From Sedona to Arizona and across America:
Universal truth to a universal audience via universal technology
Filling a Huge Geographic Journalism Need to Unite Fragmented Communities and the Nation
Produced in Sedona, Ariz., The Sedona Observer serves all of Arizona, the entire nation and beyond by addressing the social, political, environmental, labor and other vital issues of our time that remain largely censored or underreported by today's press.
The Sedona Observer, a Web-based digital media project of Conscious Media Evolution, a nonprofit community journalism organization, offers an interactive open source news site and affiliated Internet television station targeting the rural communities of the Verde Valley. At the same time, it provides big-picture perspectives on today’s pressing issues for a nationwide audience of 40,000 free subscribers and countless Web browsers. Thus it delivers universal truth to a universal audience via universal technology.
From the mystical red rocks emerges a new form of media designed to “peel the onion” by encouraging all people to question; probing the inner mechanics of our political, business and social systems; exposing the multifaceted layers behind today’s issues; presenting thought-provoking, narrative style, literary journalism that opens minds and hearts to new ideas; and offering out-of-the-box perspectives for the problems that plague our modern society.
Why should someone in Phoenix, San Francisco or even New York bother to read a paper from small-town Sedona? Because it addressed the "big picture" aspect of issues affecting everyone on the national level.
A common thread
While the issues of northern Arizona may not interest people in other parts of the country, The Sedona Observer dissects them in a broader light to reveal the common thread that connects us all.
A story about the public outcry over preserving some trees, whether in northern California or Sedona, contains underlying issues about the environment, corporations, government agencies and the collective consciousness that mandates investigative journalistic inquiry to unravel the truth behind the facts as the planet faces a global warming crisis.
The paper also strives to position the issues in a compelling new way to emphasize the higher-purpose principle underlying them so that everyone can glean some morsel of wisdom – no matter where they live.
Sedona: a cultural epicenter and world Mecca
As a city known around the globe for both its spectacular natural beauty and spiritually conscious inhabitants, Sedona possesses a unique opportunity to set an innovative precedent for other communities – leading by example as it tackles issues such as water, roads, development, open space, environment, undocumented immigrant workers, housing, economic development and so forth.
Sedona's diminishing workforce and growing disparity between a have-more population of affluent retirees and a have-not influx of undocumented and green-card immigrant workers serves as a microcosm for what’s happening across America.
How this community – as “the most beautiful place in America” and as a "spiritual Mecca" – addresses these issues will either serve as role model for others or as a reflection of the disintegration of our nation’s social, political and economic systems.
Certainly, at the very least, it offers the perfect place to begin a long-overdue media revolution.
The Verde Valley: a media void
Sedona sits in the the Verde Valley, a 1,200-square-mile area in the geographic center of Arizona that valley overlaps two counties – Coconino to the north and Yavapai to the south, the state’s second largest county with 8,125 square miles and roughly the size of Massachusetts.
With a growing population of 175,000, Yavapai County has only one daily print media in Prescott, 50 miles away and serving primarily as an advertising vehicle, with surface news and no investigative reporting or Verde Valley coverage. The nearest television station is situated 135 miles away in Phoenix.
The Verde Valley consists of Bridgeport, Cottonwood, Centerville, Clarkdale, Jerome, Camp Verde, Sedona, Cornville, Lake Montezuma, Rimrock, the Village of Oak Creek and the Verde Villages, a large unincorporated community. No daily paper or television station exists in the entire valley to serve these 12 cities and towns, let alone any offering professional reporting. According to the last 2002 census, the population had increased by 65% in six years to more than 75,000 residents, with a large but uncounted number of undocumented Mexican immigrants.
A plethora of issues, a dearth of investigative reporting
While Sedona represents the cultural epicenter of this area, an internationally renowned tourist destination with 4.5 million annual visitors and 11,000 residents, it has one weekly paper that offers surface news and serves primarily as an advertising vehicle. Sedona overlaps into Coconino County, home to Grand Canyon National Park, large Indian reservations and undocumented Mexican immigrants whose issues and voices remain underreported in the local media. With a population of nearly 130,000, Coconino’s geography spans 18,000 square miles, making it the largest county in Arizona and the second largest in America.
Like Yavapai County, Coconino lacks television news or any in-depth reporting via an interactive open source digital media platform. Its primary city of Flagstaff has just one print newspaper that, like the others, provides surface news and plenty of advertising.
Therefore, a significant geographic area in northern Arizona, with 26,125 square miles and a diverse growing population of 305,000, lacks professional investigative media to serve thousands of disjointed residents as an interactive vehicle for a multitude of issues facing communities on the brink of dramatic change.
As a result, these communities have experienced a general malaise in civic life.
The need for socially responsible journalism
Furthermore, The Sedona Observer has been besieged with requests from concerned citizens to address an increasing number of issues they claim are being rejected or ignored by regional newspapers. We believe that our flavor of public service journalism can not only invigorate civic life but also restore citizens’ sense of ownership, participation and sacred trust in their local media.
Our first experimental issue in fall 2007 resulted from a wave of such requests from Prescott to Flagstaff to cover critical social and environmental issues underreported by the existing print media. From labor violations against nurses at a Flagstaff hospital to widespread alarm over diminishing water supplies in Prescott due to rampant development, people are demanding the truth from local media that has neglected to address, for one reason or another, a host of community journalism needs.
Many residents continue to express frustration with what they consider a lack of quality journalism or a voice in their media. It’s no secret that print newspaper subscriptions have plummeted, forcing the elimination of key editorial positions due to economic hardship. Yet the region’s very size, exploding population and chronic challenges warrant larger news staffs to cover critical beats such as environment, development, immigration, affordable housing and many other issues.
Thus, a region prematurely accelerating its development into the far reaches of the 21st century, without properly addressing its simmering cauldron of issues, allows its media to remain stuck behind in the 20th century. This alarms us as private citizens, let alone as socially responsible journalists.
Unreported stories, neglected issues
More than 300,000 residents in the state’s two largest counties currently have nowhere to turn for rigorous in-depth coverage of their community issues. Imagine a region larger than the state of Massachusetts without any broadcast media or investigative journalism to prompt civic engagement and promote sustainable change.
The Sedona Observer is already filling the void by not only addressing these underreported issues, but by presenting them in original literary journalism that deepens readers’ awareness and focuses on innovative solutions for social justice and environmental stewardship, with steps for readers to take action.
Best of all, it does so without threatening or intimidating already existing media. Instead, it fosters media unity by promoting regional collaborative journalism efforts. By taking this visionary approach to bring media together to the table, it banishes industry competition and territorialism so we can co-exist harmoniously while serving the journalism needs of our communities.
This is just one example how the Observer lives up to its slogan of “Changing America by Changing the Media First.” The project serves as a working business model for 21st century media by:
1. Working with educators to instill media ethics in tomorrow’s journalists;
2. Allowing contributors to retain their intellectual property rights;
3. Creating knowledge-based jobs with living wages in a low-wage economy;
4. Building community by instilling reader trust, participation and ownership in the media; and
5. Prompting people to engage in civic life.
Most importantly, the project also sets a leadership-by-example model for communities to embrace a “WE” versus “ME” societal transformation, reinforcing journalism as the oxygen for morally responsible social processes that enhance the common good.
If the media can unite and transform first, then perhaps communities will follow suit. All for one; one for all. Together, we can make it work, with the journalism serving as the forerunner to bridge the chasm, bonding the media with its communities for positive social change.
Catherine J. Rourke
Editor & Publisher
The Sedona Observer
CEO, Compassionate Ethical Operator
Conscious Media Evolution
October 21, 2007