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    You can make Albany Today alive

    Linjun and Barbara

    Linjun Fan and Barbara Grady on a biking trip recently. Barbara will continue working on Albany Today after Linjun returns to China.

    Dear Readers,

    I’ve finished my studies at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC-Berkeley last month, and am about to go back to my home country China. I am very glad that I’ve served you well with meaningful news stories about the community in the past two years, and thankful for your trust and support of Albany Today.

    At the City Council meeting last week, Mayor Marge Atkinson presented me an award, each members of the Council said words of appreciation to my work, and the audience applauded heartily. I was deeply honored and touched. Two years ago when I first arrived at the town from the other side of the globe, I knew not a single person in town. Now I feel I’ve built such great bonds with so many of you here that it’s hard to say goodbye.

    The bonds were formed through Albany Today, which I created to hone my journalistic skills originally, and which has now become a vital venue where important issues facing the community are presented and discussed, where fascinating stories and ideas of its members are shared.

    All the stories come from you. I just diligently collect them, and try to present them as accurately and fairly as I can. That’s why sometimes I invited you to write or speak directly to the community, when I thought that was the best way to convey your ideas and stories. You might remember that each candidate for the City Council and the School Board elections wrote an article introducing themselves last year, and Albany Today has published dozens of essays and commentaries from a variety of residents.

    In this way Albany Today is substantially different from a blog. It’s not about me, but about you.

    Besides covering incidents that were of significance to you, I occasionally told you stories which would not normally appear on a newspaper, like a beloved neighbor who suddenly passed away, a school custodian who loves his work, or an amateur artist who built sculptures out of waste. Those stories captivated me, and I thought they might be intriguing to you as well. To my delight, it often turned out to be true.

    I have received a number of email messages from you praising my work. Sometimes people whose face I couldn’t recognize would come to me on street and told me how much they appreciated Albany Today. And many of you are supporting my work by regularly sending me information of community events and other news clues.

    Two residents contacted me recently asking whether I could write a story about neglected houses in their neighborhood. The problem has existed for years, they said, and they thought that I could help, because a friend told them that I was the person who helped to solve a similar problem in her neighborhood. I was flattered. I knew they talked about the house on Talbot, which was vacant and decaying for more than a decade. The City acted on the issue actively after I wrote about it, and a few months afterwards the owner surprisingly decided to solve the problem by selling the house.

    I don’t know for sure whether it was my coverage that made the difference. I was just trying to report truthfully on the issue and follow the event as it unfolded. To avoid a one-sided story and to get the homeowner’s viewpoints, I tried many times to talk to her, and mailed her a letter after she hanged up my phone calls again and again. In retrospect, this effort might have prompted her to take the action, although I didn’t intend to pressure her at all.

    It’s hard to know exactly what changes Albany Today has brought to the community. But sometimes I saw it clearly make a difference. For instance, many readers commented on the story about Oscar Rodriguez, a custodian at Albany schools, and one of them said:

    “I read the article and was very impressed with the way it was presented. As Oscar’s wife for 20 years I can honestly say I am so proud of him. “

    It’s really satisfying to read comments like this. That morning when I watched Oscar carefully clean the Memorial Field, when he told me how much he loved his work, and why he went to talk at a board meeting for the first time, I was moved. I felt compelled to share his story with you.

    I also felt that meeting people like Oscar and getting to know their stories had enriched myself. I got to know the community better, and my horizons expanded with each new person I met, and each new story I wrote.

    That’s why I have been able to spend countless hours on Albany Today, because I know for sure that my skills are of value, my work makes a difference, and I am being enriched as a reporter and as a person.

    This is an extraordinary experience that gives me confidence and strength, as I go back to China to embark on a new journey in journalism. I’ve been hired by Shantou University in south China to teach journalism classes. The journalism program at the University is new and eager for innovation, with a diverse faculty recruited from around the world. I am excited that I will have a great chance to teach college students what I’ve learned, and to inspire them with my belief in journalism. I also plan to build news websites similar to Albany Today, as training grounds for students and service to local communities.

    Journalism in China is a sprout that has newly grown out of propaganda in recent years. Despite of the fact that it’s constrained by government censorship and corrupted by commercialism, it is playing an increasingly big role in shaping public opinion and affecting social change. I envision a life-long mission for me to help it flourish.

    There is still work on Albany Today I wish I could do before I leave for China. I want to work out some ways to make it stand on solid footing, not just the effort of one individual. I am very glad that Barbara Grady, a veteran reporter and a devoted member of the community, will work on Albany Today after I leave. Some students from my journalism school might also join her in updating the web site.

    The major challenge facing us now is to get funding for Albany Today. I applied for some grants but haven’t received any good news. I devised an advertising plan, but did not have enough time or skills to carry it out. It would be great if any of you are interested in taking on the task. Please let me know if you’d like to help.

    There is one thing that all of you can do to make the website alive — pay a small amount of subscription, for instance, three dollars a month, to support Albany Today. If a couple of hundred of you are willing to do so, there is a good chance that the website will continue to serve the community for years to come. Please take a minute to tell me whether you are willing to do so by clicking here and taking part in a polling. Please introduce Albany Today to your neighbors and others who you think would be interested in subscribing. And of course, any amount of donation would be greatly appreciated.

    If we could work out ways to sustain the website, Albany will not only have a lasting news website of its own, but also lead the way in exploring new possibilities of news operations. As newspaper companies are crumbling across the country, laying off reporters and cut budget on local news, Albany could demonstrate that communities can take on the challenge ourselves and come up with innovative ways to get good news service.

    Some of you might have read the article Journalism students lead way by Neil Henry, the dean at my school, published on the San Francisco Chronicle on the day of my graduation. In the article Neil applauded my work and introduced what the school is doing in applying Albany Today’s successful model to other Bay Area communities. It would be exhilarating if Albany Today could walk further ahead and set an example of how a local news website thrives through support from the community.

    I would be truly happy that I’ve left behind a legacy for Albany, if this idea comes true. Please let me know if you’d like to help in any way. Please support the work of Barbara (barbgrady@sbcglobal.net), and the others who will continue Albany Today.

    I wish the website could continue to be a cherished place where members of the community get informed, share ideas and stories, and keep records of its memorable events. I wish I could still visit Albany Today from China, and get to know what’s going on in town two years , or even twenty years from now.

    Please help to make this valuable community asset alive.

    Yours, sincerely,

    Linjun Fan


    You might also want to check out a fascinating article on San Francisco Magazine about what lessons could be learned from Albany Today:

    Newspapers are dead. Long live journalism!

    By Nina Martin

    ALBANY, CA—In case you haven’t heard, these are desperate times in the news business. But if you live in Albany, the past 18 months have been a golden age of civic journalism, and the woman to thank is Chinese-born grad student Linjun Fan.

    Fan hearts Albany.   Click here to read the full story.

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