Ottney: The heart of it allWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
When I was growing up, Ohio’s license plates sported the slogan “The heart of it all.” I’m still disappointed the phrase was eventually dropped in favor of “Birthplace of Aviation.” Impressive and noteworthy to be sure, but I always thought the former motto was a corny yet perfect reflection of the state’s shape, location and unique mix of small-town charm and big-city vibe.
Toledo was recently No. 4 on Forbes’ list of 19 “Opportunity Cities,” described as cities “small enough that enterprising people can really make their mark” but “still large enough to offer amenities … that make for a high quality of life.” (Interestingly, three cities on the list, including Toledo, also appeared on the magazine’s controversial “Most Miserable cities” list, so go figure. I, obviously, disagree.)
During a recent visit to Cleveland, I talked with a number of residents in their 20s and 30s who are excited to be part of what they view as a resurgence in the city. One, a 27-year-old social media manager for CBS Radio, was typical in that she grew up near the city and left the state for college. After graduating during the recession, she moved home to save money and figure out where to go from there.
“I came home to apply for jobs anywhere but here,” she told me. “My dream job was to do new media at a radio station and that opened up here. I found things here I was looking for in other cities. It’s like you rediscover your own city. Instead of feeling stuck here, I fell in love with it.”
I hear the same thing all the time from people in Toledo. Big enough to offer world-class amenities. Small enough to take chances.
Like many Northwest Ohio teens, I also planned to leave the region ASAP — for college, for a job, for the foreseeable future, forever. It wasn’t Toledo, or even Ohio. It was just a case of wanderlust that wouldn’t seem to let go until I did.
But sometimes you end up finding your heart where you least expect it.
I did stay in Ohio for college, but to the consternation of my practical, hardworking father, I quit a perfectly stable full-time, out-of-state job after three years to move back to Toledo — in 2009, during the economic downturn, for a temporary stipend as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) member.
It might be the single riskiest move I’ve ever made. But it’s paid off in spades.
For starters, it got me back to Toledo. I didn’t necessarily plan to move back here, but I’d wanted to do a year of service for a long time. I would have been happy doing it anywhere, but it was particularly gratifying to do it in Toledo, both as my hometown and as a place that was especially hurting at the time.
When the year was up, I had the good fortune of meeting Michael S. Miller, who offered me a job at Toledo Free Press and the rest, as they say, is history.
In his inaugural column, “Welcome to the dawn of a new tradition,” published March 16, 2005, Miller wrote:
“The Toledo Free Press has a mission, but not an agenda; we want to be a paper for the people, a conduit for ideas, stories and conversation.
“We know there are good stories waiting to be told. We know there is positive news to spread. There are quiet developments, slow progressions and hardworking people investing in Toledo and working for its citizens. We want to give them a forum to discuss their ideas and discoveries.
“But there’s a difference between being a thoughtful booster and a blindly loyal cheerleader. We recognize that along with good news, there will be tough questions to ask and answer, accountability issues to explore, and dark, mossy corners that need a bright light focused upon them.”
Nothing will change in that regard.
I want Toledo Free Press to be in the heart of it all, whether that’s a heated Toledo City Council debate, a big move by a private-sector player or a court case that captures the attention of the nation — to never tire of asking the hard questions, untangling the tangled webs and making the unclear clear. Toledo is a city worth fighting for.
I also want us to continue to keep our pulse on the heartbeat of the community. I’m proud of the work this paper has done and the place it’s carved out for itself in the region over the past 10 years.
One of the classic tenets of journalism is “Giving a voice to the voiceless.” I think we’ve done a good job over the years of picking up on events and organizations — particularly new community events like Toledo Pride and Toledo SOUP — that weren’t getting much coverage at first and helping to grow them and give them a voice. I plan to continue that effort.
Focusing on special sections as well as being an on-call daily reporter has offered me the opportunity to cover a wide range of topics from musicians to nonprofits to sports to crime to local government — sometimes all in the same week.
I don’t plan to sequester myself in an ivory tower. I will continue to be hands-on and active in the community. You’ll see me at meetings and events and you’ll still see my byline at times. I love hearing about things people are doing but I love seeing them firsthand even more.
It has been our goal this year to improve our digital content. Our website and electronic edition, which have always been free, are easier to use than ever. We launched a mobile version of our website this summer to improve the experience for our readers on the go and are interacting with readers via social media more than ever.
Our print paper will remain a great source of timely weekly news, but we hope you will also connect with us daily online at toledofreepress.com as well as via Facebook at Facebook.com/toledofreepress, Twitter at @toledofreepress and Instagram at @toledofreepress.
It’s humbling to be handed the reins to a project someone you admire has poured so much time and energy into. Readers have tuned in week after week in this space to read Michael’s words. He has deftly guided the sunrise of Toledo Free Press and I plan to keep the sun shining for many years to come.
Everyone has a story, from the guy on the corner to the gal in the corner office. I was born in Toledo and grew up in Northwest Ohio. It matters where you make it and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be sharing those stories with our readers than right here.
That’s the heart of it all.
Sarah Ottney is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Twitter at @sarahottney.