We’re here to listen — that was the underlying point of an event Thursday in West Frankfort hosted by the New York Times and The Southern.

The event — called “The Times in Person” — was part of a series of forums that have been held in communities throughout the country. Other forums have taken place in Ohio, Michigan, Arkansas, Indianapolis and Kansas City before Thursday’s event in West Frankfort.

Monica Davey, the New York Times Chicago bureau chief, said the reason behind the event was to return to the region where she covered the deportation issues faced by Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco. But there was more.

“We’re here tonight to talk about Carlos, and to talk about the other issues on your minds,” she said. “But, I’m really here to hear what you have to say. What other stories are out there? What are we not writing about?”

Davey led a panel of local leaders — our own Molly Parker; SIU dean Cindy Buys, an immigration law expert; Franklin County Sheriff Don Jones; West Frankfort Mayor Tom Jordan; and Franklin County Circuit Clerk Jim Muir — in a discussion of Pacheco’s fate, but other issues that face the region.

Those issues included immigration, the opioid and methamphetamine crisis, education, the state’s budget crisis and everyone’s favorite discussion topic — politics.

One particular topic was coal — something Muir, a former coal miner, is very passionate about.

In Southern Illinois, coal was once king. Competition from natural gas, environmental regulations and technology have knocked the king off his throne, but a lot of people at Thursday’s event agreed that coal still has a future in the region.

Muir said that coal will never be what once was, but there’s too much of it in Southern Illinois for it to go away. Jordan agreed, “I think it has a place. I think Southern Illinois will be part of that.”

Those are the kinds of conversations we need to be having — conversations that can lead to Southern Illinois Being a better place. The frank comments about coal are an interesting admission — the region cannot hang its economic future on just mining. We have to expand our horizons.

One of the main goals for the event was to connect with readers and bring the conversation forward. We’d say that the event was a success in that regard.

Now, we’d like to echo what Davey said — we’re interested to hear what’s on our readers’ minds.

We might not agree with everything that was said, but that’s not the point. The point was to have a discussion, and to have a better understanding of the issues that are on the minds of our readers and the general public.

We know not everybody agrees, but the point of this Opinion page is to have as many different viewpoints as possible. To that end, a better understanding of those issues is essential.

And, to achieve that understanding, we need to have these conversations.

We can’t say for sure when the next time we’ll host such a forum. But, we can say for sure that we’ll be part of events like this in the future.

The open discussions are good for all parties. It’s good for the newspaper staff to talk with readers face-to-face, and it’s good for readers to be able to speak their minds. It serves us well to sit back, slow down and be able to really listen to what folks out there have to say.

One last point: We should feel good as a region that large entities like the New York Times have an interest in what’s happening in our little part of the world.

It should go to show all of us that we do matter. What we all do and think truly does matter.

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