Happy new year, folks. I hope it was a pleasant one for you and your family and I wish you the very best in this year.

As we enter 2024, I have a question for you — what did you learn this year? You see, I’ve always viewed life as a vehicle for learning lessons both large and small. One of the saddest things I’ve ever heard was a former co-worker when I was at the late and lamented WREB in Holyoke. This person declared one day that having been in radio for years, he had done it all and there was nothing left to learn.

I thought at the time I hope I never feel that way. And I’m happy to say that I don’t.

I’ve told a number of young reporters that we in this profession are lucky. We are paid to be ignorant. Our job is to ask questions about something we may not know much about in order to share that information with our audience. Most stories I have written in my career reflect a learning opportunity.

So, in no order of importance, let me share some of the things I’ve learned.

I’ve learned the cannabis industry may be peaking in terms of the ceiling for a customer base. There are certainly too many dispensaries in too many communities and now some are starting to fail. You might have seen that the company owned by pot celebrities Cheech and Chong purchased three dispensaries in Western Massachusetts. This is an interesting story on several levels and I am following it closely this year as cannabis has been one of the few statewide economic development issues in recent years.

The status of East-West Rail service is another lesson learned. Yes, there was progress made in 2023, but I’m now convinced that completing this project may take much longer than any proponent ever thought. Maybe I’ll live long enough to see it but I doubt it. I’m beginning to think the only way I’ll attend an opening ceremony is if someone brings my ashes to it.

A poll released by LinkedIn that made news in 2023 stating that members of Generation Z — today’s Tweens — want to be a YouTuber influencer as a career. This result stunned me a bit — remember I am old, but this lesson shouldn’t have. Everyone wants to be “famous” and especially if that fame is achieved not by actually doing or creating something, but instead commenting on things other people have created.

Influencers and personality-based marketing are really nothing new. When I had to do a live endorsement commercial back in my radio days, that was influencing. Granted it was in the Stone Age, but as I told one influencer people in my generation were doing it before you were born. There was no response to that fact.

Another lesson learned.

A lesson that was continued through 2023 was that people love to talk about politics and local officials and yet when they have the chance to change things the majority don’t. It is apparently easier to complain than it is to vote. Springfield residents had a historical chance for change in 2023 and not even a quarter of the electorate turned out to vote. That was shameful.

Along with that lesson was another political one. Some people still believe in the politics of ethnic identity. It is true for much of America’s history people tended to support candidates from their ethnic group or religion. I had thought much of that thinking had evolved into people supporting a candidate not because of those factors but ones that didn’t involve race or religion.

A recent editorial in the African American Point of View by publisher Rick Hurst called out a number of prominent Black Springfield businesspeople, elected officials and activists for not supporting his son, former City Councilor Justin Hurst, in his run for mayor in 2023. Rick is a proud father and Justin was certainly a viable candidate, but his language and tone just wasn’t right for the 21st century. The lengthy piece actually may have alienated people who might consider supporting Justin for future endeavors.
2023 reinforced the lesson to me of the importance of relationships and friendships and to treasure the people who actually care about you. True friendships are rare and are to be nurtured.

The universe offers us chances to learn every day and I do my best to respond to them. I credit that habit of being an ignorant old reporter.

G. Michael Dobbs has worked for Reminder Publishing for 23 years of his nearly 50-year-career in the Western Mass. media scene, and previously served as the executive editor. He has spent his time with the publisher covering local politics, interesting people and events. The opinions expressed within the article are that of the author’s and do not represent the opinions and beliefs of the paper.

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