Amidst political divide, claims of fake news and violent protests, The Huffington Post wants to know what it means to be American in today’s world.
This Friday, as part of its 25-city “Listen to America” bus tour, HuffPost will visit Oxford to give residents an opportunity not only to tell their story about life in Oxford but also to listen to a discussion between journalist, author and Overby Fellow Curtis Wilkie and newly elected Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill.
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Square, the mobile video studio will be open for people to have one-on-one conversations with HuffPost reporters about what’s on their minds.
At 5 p.m., doors open at Off Square Books for the main event, Curtis Wilkie’s “What Makes Oxford Work: A Sit-Down with Robyn Tannehill.”
“When we started researching Oxford, there’s a lot of sense that we got in the community that Oxford functions really well and there are lessons that could be learned at the state level and even the national level about how people work together to accomplish things,” Hillary Frey of Huffpost said.
Frey also said that because Tannehill is the first Democratic female mayor of Oxford, there are plenty of issues to discuss.
“We explored doing a bigger panel, but with the recent election, it seemed like a great time to sit down with a mayor,” Frey said. “At this point, we aren’t doing that anywhere else. It’s a little bit of a different format than elsewhere – more intimate.”
Mayor Tannehill is looking forward to discussing what Oxford does well while also highlighting areas that have room for improvement.
“I was contacted a few months ago and was immediately interested in the opportunity to bring light to the good things happening in Oxford,” Tannehill said. “I believe open communication and honest, respectful dialogue can benefit our community in numerous areas.”
The idea for the “Listen to America” initiative originated in late January when Frey joined the HuffPost team and pitched the idea of a national reporting project to new Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen.
“I have always wanted to do this – a bus tour going around doing open-ended interviews to hear from people about what’s going on in their communities,” Frey said. “Then the stars aligned in the company, and we started planning in May.”
Huffpost wants to start rebuilding public trust in the media by looking for new ways to cover the country.
“What stories aren’t we telling?” Frey asked. “What do people across the country want us to be reporting on?”
Frey said she hopes the one-on-one, open-ended style of the interviews will enable genuine communication.
“I am a real believer in personal interactions with people,” Frey said. “We really want to get out there with our staff and hear from people directly in a human way. Trust in the media has to do with trust in the people that are delivering the news.”
Curtis Wilkie, who has more than 40 years of journalism experience, will facilitate the discussion with Mayor Tannehill during the interview and believes the event could improve the state of affairs in our nation.
“There’s distrust in the media, distrust in political leadership and all sorts of organizations,” Wilkie said. “The country is badly divided ideologically and politically, so anything that tries to be positive would be helpful.”
After living in Oxford for the past 15 years, Wilkie said he thinks the key to the town’s success is political leaders’ drive to directly serve the people.
“The town is free of bipartisan bickering that you see in other locations,” Wilkie said. “These people who serve as mayors or on the Board of Aldermen, they serve in the best interest of Oxford and not of a political party.”
HuffPost’s tour began in St. Louis and will travel through the Southeast before traveling heading up North through the Midwest.
Coincidentally, another group of journalists will host a separate event that afternoon at the Oxford Public Library that focuses on regaining trust in the news media. Journalists from Oregon will meet locals and serve free lunch from 11:30-1:30 Friday at the library.
Todd Milbourn, co-director of the journalism master’s program at Oregon and co-founder of the 32 Percent Project, is traveling the country with a pair of colleagues to talk to ordinary citizens.
“Public trust in the news media is at record lows,” Milbourn said. “I want to hear directly from ordinary citizens about what they trust, what they don’t trust and what might be done so that news organizations better reflect the communities they serve.”