides, and adding to the polarization. Watch Fox News for a week and then, the next week, switch over to MSNBC. It’s true: the two sides of our political divide are receiving very different versions of reality.

All this division is good for ratings and campaign contributions. But it’s not good for America. Things have gone from really, really bad maybe 10 years ago to perfectly hideous today.

Interestingly, in recent months, the response to OUR NATIONAL CONVERSATION has started to warm up. “It’s about time,” I’m hearing. “We need to at least try,” say others.

People are tired of the food fight. I know I am – and I’m guessing you are, too.

America’s young people are inheriting a very troubled world, and we need to do what we can to give them a boost. There is a “passing of the baton” aspect to what we do at ONC. If anyone is interested in possibly mentoring our students 1-2 hours a week, please get in touch.

It’s time for us to raise funding so we can graduate from an “interesting student project” to a “real organization with a real future.” We just launched a Kickstarter campaign and will be reaching out to foundations and people of means who might support the idea of a kinder, gentler – and smarter – America. The Kickstarter campaign will run through December 30, 2023.

Any support in any form from members of the Brentwood community would be greatly appreciated. I’m not as young as I was when I started the Brentwood News but as my older colleagues and I like to say to each other, “We’re not done yet.” I hope you aren’t, either.

If you’d like to learn more about OUR NATIONAL CONVERSATION, please email me atjeff.hall@ournationalconversation.org.

in Opinion
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