Possibility Thinking

Voices of hope in a season of next steps and second chances

Spring is back, feeling, as usual, like a nonstory. When a place is always in the mid-70s and sunny, it’s pretty much never not spring.

Still, the world turns, and that’s worth a mention. Purple buds appear on the jacarandas; the hills sprout blue lupine and golden poppies. Once again, the whales head north and the swallows don’t quite return to the mission at San Juan Capistrano. High school seniors wait by the mailbox for college acceptance letters. Couples who just met book long weekends in Cabo. It’s the season of next steps and second chances, and while subtler here than in most places, it’s no less prepped for possibilities.

Take, for instance, the possibilities of our morning paper. Really. Finally out of bankruptcy, the Orange County Register is under new ownership and rebranding itself as a purveyor of what, back in the day, we used to call “news.”

Does Orange County want this “news?” Good question. Certainly the place can read—look at the college applicants mobbing that poor mailman. But paragraphs on paper? Every day? That’s a pretty upbeat plan in this pixilated era. On the other hand, maybe Orange County is sick of pixels. Or maybe newspaper subscriptions have suddenly become cool and retro, like wearing aprons to be ironic, or making your own beer.

In any case, the Register isn’t the only nest of optimists warbling in the jacarandas. Up the freeway, what’s left of the Los Angeles Times is stirring, in spite of itself, at the prospect of a new owner, someone who might restore its former reach and glory, or, at the very least, promise not to drop F-bombs at staff meetings and despoil the pension fund. At the OC Weekly, editor and columnist Gustavo Arellano is becoming a virtual one-man megaphone for the voice of our 21st century, minority majority county—a voice to which the rest of the nation is increasingly listening. Meanwhile, Costa Mesa’s PBS SoCal is getting more assertive in its new role as the region’s top-banana public-TV station, and reaching out to viewers and donors in Los Angeles.

I cheer these developments. Without strong local voices, Southern California is at the mercy of its own centrifugal force. Here, more than most places, communities need connective tissue. People move, landscapes shift. Things get lost in translation. It takes more than freeways and Facebook to tie a place together, because most people here are too busy and spread out to know each other’s stories or mind each other’s business.

Trash the “mainstream media” all you want, but without people who are paid to vet facts and bear witness, the Internet is little more than a data dump of assertions and outtakes—a time-sucking forced march through bad plastic-surgery photos, and cats wanting cheeseburgers, and kids lip-syncing to K-Pop, and rich kooks bankrolling political smears. It deconstructs us and reduces us to bits and bytes and cellphone video snippets that fly off into the spreading sprawl like a flock of swallows, never to fully reappear.

So it’s good news that Southern California is fighting for its institutional voices. And it’s worth a mention that so much of the effort is coming out of Orange County, a place that hasn’t always had the confidence to lead regionally. Will any of it work? Hey, what doesn’t feel possible in April? The world turns. Hope springs.

Illustration by Brett Affrunti

This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue.