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Constance Alexander: Veteran Hopkinsville journalist says there is no substitute for shoe leather reporting

“People who leave great footprints in the community do that just by showing up.”

Leaving great footprints starts with showing up

So says Jennifer P. Brown, a Hopkinsville woman who knows about getting things done.

The veteran journalist illustrates her point by telling a story about an editor assigning a young reporter to the courthouse beat.

When the rookie asks, “Do you want me to go online?” the editor snaps, “No. Put on your shoes and get over to the courthouse.”

“Cell phones will teach you some things,” Brown says, “but you have to be present to see things you’d miss otherwise.”

Her audience, participants in Murray State University’s Commonwealth Honors Academy, shifts uneasily in their seats.

This is the official kick-off of the 2019 session of CHA, and the teens have been on campus little more than twenty-four hours. Many are still adjusting to a strict CHA rule: Students do not carry their cell phones during the day. They are required to communicate with each other, person-to-person, face-to-face, to be present in the moment.

“Not tethered to the virtual world,” is how Jennifer Brown describes it.

Well-versed in technology, Ms. Brown is also well-acquainted with the value of shoe leather reporting. Leaving the Kentucky New Era where she served as both editor and opinion editor over a 30-year newspaper career, she recently launched an independent, online venture, the Hoptown Chronicle.

The focus of this site is “hyper-local.”

“If you live in Hopkinsville, used to live here and maybe miss it, or just want to know more about the community, then Hoptown Chronicle has some stories you won’t find anywhere else,” she says.

When others zig,” according to the site’s home page, “Hoptown Chronicle will try to zag and report what’s been overlooked, misunderstood or under-appreciated.”

Using images captured with her cell phone, Jennifer showcases some of the “eye candy” in downtown Hopkinsville.

There is no substitute for shoe leather.

Architectural details only observed by sharp eyes are testimony to Hopkinsville’s past as a bustling city. A man-hole cover over a hundred years old demonstrates how a simple, everyday detail reflects ageless design aesthetics. Fading details on building exteriors capture Brown’s imagination and she shares them with her readers.

“I’ve driven by that building all my life,” one fan claims, “and I never noticed that door.”

The point of view is the equivalent of seeing downtown Hopkinsville like a newcomer. “It’s right there for the taking. Anyone could take these photos,” according to Brown.

“When a community loses the heart of the town, you can’t get it back,” she warns.

An avid fan of downtowns everywhere, Jennifer reminds her listeners that they have to be present. “Too many of us are zipping around, not paying attention.”

The first step in heeding her advice is to go downtown, shop downtown, appreciate downtown, and revitalize downtown whenever possible.

To those who complain it’s too much trouble, Jennifer offers a dose of reality and a stern reminder: “We don’t have a parking problem in our downtowns,” she declares. “We have a walking problem.”

To the youngsters attending MSU’s Commonwealth Honors Academy, many from small towns in Kentucky, Tennessee, and other parts of the mid-south, Ms. Brown reminds them that many of the people who left big footprints in their hometowns were not famous or rich.

“Some of them just showed up,” she says. “They left big footprints by doing the same thing again and again until it made a difference.”

Besides the Hoptown Chronicle, Jennifer Brown is co-founder of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition. She can be contacted by email at editor@hoptownchronicle.org.

The phone number is 270-484-1145. The web address is www.hoptownchronicle.org.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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