Rediscovery and Revival: Localore Maps the Reinvention of Dayton, Ohio

“Dayton went through huge economic downturn in 2008-09,” explains Julia Reichert. “It was really severe.” A recent New York Times article exploring the Ohio town’s struggle to retain college-educated citizens illustrates just one of the many challenges residents face.

With their Localore project, Reinvention, producers Reichert and Steve Bognar are hoping to discover how members of a community rethink their lives and work after such a tough hit. Aptly enough, they are beginning their project at WYSO by collaborating with station staff and volunteers to reimagine their own storytelling processes.

Locals themselves, Reichert and Bognar are currently conducting trainings with WYSO staff—see the slideshow of pictures from their first training on camerawork above. Reinvention will merge short radio/audio documentary pieces, short films, and online interactive documentaries focused on several neighborhoods.

As seasoned documentary filmmakers, they’re excited to bring a documentary sensibility to WYSO’s reporting. There’s a difference in narrative style between documentary film and radio, explains Reichert. In radio, “the host hands the story off to the reporter, who talks through the story.” Reinvention will focus “much more on storytelling. Each program will have a host, but it’s unlikely there will be a narrator.”

The result will be “atmospheric, less journalistic.” Reichert hopes that increasing the station’s capacity to tell stories in different ways will ultimately bring more ears to WYSO.

Hitting the Ground Walking

Reichert and Bognar are taking a block-by-block approach to finding interviewees. In the last few weeks, the Reinvention team conducted its first neighborhood walkthrough with their team of Community Producers: Shawndra Jones, Megan Hague, Emily Evans, Liz Cambron, Kyle Wilkinson, and WYSO’s co-op student from Antioch, Jennifer Carlson.

According to Reichert, the team has made some exhilarating discoveries that are challenging their assumptions. “We’re discovering our hometown.” Staff members also say that they’re “learning so much about Dayton.”

The team has pieced together maps and posted them on the walls of WYSO to track how the neighborhoods they’re focusing on are changing. Ultimately, the producers’ goal is to collect numerous stories about “reinvention” of various kinds, and then find creative ways to share those stories with audience visually and via radio.

Steve Bognar shared some moving stories gathered during the Reinvention team’s first forays into the business district of Belmont, one of Dayton’s oldest neighborhoods.

We had a lot of fun meeting and talking to shop owners … Everyone was really friendly, gave us good advice and suggestions.  A number of people said, upon hearing the idea of our project, “Oh, you need to talk to…”

We heard someone yell “We Love WYSO” from the back of a shop after we introduced ourselves. And Pat, the white-haired tattooed former firefighter, owner of Angie’s, let us know he’d just renewed his WYSO membership.

…Jim at 1028 Chelsea listened and said he’d help spread the word.  We ran into Mike at his yard sale on Bellaire Street.  He works at the Extreme Car Shop, down by the highway.  They do detailing and rims.  He said things are turning around in Dayton—there was a time when things were slow, and a lot of people couldn’t afford to have their cars detailed. But things are going a lot better now than they were.

Joe at the Circle K convenience store heard the idea, and said he has a big story. “Two years ago I was living in the woods in Xenia, with all my personal belongings in two Aldi’s bags. Now I’m working 3 jobs, have an apartment and am about to get married.” He had a row of customers behind us, so we couldn’t keep talking, but we said we’d swing back sometime.

Bigger than the Sum of its Parts

“We expected that there would be a lot of people feeling down and hopeless,” Reichert says. “What is actually impressing us is how many small businesses are starting up and how many artists [are] establishing themselves here. There’s a lot of cohesiveness.”

Reichert related a conversation with Neenah Ellis, General Manager at WYSO, about the implications for the community. “We were looking at the map of Dayton the other day, talking about the neighborhoods we’ve [chosen]. It’s a great big, shiny, color-coded wall map. And she kinda looked at me and said ‘Wouldn’t it be great if eventually we could do the whole town?’”

Her ambition mirrors the goal for Reinvention itself: to not just offer a collection of compelling stories, but a cohesive new narrative of Dayton—and in turn, post-recession America.

Thanks to AIR Guest Blogger Erin Polgreen for this report. Find her on Twitter:@ErinPolgreen.

Credit: Photos by Steven Bognar