What Makes a Ward?

Writing this story was all about framing it. And this was before we got to the framing conversations in Mass Media Seminar or the News Reporting lecture.

When I walked back to the newsroom after my first Ward Reapportionment Committee meeting back in early September, my mind brimmed with ideas, thoughts and questions. It was clear that the people in the room had been talking about something very specific, but not at all clear to me what that thing was. The conversation seemed coded or veiled. As with any redistricting, I knew a lot would be riding on ward reapportionment — more than what could be explained (to me, anyway) by X neighborhood going into Y ward or the other one getting moved here or there. I wanted to know what was at stake, and for whom. And at the most basic level, I wanted to know which quality makes a ward: diversity or shared interests?

What I found is that it depends on whom you ask, and even then people’s answers may depend on the issue at hand. And whether you call it identity or representation or anything else, it all comes down to access, and that boils down to power.

It took a while to figure all this out. It took, first of all, framing my questions for people very deliberately. Most people were accustomed to talking about wards in terms of numbers and neighborhoods. I had to continually reframe my questions for many people to remind them my story wasn’t about ward maps or the specifics of this reapportionment, but more about the process that informs reapportionment in general.

At first my question of diversity vs. shared interests felt naive. But I trusted it — or at least trusted that I had to understand the answer to that question in order to have real command of the topic, which I would need to write a good article about it. So I kept asking, and in the end felt validated. Nearly all of the people I interviewed brought up the topic themselves, or answered my question with highly formed opinions about the difference.

This article was about something very conceptual, and I tried to ground it as much as possible so that it could be read and understood by people who don’t necessarily spend their free time thinking about these things. I think it is a pretty solid first try.

Next time, though, I will allow more time and plan on more background research and interviews. I wish I could have used more info graphics to illustrate the disbursement of various constituencies throughout the wards. And I will not be as shy about asking the obvious questions, because I continually find that by listening to different people’s answers, I see new perspectives that deepen my own understanding and learn new reasons that these topics are important to them.

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