The first meeting I went to when I began covering Highland Park was packed with hundreds of people who were holding signs and yelling.
It was in the heat of the park district pension scandal, and residents flooded the Highland Park Community House calling for resignations and answers.
It was my first taste of what covering Highland Park would be like. And it was really, really exciting.
After three years of editing Highland Park Patch, I'm leaving the company to begin a PhD program studying media, technology and society at Northwestern. I expect to be taking a more academic approach to an industry I've been trying to break into in one way or another since I started writing for my high school paper. It's something I've been thinking about for a while, and it never would have happened without the experiences I've had in Highland Park.
I'm eager to begin this next step, and I can only hope it's as surprising and interesting as covering Highland Park has been. Putting it mildly, the residents here have real passion for where they live. They go to meetings, they voice their opinions and they get things done. And, as any business owner or political figure will tell you, residents here are more than happy to speak their mind. It's kind of a dream come true for a journalist.
Best of all, the people here are patient (at least when they're speaking with a reporter… most of the time). When I first started, I met with a number of city councilmen and business owners. None of them knew what Patch was, but they all walked me through the way the city's government worked and the issues the city faced. I found the same patience and candidness with the current mayor as well as the new city council, not to mention the park and school boards. You may not agree with what your elected officials stand for, but the nice thing about Highland Park is you never have to wonder what their positions are. They send email blasts telling you. Or they invite you to a community meeting with the sole purpose of talking to you about them. As a journalist, that kind of openness has always been extraordinarily refreshing.
Throughout this job I've caught myself learning more than I ever thought I'd know about how a beach redevelopment gets approved or how a school district pays for renovations or how a city handles a movie theater. My eagerness to learn as much as I could about this city surprised me, as did how weirdly excited I felt when I'd done a decent job explaining it to readers.
In short, the enthusiasm Highland Parkers have for their city rubbed off on me early on, and then it stuck. And thinking back on the people I've met here, I'm not at all surprised.
Thank you for bearing with me as I learned and navigated my way to understanding this city, and for sticking with Patch through its many twists and turns. Going forward, the site will be edited by the exceptionally capable Steve Sadin, who has lived in Highland Park his whole life and has an abundance of enthusiasm for his hometown. He's been writing about this city long enough to know what it only took me a short time to learn: when residents have this much passion, even the smallest stories feel huge.