A recent opinion column we published painted an aspirational picture of building a community where individuals would connect and find shared values in hopes of reshaping and strengthening our democracy.
That picture was inspired by a desire to turn away from the tribalism that permeates much of our society. The fuel of tribalism, the columnist opines, is that we are too often defined by what separates us, rather than the common ground we can find.
We find it in our politics, our neighborhoods and even our families.
This idea of finding a common ground and then building a community of trust, empathy and empowerment is what drives the News Tribune Reader Advisory Board.
This board, which is comprised of area residents from a variety of walks of life, meets monthly to talk about things we could do better as a newspaper, as well as issues that we should be working together on in our community. Sometimes, the gathering is just an opportunity to share our hopes and frustrations. Sometimes, it's just to ask questions that might inspire us as individuals and as a community.
The foundational purpose of these conversations is based on the belief that if we listen to the feelings and perspectives of our neighbors -- even if they don't look like us, speak like us or think like us -- we grow stronger as individuals and as a community.
We're looking for new voices to join the conversation.
Before we talk about how we are going to find those voices, let me share how the Reader Advisory Board functions and fits into our operation.
To understand the role of the Reader Advisory Board, you first have to understand how the News Tribune newsroom and editorial board functions.
The newsroom is comprised of about 20 journalists -- reporters, photographers, editors and page designers. Their core mission is reporting news without offering opinion. We clearly define a difference between the news that's gathered by those journalists and opinions they may have; their job is to share both sides of a story while not injecting their own opinions into stories on our news pages.
Only one of those 20 journalists contributes elements to a page that is clearly labeled opinion. That one person is me. I am a member of the newsroom and also sit on a four-member editorial board that is responsible for the content on our Opinion page. The other three members are: General Manager Mark Millsap, Circulation Director Michael Johns and Controller Mayra Long. The editorial board's role is to craft editorial positions based on the News Tribune's historical stances on issues, while also considering evolving viewpoints. The local editorials that run under the header Our Opinion are usually crafted by me and then are reviewed by the editorial board before publication.
Newspaper editorial boards have existed for centuries. We believe the editorial board is still a solid approach for dissecting the issues of the community and sharing our institution's views, but we saw the opportunity to expand the number of voices at the table so that we might discuss more issues and approach them from different perspectives.
About six years ago, we created the Reader Advisory Board.
The Reader Advisory Board meets the first Wednesday of the month, usually over lunch. We talk about the news and issues of the day, as well as more long-standing, structural challenges we face as a community.
Currently, seven community members are on that board. They are: Elizabeth Reed, Janet Roark, Chris Graham, Herb Kuhn, Misty Young, Vic Rackers and Ryan Burns. When each of them joined the board, we told them they would serve one year and then transition off the board. Two of the current members -- Vic Rackers and Ryan Burns -- have been on the board for a year, and they will transition off in July.
I have enjoyed the conversations and ideas they have brought to the table. We may not have always agreed with one another, but we have always respected each other's views and learned from their perspectives.
With their departure, we will be looking for three new members to join the board.
The goal remains the same: to create a board that is diverse in its views, experiences and passions.
I have been asking members of the board, as well as community members, for suggestions to fill the open positions.
This column also stands as an invitation to add your name to the list to be considered.
If you want to be considered for the board, drop me an email at [email protected]. In the email, share a bit about your background, experiences and reasons for wanting to serve on the board.
The deadline for consideration is June 1; the first board meeting for the new members will be July 5.
Gary Castor is the editor of the Jefferson City News Tribune. His email address is [email protected].