This piece originally appeared in the Conference Book for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists annual conference that took place June 7-10, 2018. I was the conference chair.
“If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later.”
This quote has been attributed to both Mark Twain and Will Rogers. I’ll let you pick who really said it. Though the remark may be an outdated exaggeration, Cincinnati is steeped in tradition grown from a dominant German heritage (Feldkamp is almost as common as Smith around here). Downtown has progressed with the demands of the 21st century, but Cincinnatians hold strong to their roots. Me included.
I was born and grew up on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River where the Cincinnati skyline was always a sight to behold. At fifteen, I got a job at Riverfront Stadium. After school, I’d ride the public TANK bus to downtown Cincinnati where I’d watch the Reds and Bengals play while I worked in concessions. I worked there until I graduated high school in 1993. If you know your sports, then you know how cool that was. As a teenager, I got to work the 1990 World Series games. Very cool.
The conference is over. It was a great weekend. A joy to meet each and every one of you. I hope you take some of my affection for Cincinnati home with you. Presenters Howard Wilkinson and Polly Campbell shed light on the local political and food scenes. Jerry Springer weighed in with his perspective on celebrities entering politics, and if there was ever a Royal First Family of Cincinnati, the Clooneys would be it. Nick Clooney was powerful and insightful in his keynote talk. There wasn’t a dry eye after Clarence Page spoke of his high school advisor. Tears flowed because we’ve all been there. We all had that one teacher in our corner. Mine was present at the conference (he’s now retired and a columnist himself) and it meant the world to me. Josè Antonio Vargas and Rochelle Riley reminded us that America’s narrative isn’t always pretty, lets not forget. Peter Bhatia showed us what happens when an editor believes in his reporters and gives them the resources to tell the stories behind heroin crisis data we keep seeing. Connie Schultz was honored with the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award. She reminded us that our job is to bring forward our opinions with integrity and tell the stories of common and disenfranchised individuals like DACA babies with no voice. These people and their stories need a spotlight more than any celebrity ever did.
Greater Cincinnati’s pride revolves around its ability to preserve the city’s heritage while baring its historic scars. When you live where the north meets the south, ideals clash. Some conference guests explored Cincinnati beyond the event speakers, to visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and dive into the tensions of our past (and present) but also find hope for our future.
I live a little further south, in Louisville, KY, these days, but I still write in the Cincinnati market and I make a trip to the city several times a month. Driving on the I-75 interstate, “the cut in the hill” as it’s called, I still get a nostalgic pang when the Cincinnati skyline appears before me. Cincinnati is the city that raised me. I don’t really think things happen here ten years later but I do think this big city manages to hold on to its Midwest charm. When you leave, you may feel as if you had just visited the biggest small town in the country.
Bonnie Jean Feldkamp (@WriterBonnie)