Faribault newspaper editor calls out her city

You have to have thick skin and some real guts to be a newspaper editor in a smaller community. Jaci Smith, the managing editor of the Faribault Daily News, has both.

Smith, who took on the task in 2009, called out her community in a column today, citing a negativity toward it she hasn’t seen anywhere else.

And that includes, she said, a job in New Jersey. “The armpit of America,” she noted.

But it’s not just comments on the paper’s website that lead me to this conclusion. I hear it in conversation out in the community, too. A few weeks ago, members of the Main Street program in the city were talking about the lack of community pride as well.

But it’s interesting to me that if you strike up a conversation with someone who is visiting Faribault, you get a completely different impression of the community. Without exception, they love it. They love the history, the diversity and the recreational opportunities.

And I wonder: Why do some in our community have such a low opinion of Faribault? Where does it come from? When did it start? What needs to be done to change it?

Because I have to tell you, I’ve lived in a lot of different places, and Faribault is a nice little town. It has its challenges, sure, but nothing extraordinary and certainly nothing that merits the negativity I’ve seen and heard.

I’m interested in delving into this a little more. I’d like to do some sort of newspaper project that looks not only at why we have such a dearth of community pride, but what can be done to change that.

She can start with Audrey Kletscher Helbling, who writes one of the finest blogs in Minnesota — Minnesota Prairie Roots.

“We need to appreciate the place we call home as much as we sometimes criticize or yearn for whatever we think is better,” she wrote of her town a few months ago. “The grass is always greener. Or so we think. Often it’s not.”

She’s lived in Faribault for more than 30 years,and has a gift for seeing things that others ignore. She makes you want to move to Faribault.

But she doesn’t sugar coat the undercurrent of negativity over change in the community.

“If your skin is any color other than white, you are open to possible disdain and contempt,” she wrote in March.

For awhile, complaints ran rampant about Somali men hanging out on Central Avenue street corners. People said they were afraid to go downtown. These men live downtown above businesses, some of which are Somali-owned. Sidewalks are their front porches, their place to gather and converse. This is part of their culture, to meet and talk.

I wish those who continually criticize our newest immigrants could have seen the Somali man sweeping a downtown sidewalk. His efforts show respect for and pride in community.

A 60-something white woman throwing money at a Somali teen simply doing her job shows lack of respect.

No matter our ethnicity/skin color, we really need to just respect each other as human beings.

What’s wrong with Faribault? The same thing that’s wrong with many Minnesota communities. There aren’t enough Audreys and Jacis.