Surely, this is York, Pa., at its best. And worst.

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This is the City of York, Pa., at its best: Market day in the Beaver Street neighborhood that has been branded as the Market or Arts District. That’s the bright view at street level. Looming above are the crises facing the city and its schools. And the city’s safety or lack of safety, real and perceived. With these themes in mind, the York Daily Record/Sunday New is launching a solutions-based news initiative to seek out ideas and ignite the energy of residents who will be key to moving the city ahead. Reporters will go out into every city neighborhood to discover what’s out there, report on it and give the city and its residents the information they can use to help the city move ahead. Here are other out-of-the-gate ideas: The YDR has set up an open Facebook discussion group to gather your ideas. Its stated goal: ‘This group was created so people from the city and around York County can talk about what works and what doesn’t, and offer possible solutions.’ The name of the page and initiative? Fixing York, PA. So here’s a call for city residents and beyond to search for solutions. Other stories and photos in category:  ‘Surely, this is York County at its best.’

It was a big evening in York, Pa.

A dream night for backers of the downtown renaissance.

The York Symphony at the Strand-Capitol, a concert at Santander Stadium and a homecoming dance at the Valencia were on the crowded card.

This Saturday night in 2014 resembled the old days, those times that many York countians remember when sidewalks were full and the stores were all bright and beckoning.

The York Daily Record had journalists indoors at the events.

But what about the lit-up-and-alive downtown itself? I called our metro desk and suggested we send a reporter downtown to write about the good buzz on the sidewalks – maybe provide a glimpse into the future.

By night’s end, one was forced to ask: But what future?

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Our tireless police reporter, Gordon Rago, went downtown that October night.

A son of former journalists, Gordon is a Franklin & Marshall grad. He moved to Idaho right out of college for his first journalism job, and we fortunately recruited him back to southcentral Pennsylvania about a year ago.

So Gordon is a young veteran, and his work has closely acquainted him with the city in a way that residents of 20 years would envy.

Sometime after arriving downtown, he learned about a gathering in the vicinity of East Philadelphia and North Pine streets.

Maybe it’s a vigil, he thought, a gathering to remember someone or some cause.

He walked along this major York street to this event, not far away from the concerts, homecoming dance and all.

In a York Sunday News column last week, Gordon wrote about what came next:

“Probably 10 or 15 minutes later, I would find myself being shoved into a breezeway by 10 young men, their hoods up, bandanas covering their faces and a gun pointed in my face.”

They started punching the reporter and going through his pockets.

Somehow, Gordon broke free.

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We received Gordon’s subsequent call in the York Daily Record office, and several of his colleagues checked in with him that night and for the next several days. In a classy move, Coroner Pam Gay did, too.

For months – since a half-dozen of our staff covered the school massacre in Newtown, Conn. – the York Daily Record staff has been training about how to respond to trauma sustained by journalists.

That’s an important half of it. The other key half involves training in our awareness to and sensitivity in reporting about victims of violence.

We’ve shaken hands with an organization that works with journalists on both fronts – the Dart Center for  Journalism & Trauma, at the Columbia University School of Journalism.

The newsroom of the Daily Record/Sunday News – particularly Scott Blanchard and Jason Plotkin –  are in the vanguard of extending this training beyond our newsroom. That includes the two dozen sister newsrooms under Digital First Media’s umbrella in the eastern United States.

A premise behind Dart training is that journalists are first responders in moments of trauma – in the mold of police, firefighters, emergency medical workers and fire police.

Bruce Shapiro is the Dart Center’s executive director. He has addressed how large-scale attacks test the skills of journalist and the judgment of their organizations.

“Part of the challenge goes to our craft: How to accurately depict a mass shooting and its aftermath in a normally safe venue?” he wrote in a story on the Dart Center’s website.

“Part of the challenge is to our ethics: What to say about a perpetrator, how to approach witnesses and survivors and family members, how much explicit detail and imagery to include in news reports? And part of the challenge is emotional: How can journalists and news organizations protect themselves from psychological injury when covering unspeakable horror?”

Journalists don’t need to cover major traumatic incidents to suffer psychological injury. It can happen by responding to terrible fires, covering vehicle crashes or reporting from criminal court over the course of years.

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Another story on the Dart Center site indicates how police departments are increasingly recognizing journalists as the first responders that they are.

Those agencies range from the Los Angeles Police Department to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In York County, some do recognize that journalists, with their ability to disseminate important information to residents, are an important part of a community’s ability to rally against crime.

Some don’t.

One department, for example, unsuccessfully tried to block some Daily Record journalists from receiving tweets about newsworthy items on social media. Silly stuff like that.

The point is that communities need to avail themselves of all resources to fight crime.

The sad fact is that an attack such as that exacted on Gordon Rago – a journalist just doing his job as a first responder near York’s downtown on a busy Saturday evening – impairs the city’s comeback.

The safety of York’s core is a major issue in keeping people away from the downtown.

Here we have a reporter in York’s heart seeking to cover the city’s renaissance, and he’s attacked.

Such a city is not going to move ahead unless it effectively figures out how this can happen.

And we must ask, where’s the outrage on this one – this attack against a first responder?

So here’s a solutions-based lesson from this moment: We should overcome any desensitivity when such violence erupts and regain our sense of outrage.

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As already noted, Gordon wrote about the attack in the York Sunday News Viewpoints section last week.

His column appeared below a headline drawing on famed crime reporter Edna Buchanan’s quote: ‘Nobody loves a police reporter.’ Well, the York community must.

Part of our democratic system is based on the notion that more light, not less, is important for community – and America – to work.

Many people, indeed, get that.

Southwestern Regional Police Chief Gregory M. Bean wrote this thoughtful note to Gordon after his York Sunday News column appeared:

“For what its worth, most officers do appreciate your efforts – although many days it may not seem like that to you. But your efforts really tell their stories of some of the things that they hear or see.  Most of the community has no idea what occurs in their neighborhoods and most officers believe that it’s a good thing to let them know.”

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Thanks to the Dart Center and other media resources, we’ll get better at covering those who are the victims of crime.

And we’ll enhance our understanding of those journalists who, as first responders, are traumatized in the course of their work.

After Gordon published his column, his subsequent tweet quoted that headline: “Nobody loves a police reporter.”

I saw that, thought a bit, and tweeted this message to him:

“Gordon: Your colleagues do – and maybe more of our readers than we’ll ever know!”

Also of interest:

Here is the complete and lightly edited email Southwestern Regional Police Chief Gregory M. Bean sent to Gordon Rago:

“Gordon.  I read your article with interest.  To begin with … welcome to the area.

“Secondly, sorry for your unsettling experience as a result the robbery.  It really is lousy to be a victim!  I guess the upside is that you’ll probably have more empathy for the victims that you speak with.   I have been the victim of more minor incidents over the years and no matter how minor, its still lousy!

“Just a few thoughts.  I recall Ms. Buchanan’s name as I worked as an officer in Palm Beach County (about an hour north of Miami) for 20 years beginning in 1982.  That really was a wacky time and I may look up her writings.

“For what its worth, most officers do appreciate your efforts – although many days it may not seem like that to you.  But your efforts really tell their stories of some of the things that they hear or see.  Most of the community has no idea what occurs in their neighborhoods and most officers believe that it’s  a good thing to let them know.

“I recall a line out of the recent “American Sniper” movie where Chris Kyle is back in this country where life is normal and very different from the bizarre things that he saw in the war zones.  He felt that no one knew or even cared about the horrors that were occurring there because most people simply did not know of these stories.  That can be a little like police work where you see some really disturbing things at work, and then you go home and you can be a little shell shocked and no one else seems to know why you’re acting that way.  I guess I have always rationalized that the more the community knows about what is happening, the better they can (empathize) with the officer’s in their communities.

“Without your efforts of telling the story, many officers can feel that the community that they try to protect, has no idea of what’s happening – and maybe if they do, the rest of the community will be more supportive.

“Anyway, thanks for being out there.  Don’t hesitate to call and stop in at our station when you get out this way.  Best of luck in your future endeavors.”

Also of interest:

Visit the Fixing York PA Facebook group

Surely, this is York County at its best

Visit the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma website

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.

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