The future: ‘We’re all in this together’

The future: 'We're all in this together' by Kelly Hertz, Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan A forum held at this year's South Dakota Newspaper Association (SDNA) convention examined the role of newspapers in the survival of South Dakota communities.

But much of the discussion during the event, which featured Sen. Tom Daschle and Gov. Bill Janklow among others, really touched on deeper matters that transcended media concerns.

While the participants spoke glowingly of the opportunities presented by technology, chiefly the Internet, it was also made clear that none of those dreams will ever come to pass unless we take the initiative to make things happen now.

"The extent to which our communities can survive will be dictated by the people who live there," Janklow said at one point. "I'm not a pessimist ? (but) we're going to lose some communities. But we're also going to surprise some people. Some communities will survive, and some will thrive."

Ken Allen, executive vice president of the National Newspaper Association and another participant in the forum, echoed Janklow's words, noting that communities cannot rely on the government or other outside entities for their survival. The people of a community "must recognize we are all in this together," he said.

The prospect of communities literally dying away may seem unthinkable to many of us who have lived our lives in a particular town or area. But our realities really aren't so sturdy in the long view.

Our history is littered with the hard lessons of ghost towns � good ideas gone bust because of bad luck, bad planning or sheer apathy.

They are still-born dreams now lost to time; most are not even memories anymore. Times changed, and the communities that could not change with them did not live to enjoy them.

Active local involvement for the residents of a community remains essential to the future of any town or city. Even as we enter this new millennium, community involvement is a constant that dates back to our territorial days.

That involvement means working together toward the kind of future we want to make for ourselves and our children.

It means making sure your community offers opportunities for growth and reasons to stay home and build a tomorrow.

There aren't too many communities which aspire to fade away, but sometimes we sense an almost cancerous indifference infecting some towns. Such attitudes will lead to an oblivious end all the same.

For instance, local elections draw so few voters to the polls to decide city council or school board races. Community forums on key social issues draw sparse crowds � apparently, such matters are always "somebody else's problem."

And we see the struggles faced by communities which strive to move forward but are held back by shortsighted denizens who do not wish to invest in the future in any practical way.

None of that is acceptable if your community hopes to survive.

Allen noted the Internet allows the "community" concept to encompass the world, and we must be prepared to take advantage of that. Local businesses must use that technology to market to the world.

The future offers great promises. But they will remain promises only if we fail to act on them and utilize them.

That's the only real way South Dakota communities can survive in the age of change which bears down on us even now. Another panel member, former Press & Dakotan publisher Adrian Pratt, noted that the future offers "a lot of fear but also a lot of opportunity."

We must resist one and embrace the other. Certainly, the media can be an indispensable facilitator of change, growth and survival. But it will take all of us working together to move in that direction.

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