What makes the South Coast "Strong"?

For the last two years, The World has been looking to answer this question. We featured many of the businesses, health care facilities, programs and recreational opportunities that abound and thrive here.

We have found wonderful companies that were expanding despite hard economic times. We found numerous examples of people coming back to the South Coast after growing up here, then leaving for a time, and finally coming back and putting down roots.

So, this year we've decided to draw back the curtain even more, and introduce you to some of your neighbors — the people behind the scenes at many of these programs, groups and businesses as well as the movers and shakers in our education and healthcare systems.

This is a project that is near and dear to my heart and this year's theme really struck a chord with me.

When I was a young editor (I had already done a few years of reporting), I went to a conference where one of the featured speakers was the top reporter from the Sacramento Bee.

One of the things he stressed that day was what readers really want to read. He told us that you could write a "talking head" story and you'd be lucky if people read to the end of your story. A "talking head" story is one where you go to a meeting and only quote city, county, state officials.

He said, "Wouldn't you rather read about your neighbors?"

He gave this example: The city wants to widen a road. You could go to the meeting and write that the city had voted to widen a section of roadway. Or, you could write a story about the woman who grew up on one of those streets that was about to lose half of her front yard to trucks zooming by if that is how the officials voted.

Which story would you rather read?

That is why our focus this year is on the people — our neighbors.

So, why do we not see more "people" stories? Because it's harder. As reporters, we have to do more digging to turn up these story ideas. It takes more time — a luxury that most newsrooms our size just don't have anymore.

That's what makes a project like this so important.

The reporters, photographers and contributors you see in today's four-section South Coast Strong special have put in the extra work. They still had their daily assignments to work on, but South Coast Strong has taken up nearly as much of their time over the last five or six weeks.

Doing something special is worth doing well.

This year, we focused our spotlight on education, business, health care and the arts. We have stories about the educators who will lead the transition into the future of educating our children.We have stories about companies you may not have heard of yet, but are making inroads internationally.

Be sure to check out the health care section, which has stories about the people who make a difference in all our lives. From the nurses to the CEOs, they all play a part in trying to improve our system for the future.

And there are so many people we could have done stories about in the arts community it was hard to cut the list down to the stories we did. So many volunteers giving countless hours of their time, giving our kids the opportunity to stand up on stage and show off their talent or to bring the talent of musicians, dancers and artists to our community.

So much talent.

We are all stronger because of these people.

We hope that you enjoy South Coast Strong. We have enjoyed putting it together for you.

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