Convergence

See you again on January 6

Stay warm, stay healthy, keep sharing and stay engaged

Photo by Richard Asinof

A poster from Bread and Puppet Theater.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 12/16/19

PROVIDENCE – ConvergenceRI is taking a planned two-week break and will send out the next issue on Monday, Jan. 6, 2020, at the beginning of a new decade.

As ConvergenceRI moves forward into our seventh year, the weekly digital news platform continues to gain traction in the marketplace, expanding conversations and convergence across networks, neighborhoods, communities and industry clusters. I want to offer my sincere thanks and gratitude to everyone who has helped us travel on the path toward success. Thank you!

There remain three constants in reaffirming the basic value proposition of ConvergenceRI:

• 90 percent of readers responding to a recent survey said: “It provides me with information I cannot find anywhere else.”

• The average time spent reading feature stories in ConvergenceRI during the last six months remains at nearly six minutes, according to Google Analytics, a phenomenal amount of time for a digital news platform.

• The willingness by agency directors, CEOs, community leaders, and elected officials to sit down and talk with ConvergenceRI, in one-on-one interviews. [There are, of course, a few notable exceptions. Maybe next year, Governor.]

Translated, readers and subscribers like what they find each week in ConvergenceRI – and they find great value in the accurate, in-depth reporting and analysis. And, they have responded by sharing the content across their networks, the way that information flows best in the digital age we live in.

More and more, the decision makers, policy makers and entrepreneurs in Rhode Island have come to value ConvergenceRI, because it enables them to become participants in an engaged community of conversation.

One important milestone to highlight from the past year for ConvergenceRI: the media award given by the Childhood Lead Action Project for coverage of the efforts to prevent childhood leading poisoning in Rhode Island, for the second time in six years.

Here is a brief report from the front lines of convergence in Rhode Island, reviewing a busy year of reporting, conversation and community engagement, breaking down the news silos between health, science, innovation, technology, research, education and community.

Sharing stories from many voices
Our own personal stories are still the most valuable possession we have, the connective tissue that makes us human. Sharing them is the glue that connects the past to the present, helping us to shape the future of what an “engaged” community might look like as we enter the third decade of the 21st century.

ConvergenceRI places great value on the sharing of stories from many voices, where conversation is encouraged, where convergence is celebrated. It is a disruptive force in the news marketplace, seeking to break down well-defended silos of information and challenging the powers that be to answer questions – and to be held accountable for their answers.

As a bedrock principal, following the recommendation offered by Dr. Doug Eby to all of his providers at a community health center in Alaska, ConvergenceRI perseveres to seek to learn to listen in 10 different ways, a critical skill in the reporting toolbox.

• Sometimes the story emerges through serendipity. Following an unplanned emotional outburst by a Hope High School teacher, Betsy Taylor, at a news conference called by Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, she agreed to share the reasons why she was so upset in ConvergenceRI.

Her story, “A teacher speaks her mind,” published in the July 22, 2019, edition, went viral, garnering more than 12,000 page views. Taylor’s eloquence in telling her story clearly resonated with many Rhode Islanders, in large part because her voice as a teacher had been left out of the conversation about public school education reform. Taylor continued to share her insights in ConvergenceRI, despite facing blowback from those in authority.

ConvergenceRI has added “education” as a critical point of convergence in its reporting, most recently covering the day-long event convened by the Rhode Island Foundation, in the story “Making it happen in Rhode Island,” which Dan McGowan, Boston Globe reporter, retweeted, saying: “Here’s the most thorough overview of the Rhode Island Foundation’s big educational forum over the weekend.”

• Sometimes the story emerges through a shared reminiscence. ConvergenceRI republished an in-depth interview with author Toni Morrison, which had been conducted in 1976, in the Aug. 6 special edition, following Morrison’s death.

As part of the regular format in asking “the questions that need to be asked,” ConvergenceRI posed the question: Why Providence had not yet created the opportunity for a bench to be built, in partnership with the Toni Morrison Society, as a place to honor the legacy of slaves and their descendants? That project is now being explored, with a potential location adjacent to the new pedestrian bridge in Providence. Stay tuned.

But, more importantly, the story touched on what Womazetta Jones, the secretary of the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, at a gathering at the Rhode Island Foundation where she was being introduced, said: “We need to become more comfortable in having uncomfortable conversations about racial equity.” Call it a refreshing perspective to hear espoused in Rhode Island. [It went unreported by other news media when it occurred, except by ConvergenceRI.]

• Sometimes it is sharing the evolving story of a member of the recovery community, Jonathan Goyer, as he moves into the next phase of his engagement with the community, setting up a nonprofit to invest in building a network of recovery housing for men and women in Rhode Island.

Another point of convergence: the growing recognition of how the diseases of despair – deaths from alcohol, suicide and drugs, continue to ravage members of working age groups in America, particularly those between the ages of 25-34, tied to the disappearance of the middle class and economic disruption. The recent study published by JAMA reinforced the research done by sociologist Shannon Monnat, a constant refrain in the reporting by ConvergenceRI, during the last three years.

Again, listening and then reporting on what is being said: the repeated concerns voiced by members of the Governor’s Task Force on Overdose Prevention and Intervention during public comment about how the low rates of reimbursement from Medicaid were proving to be a major obstacle in accessing care for behavioral health and mental health services has led, in part, to a new Senate legislative study commission on reimbursement rates; the first meeting of the commission was held in November. [ConvergenceRI was the only member of the news media covering the commission’s first session.]

Sometimes it is being persistent in covering the evolution of community development groups in fashioning solutions at the local level to social and health disparities, a story of bottom-up innovation at work, building houses, communities and lives.

Such as the Sankofa Initiative and Dunamis Synergy, developed by West Elmwood Housing, as they expanded the levels of engagement with the community and neighborhoods, focused on health equity.

Such as ONE Neighborhood Builders, with its capability to nurture new mixed development projects, such as its innovative Small Homes initiative, to fruition. Both are now serving as backbone agencies for Health Equity Zones.

• Sometimes it is shining the spotlight on the work being done by local heroes such as Dr. Beata Nelken, the former director of the health clinic at Central Falls High School, who was recently honored as a community hero by Rhode Island Kids Count at its recent celebration of children’s health, in helping to cut the rate of teenage pregnancy by 55 percent in three years in Central Falls. Or, the work being done by Clinica Esperanza, a free clinic serving an uninsured population in Olneyville, providing access to primary care, reducing medical costs and improving health outcomes.

Sometimes the story is an undercurrent to the dominant narratives of popular culture, often hiding in plain sight. Such as the story of a 70-something woman who was recruited to be in a fashion photo shoot in New York City. Or, the voice of a 17-year-old high school senior, seeking to find a career path that reflects her own sensibilities. Or, sharing the wisdom of WPRO’s Steve Klamkin, reporting on the musical journeys of a new generation of performers at the Newport Folk Festival. Or, the story of an elderly aunt’s travails in the emergency room, only to be discharged with a band-aid after a seven-hour wait to be seen.

• Sometimes it is reporting on the latest developments in the research enterprise and the innovation ecosystem in Rhode Island, capturing the latest developments with IlluminOss, EpiVax, and the industry group, RI Bio.

• Sometimes it is sharing reporting on environmental issues from ecoRI News and Save The Bay, finding common ground across digital platforms.

Perilous times
We live in perilous times, which makes the sharing of stories all that more important, to build a sense of connectedness in a divisive, partisan world.

• To tell the truth. A sitting President is being impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives and will soon face a trial in the U.S. Senate.

• What goes up must come down. The booming U.S. economy is showing warning signs of fraying after a decade of abundance, with many “dream interpreters” worrying about recession and whether or not we are prepared for the next “seven” lean years ahead.

• The rapid onslaught of climate change threatens to overwhelm the capability of our federal, state and local governments to respond to the frequency of storms, rising temperatures and disruption of our world.

• The continuing stress of gaps in the state budget may require the need to find new revenue sources, including raising taxes and legalizing recreational marijuana, to deal with the housing crisis, the shortfalls at DCYF, the public education morass, and the demographic challenges of a falling birth rate, an increasing old-old population, and children and families living in concentrated poverty.

• The continued consolidation of corporate media platforms and health care systems make it more difficult to be heard above the cacophony of corporate messaging and the allure of click-bait promoting outrage and anxiety. It is hard to talk back to or ague with an algorithm.

From darkness toward light
As the Earth makes its yearly tilt, turning away from darkness toward light, it is important to remember that we have much to be thankful for, even as we enter a challenging, divisive time in our nation and in our state. By talking with each other, not at each other, the hope is that we can find common ground, and the remarkable democratic experiment of the United States will survive. Still, we can persist.

On a personal note, in wishing everyone a happy, merry and wonderful season, I am most grateful for my successful neck surgery and recovery that required a week in the hospital and two weeks in a skilled nursing facility for rehab – and the support from friends and colleagues and family.

As we celebrate the holiday season, please stay warm, stay healthy, keep sharing and stay engaged. See you again on Jan. 6, 2020.

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