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June 19, 2012 7:53 am

CULTURE SHOCK: Access to information breeds accountability

Written by Dante Geoffrey

When I accepted this position at the Tribune, I knew precisely two things about Powell.

It is named Powell and it has a newspaper called the Tribune.

I researched the city as much as I could when I was hired and learned the very basics. It is small, has a college, and isn’t near a big city.

The rest of what I thought I knew about Powell was mostly conjecture developed out of preconceived notions based on not a whole lot.

There was no denying my excitement for this opportunity — I was starting a real-life career, after all — but my prejudice also instilled a few fears in me.

Not the normal fears one has about moving to a new place. These were the types of irrational fears that you probably shouldn’t publish in a newspaper.

Of all my assumptions and worries about Powell, the biggest one is in a town of this size, everyone can know anything about anyone.

And I’m starting to think I was right.

I was walking to the Tribune building for my third day of work when a man I had never met nor seen before stopped me on the street.

“You’re the new reporter from Sacramento, right?” he shouted from 30 feet behind me.

I figured this guy was a good friend of someone at the paper and he heard about me through one of my coworkers.

Nope, he just read the newspaper.

How strange. This man read the Tribune, including the tiny box that featured a self-written bio and my big black and white mug. That means he probably read the entire paper. Who does that?!

Then, after somehow (a) retaining what he read, he (b) recognized me in town, (c) approached me and (d) correctly identified me as the new guy from California.

It is unlikely that any two of those four events would happen in places unlike Powell.

If a strange man approached me in Sacramento, I would quickly rehearse my “Sorry sir, I don’t have any change” line and pick up my pace.

The strange man in Powell — who turned out to be no stranger at all but a friendly, well-known and respected resident — actually knew who I was.

Of course, that was aided by the actual publication of my arrival. Nonetheless, it demonstrated the ability of word to get around.

Which isn’t a negative reflection on Powell. Information traveling faster and to a greater percentage of the people is great for the newspaper business.

But from some of the stories I have heard around town, I have gathered mistakes are harder to hide and secrets are harder to keep.  Privacy comes with anonymity, and Powell doesn’t seem to allow for anonymity for long.

Everything is public. And everyone is paying attention.

Because of that, I made the following short list of ludicrous self-imposed rules weeks before I moved here.

First of all, I can’t go to a bar.

If I do I will probably drink. And if I drink there’s a chance I’ll get drunk. And if I get drunk everyone in town will think I’m an alcoholic by the next morning.

But not being able to drink might be tough because of my oncoming loneliness. Why will I be lonely? Because I definitely can’t date a girl from Powell. If we date there’s a chance we’ll break up. And if we break up the entire city will vilify me. And since every relationship I’ve ever been in has ended in a break up, getting involved with a girl from Powell seems like certain doom.

I can never get a speeding ticket. If I get a speeding ticket I will be known as a reckless jerk with a disregard for rules and human safety.

Also, I had a really irrational fear of getting beat up by the high school quarterback, but that probably says a lot more about me than it does Powell.

Nevertheless, all of those outcomes will make my job — which brought me here in the first place — much harder.

Whether or not I actually fear the city’s perception of me getting a drink at a bar (I don’t) or the ramifications of breaking up with a local girl (I do) is not important.

What is important is being aware that one’s actions have a larger impact in a smaller town, and thus will create bigger news.

Keeping this in the back of your mind doesn’t inhibit your actions or oppress one’s ability to live freely in Powell, but the lack of anonymity does make you think twice. And thinking twice is always better than thinking once, or not at all.

That’s the benefit of going where everybody knows your name.

Cheers, Powell.

2 comments

  • Comment Link June 20, 2012 10:28 am posted by Mark

    As long as dancing isn't outlawed in Powell, there's nothing to fear.

  • Comment Link July 01, 2012 7:04 pm posted by steve moseley

    If the community of Powell and the Tribune folks make you half as welcome as they made me when I showed up there out of the blue from a strange land called (in my case) New Brass Kee then you're in for a wonderful experience. The formula is easy, treat folks right, genuinely care about them and almost everyone will return the favor. The few who don't are effortlessly ignored.

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