Nice of Obama to put in a plug for Neighbor

Published: 1/23/2009 3:07 PM

"The word 'neighborhood' starts with Neighbor because it indicates a sense that we, as Americans, are bound together and what we have in common is more important than what drives us apart."

- Barack Obama

OK, I uppercased the "N" in Neighbor.

But I'm sure the new president must have been referring to our local news section because he seems to know me well. Just yesterday, in my e-mail inbox, was a message with the "from" line reading, "President Barack Obama." This was far different from the somewhat impersonal "Obama for America" missives I received almost daily for a year or more leading up to the November election.

I was flattered, too, that the president addressed me not as "Jim" or "Davis" or "Mr. DuPage Editor," but as "Friend."

All kidding aside, there are some interesting parallels in Obama's words and what we try to do with our Neighbor section. Coincidentally, a pretty good example falls on today's Neighbor pages and it definitely relates to the inauguration.

As the third-largest newspaper in Illinois, but trying to compete daily with Nos. 1 and 2, we do have to fill a unique niche: We have to be true to the "big picture" portion of our motto and find a way to produce the news of the world, nation, state and Chicago region. But the "local focus" is truly the mission.

A story such as the inauguration of our first black president has global impact, of course. But it's a unique challenge for the Daily Herald is to bring it home to suburbanites.

I hope we succeeded in the special sections that ran earlier this week. The day before the inauguration there were essays from our residents - from a grade-school class's handwritten letters to Sasha Obama to a 74-year-old woman who remembers well growing up in a segregated town. Stories about our residents heading for Washington - with or without tickets. The day after, we ran a 12-page "wraparound" that touched on the big picture and local focus - from the text of Obama's inaugural address, to the local touches such as an interview with a Glen Ellyn boutique owner and others on what Michelle Obama might mean to the world of fashion, to camping out at several places to watch other suburban citizens watch the ceremony.

And in making these arrangements, sometimes our grasp falls a little short of what we're trying to reach. In short, we ran out of space in the paper for every last word and photo. But that's where Neighbor comes in. It's the perfect vehicle for us to run the news of how DuPage residents took in the spectacle.

So, today's Neighbor is devoted to your neighbors' participation in the historic occasion - from the crowd of more than 500 at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn to Lake Park High School in Roselle to a mini-inaugural ball at River Woods Elementary School in Naperville. We talked to Natalie Johnson, a pioneer in her own right who teaches an all-black ACT preparatory class at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora.

The media is criticized - often rightfully - for dwelling on the murder and mayhem, the bad news, the aberrations. To be sure, that's still part of the job.

As long as we have Neighbor, though, I'm convinced we will be able to achieve a newspaper's mission - to reflect the people it covers. Yes, there's still plenty of bad news. As I write this, I'm getting an update on the trial of the mother accused of beating to death her 5-year-old daughter.

But there's still more joy in our world, among our neighbors, than sadness. It's particularly poignant in today's Neighbor, where high-schoolers were "giddy as small children" about the inauguration. And despite where you stand politically, let's pray today's Neighbor does reflect who the president said we are: people who realize what we have in common is more important than what drives us apart.