Breaking the Silence

Regular readers of the blog (all three of you–hi!) may or may not have noticed my reticence in specifying my location.

I’ve never hesitated to mention I’m from Pennsylvania, and I’ve referenced my hometown once or twice. But I’ve never specified where, exactly, I live now.

That’s about to change.

With the upcoming Presidential primaries in PA, we’re getting an awful lot of attention. For some reason, not one but two major news outlets have published articles this week about the town where I’ve spent the last eight years of my life (minus the six months in Virginia).

Those articles are here–from the AP–and here–from the New York Times. Read them both, if you have time, because the disparity between them is quite astonishing. Two articles about one town could not be more different.

That’s right, folks–I live in Johnstown. Flood City, J-town, South Central Pennsyltucky, whatever you want to call it. And you know what? I kinda like it here. I like the people, I like the atmosphere, I like the pride. It’s dirty in places, and rundown in spots–yes, it’s certainly seen better days. But I chose to live here, and I haven’t regretted that choice for a moment.

Which is why I get angry when I read articles like the one published by the New York Times. Had the reporter spoken to, oh, I don’t know, anyone under the age of forty, he might have uncovered something that would shake up his very, very one-sided view of this place. But he didn’t, and you see the end result–a piece of writing that makes you wonder why anyone would possibly want to live in a suckhole like that. Not that I have anything against people over forty, but the ones Mr. Vitello chose to interview seem utterly devoid of hope. And I may be delusional, but I think that’s one thing this place has.

I wrote the reporter a letter, and I won’t lie–I’m pretty proud of it. Below, please find my own opinions, formed after not three days but eight years of life here.

Dear Mr. Vitello,

I realize that, having only spent a few days in the area, you couldn’t possibly have gotten any real feel for the character of Johnstown and its environs. And I fully understand that space limitations would prevent you from crafting an article that truly goes to the heart of our region and captures its essence.

But for heaven’s sake, could you have at least spoken to someone under the age of 40?

Let me tell you something about my husband and I. We’re both in our mid-twenties, graduates of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown–that’s right, we have a university here that’s received recognition and accolades from both The Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Report. Neither of us, however, came to Johnstown until we began college. We settled here after my husband attained a position with a local defense contractor–that’s right, there truly are jobs here, and even some for highly educated adults! My husband’s employer currently has almost fifty job openings.

We may not be typical, but there are plenty like us in this city, and you could have spoken to one or two of them. Johnstown is not experiencing the “brain drain” that other cities are suffering–quite the opposite, actually. There are many young, intelligent, well-educated people here who either chose to stick around or made the conscious decision to move here for a job after college. And wasn’t it your own newspaper that heralded a resurgence in youth involvement and voting just one month ago? Perhaps you should read the articles your fellow journalists write–maybe the demographic you chose to interview won’t have as much importance in this year’s election as they have in the past.

Or perhaps you should take a look at other news outlets, like the AP, who just recently published a well-rounded article about our little hamlet. I compare the tone of that article to the angle you adopted for yours, and I truly can’t believe the difference. It’s hope vs. pessimism, energetic vs. weary. It’s like two reporters visited two utterly different towns.

Johnstown may be a small city, but it’s a pretty big place, with a wide variety of people, many of whom harbor different opinions about their town. I’m sure that, had you tried just a bit harder, you could have found one of them somewhere…if you’d wandered away from the dirtiest, most ignorant, most sensationalist part.

But I guess that’s not such a good story, now, is it.


Johnstown, PA

I think that says it all.

7 thoughts on “Breaking the Silence

  1. I totally dig that AP article. Our problem with Johnstown is simply that it’s further away than Altoona for us and we know Altoona better (where to get a bite to eat, how to get around, etc.)

    Have you ever considered doing a kind of “visitor’s guide to Johnstown?”

    BTW: I just say I’m in “Bumblefuck,” which is basically the Penn Cambria School District. Ebensburg is West Bumblefuck. And I’ve always been proud to say that I WAS BORN IN JOHNSTOWN, PA!

    Thanks for a dose of pride (and for that totally righteous letter to the NYT. I say we sic the Hanson Brothers on that reporter.

  2. BTW: Can you recommend bookstores in J-town? Chain, independent, whatever. Just so long as you can sit down to look over the books and get a baby stroller through it.

  3. Aw, thanks for the kudos, eden! And yes, I think you have the right idea–we need to summon the Hanson brothers, stat. Show Mr. Vitello what happens when you insult J-town!

    Bookstores are a little difficult. There’s the B. Dalton at the Galleria, which is small-ish but doable. There’s a great used book store off Scalp Ave, on the left if you’re heading toward Windber–here. Not really any good places to sit, but the prices and exchange program are decent and the little old couple that runs the place is adorable. There’s one downtown I’ve never been to, and another used bookstore in Ebensburg, Pages and Light, with better prices but not as good organization as the Book Rack.

    Definitely one thing J-town needs more of–bookstores. But I have hope! =)

  4. Good for you! People don’t usually think much of Jacksonville either . . . until they visit. Then, they find a lovely town on a river. It’s the South’s best kept secret. (Oops! Good thing there’s only 3 of us, supposedly!)

  5. As I’ve enjoyed reading Tia’s blog, I’ve been follwing the blog links she has, so here I am!
    Proud of you for sticking up for your hometown!
    How was your trip to DC?

  6. Hello,

    I found your blog by googling johnstown + braindrain. I’m in my late 20’s and I was born and raised in Johnstown and have since had to move out of state with my husband to find good paying careers. My opinion of Johnstown couldn’t differ more from yours. To me it’s a place full of memories and heartbreaking realities of poverty. Each time I travel back home to visit my family I’m overwhelmed with sadness as I see business after business closing, the abandoned streets of the downtown area after 5pm and hear about the ever worsening financial troubles of my friends and family who have decided to stay there. Things are continually deteriorating and it will take much, much more than hope to fix it. As far as the AP article being positive – did you not read the line “Poverty and unemployment still plague these towns. In 2000, the last year U.S. Census figures are available for Johnstown, it had a poverty rate of nearly 19 percent, more than double the state’s.”

Comments are closed.