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We’re listening at CITY 

Something extraordinary happened at CITY last week.

For the first time in 48 years, a name other than Mary Anna Towler was printed under the title of editor in the masthead. That name was mine.

It was humbling and a little daunting. Towler is diminutive in stature – standing under 5 feet tall – but her shoes are huge.

Towler and her husband Bill founded CITY in the attic of their Rochester home on Westminster Road in October 1971, before most of the people now working in the newsroom were born, including me.

They launched the endeavor with $5,000 partly to put Towler’s journalism chops to use – she was a full-time reporter before starting a family – and partly to fill a void they saw in news coverage of city neighborhoods.

“We can take on little things that the downtown papers can’t worry about,” Towler, who was caring for three young children at the time, told the Democrat and Chronicle in 1972. “We depend on Gannett for world and general news, but they can’t devote space to little neighborhood problems.”

That the Towlers would grow their venture into a vehicle for news, arts, and culture in Rochester that demanded attention from more robust media outlets in town was nothing short of remarkable. The couple, and their creation, command respect. They have mine.

Every manual on “leadership” says something about projecting confidence when assuming a position of authority. But only a fool takes the helm of an operation that’s been humming for the better part of a half century and acts like he has all the answers.

That I didn’t have all the answers was evident on my second day on the job, when I asked CITY News Editor Jeremy Moule how to file a story.

The best editors I’ve known earned the trust of their staff over time. They listened to them and their ideas about what was working well and what wasn’t, and then made thoughtful changes collaboratively. I pledge to do the same.

The best editors also earned the trust of readers over time. CITY would be nothing without you, and your opinions on coverage are valued. We invite you to tell us how we’re doing and what changes you’d like to see. Don’t be shy.

CITY, like every other alternative weekly newspaper and their daily cousins, has to change in some ways if it is to endure for another half-century. Which ways? The staff and I will figure most of that out together in time.

Speaking of wanting to hear from you, though, the staff and I are already talking about enabling the now-dormant “comment” function on CITY’s website at rochestercitynewspaper.com.

There’s plenty of debate about the issue across the media landscape, as news outlets struggle with moderation and, in some cases, legal issues that can arise from some comments. Of course, we encourage you to discuss stories on our social media channels, too.

You’ll also now find at the bottom of all our reports the email addresses of our staff writers. We want your feedback directly, and providing you with our email contact is an easy way to help you connect with us.

Another necessary change is already in effect. The recent acquisition of CITY by WXXI has journalists from both outlets expanding the platforms on which they reach their readers, listeners, and viewers. That effort will continue and broaden in the future.

Also essential is diversifying the voices in CITY to better reflect our city and region. Staff diversity leads to superior and different coverage and diminishes the groupthink that results in unintentional bias. That effort starts now.

What won’t change at CITY is what has kept alt-weeklies kicking: distinctive editorial content that isn’t afraid to take risks, just like the Towlers a lifetime ago.

That means a healthy blend of news, investigations, culture, and commentary that elevates public discourse, enlightens, and entertains. Our coverage should make you think and feel something – anything – whether it be outrage, elation, sorrow, or a palpable sense of who we are and where we live.

Rochester, like all places, is an amalgam of division and unity, conflict and creativity, all of which make for great storytelling.

The CITY team will continue to do our best to ensure those traits jump from the page, the screen, and your radio, in our reporting. Doing so is in our DNA.

As CITY Arts and Entertainment Editor Rebecca Rafferty told me the other day when she sensed I was searching for answers, “Don’t worry. We got this.”

Thank you for reading.

David Andreatta is CITY’s editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.

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