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My Baltimore's Next: Mary Hartney

Mary Hartney - Photo by Arianne Teeple
Mary Hartney - Photo by Arianne Teeple
Six summers ago, I started working on the metro copy desk at The Baltimore Sun the day the levees broke in New Orleans. While reporters and photographers were driving down to Louisiana and my copy-desk colleagues were putting together extended pages on Katrina, I was writing headlines for inside-B-section briefs about my new city.

My time here has been the longest I've lived anywhere -- I was an Air Force brat growing up -- and I consider myself an adopted Baltimorean. I see that Baltimore is on the cusp of change -- has, in fact, made real improvements. There's a formidable group of inspired, creative, bright young people who are making an effort, many of whom have and will write pieces like this, who are involved in Ignite and Amplify and other projects that are changing the conversation about the city.

But they are a small percentage of a big city that's struggling with endemic, serious issues -- drugs, crime, corruption, poverty, apathy -- as well as with identity and perception. How can we connect these people to the rest of Baltimore? Can we bring together disparate groups and link communities with services? Can we ensure that big ideas make it through execution, all the way to sustainability?

In my view, Baltimore's overarching problem -- the one that touches on every other issue the city faces -- is about access to information.

Information is power. We can't solve problems that we don't know exist. People can't make better choices about whom to vote for, where to send their kids to school, and where to live without good, reliable information. Those who are looking to make a difference in this city can't multiply their impact if they don't know about other groups with similar goals.

There's a wide swath of Baltimore that lacks that information � sometimes by choice, sometimes by ignorance, often by circumstance.

In my current role as editor of the nonprofit NewsTrust Baltimore, I've worked with young people in high-school and college classrooms to teach them about good journalism.

But I'm also hearing that young people aren't tuning in to the news. The way the news is often presented in schools, if at all, doesn't excite them, doesn't connect their schoolwork with their lives, doesn't tell them what they need to know. They'll peek at the television if their parents are watching the news at night, but they don't seek it out and they don't see it as relevant to their lives. And many of their parents don't seek it out, either, for the same reasons.

Information is everywhere; it's an ongoing conversation. But it won't have an impact without an audience. If the challenge is about improving access, then projects and organizations that will get people connected online -- and in the community -- deserve our attention.

Mary Hartney is the local editor of NewsTrust Baltimore and works as a consultant in digital media and strategy. She spent 2010 working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for a new mobile Internet company and previously served as an editor and as director of audience engagement at The Baltimore Sun. Before that, Mary worked at several other regional newspapers, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She lives in Baltimore City and tweets as @maryvale.

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Photos by Arianne Teeple
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