Shannon Howard served as a captain of Team Ferguson, Missouri, for the 2010 All-America City Awards. She’s a writer and communications consultant who specializes in helping communities tell their story through marketing, special events and new media.
She contributes this guest blog post:
I’m disappointed to report that my hometown of Ferguson, Missouri, was among the 15 communities that did not win an All-America City Award this evening. Although our 22 team members devoted countless hours to preparing for the competition and truly gave it their best, our beautiful town was overlooked…as it often is.
You see, Ferguson is a historic suburb of St. Louis, and for many people in the Gateway City, it’s considered a place that used to be nice but now is just a declining area with a growing minority population. Despite its many successes, including the #1 farmers market in Missouri and a newly revitalized downtown district, many folks in St. Louis – including the local media – have simply ignored Ferguson or abandoned it altogether.
It would be easy to complain about this problem and point to the fact that racial biases have helped to cause it, but I prefer to focus on solutions, especially those that can help other “transitional” communities like Ferguson.
As a veteran journalist and PR consultant, I know all too well that perception plays an enormous role in a city’s success or failure. I also know that sensational stories – especially crimes – fill the local media far more than positive, uplifting tales, and that many communities have to fight very hard to get their good news covered.
But that’s ok, because the playing field has been leveled! If you can’t get your local TV station to cover your community’s success stories, or like Ferguson, your local newspaper simply drops coverage of your entire area, don’t get upset…get online!
With the power of the internet and social media, virtually anyone can develop their own news source and use it to disseminate all the positive stories that are currently being missed. Last October, I did just that when I created NOCO, the online magazine of North St. Louis County (NOCOstl.com), and now I have 30,000 readers discovering things they never imagined about Ferguson and the surrounding area every single month!
Using WordPress and an inexpensive hosting account, I simply started writing about the North County that I know, rather than the one I see on the news every night. And while the TV stations are covering shootings and car crashes, I’m telling stories of neighbors working together to solve problems or communities using innovative partnerships to get things done.
The funny thing is, now that the word has gotten out about NOCO, the local media is starting to use it as a resource! When they’re looking for stories to cover, they check out my site. And what do they find? Only the positive.
In other words, my not-so-secret agenda has worked! By publishing positive local news, I’ve not only opened up residents’ eyes to all the good in their own community. I’ve also made the media’s job easier, and by default, helped to paint an alternative picture of the places and people they thought they had pegged.
Do some St. Louis residents still think poorly of the Ferguson area? Of course. You can’t change every mind. But because of my little blog, I guarantee you there are thousands of people who now know that the good far outweighs the bad.
So embrace blogging and social media! If you don’t tell your community’s story, someone else will!