Thursday, July 12, 2007

Durham Self-Image Doing Just Fine

A May public opinion survey revealed that Durham residents have a very positive overall image of the community by 7.5 to 1. Another 9.7% are neither positive nor negative, and only 5% are unsure. Most impressive is that more than 21% have a very positive image of Durham, and the number very positive vs. very negative is more than 3 to 1. This rivals Durham's nationwide image ratio of 6 to 1 positive to negative.

Sometimes the news media and residents of other communities get the impression Durham is down on itself, because people here are so outspoken and determined to solve problems. But Durham residents have always had a very positive overall image of the community. Negative people are a little louder, and of course, half the people working in Durham don't live here, but many talk like they do.

What's astounding, though, is that this self-image has been resolute. Durham residents are the only ones in the state bombarded by news from two major dailies and a home delivery weekly. Of course, this can make the drumbeat of troubling news almost assaultive. Couple that with the fact that half of the residents of nearby communities report they would expect a negative experience in Durham from what they hear from friends and around the water cooler... and then the incredible frenzy over the LAX accusations and distortion in the national news media.

It is also assaultive on Durham residents that much of the news media and portions of the population in Raleigh are threatened by the fact that Durham is very much Raleigh's equal and determined not to acknowledge the great things that happen here.

So this tells us two things. The image issue really isn't about generating community pride or giving ourselves more love. The issues impacting Durham's image rest with external audiences in a 50-mile radius. There lies the image problem that so undermines Durham in the eyes of newcomers and visitors. Imbalanced news coverage and Internet babble may stoke this negative image, but it's negative word of mouth around the water cooler, over beers or the backyard fence that fuels it.

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