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Our Intimate Discourse

By Neil Victor LaRubbio

Journalism is personal.  It is a portrait of human experience in real time.  In the 21st century, it arrives quickly and it leaves quickly.  It exists in a sophisticated network, and fortunately, the machinery can tolerate abuse. Communication technologies have brought phonebooks and fax machines to the brink of extinction.  Today, Web sites and editing software are common tools of chaste and dangerous journalists everywhere.  Inaccessibility is virtually obsolete.

For better or worse, journalism is a mirror of all that goes on within society.  Human communication channels are fluid, and recording devices are simple and cheap.  More prevalent appears the notion that the common person is now a public figure.

The Rethink08 project was trying to answer a question using new modes of journalism: Where has the enthusiasm gone for Barack Obama?  It is important for journalism to localize its subjects, so we sought to involve different levels of Missoula’s society.

The challenge of community-activated journalism is to support people who typically do not speak publicly on their own.  Journalism is a bullhorn for the people.  It is not a new role, but it is a role revisited.

The initial method of drawing out the public voice should start on the ground, so to speak; it is the age-old way, and it will never change as long as humans gather in public spaces.

Nets casting nets

Rethink08 wanted a broad public perspective on youth enthusiasm for Obama, so we generated the conversation.  This worked.  Our Interview Without Words recorded young voters’ opinions of President Obama.  From here, our community was set, and we could come back to these participants to elicit attention and involvement as the project moved forward.  Our net was cast.  And all whom we caught cast nets.

The people spoke, and they spoke passionately.  Whether youth enthusiasm for Obama has waned or not can only be answered by political scientists (or cynics), but the Young Voter Profiles and Get Some Perspective pieces show that young people are eager to be heard.  All they need is a forum.

America’s constitutional right to assembly was envisioned to protect people airing their grievances in public – at the church, the courthouse, the middle of town.  Today, people are gathering in social networks online, and so if journalists are not positioning themselves in these circles, they are absent from the assembly.

This is a sad reality for some things I hold sacred, but it is destiny.

Engineering the Rethink08 live chat offered me the most insights.  I was a relative naïf to the power of Web applications, but they work.  Intermingling free software sites is like non-linear editing for production design.  It is the way to broadcast news with thrift and precision.

Neil LaRubbio checks on the webcam live-streaming images of the Rethink08 team at work. Photo: Carmen Irish

The live chat was a successful experiment in sustaining viewers through the doldrums of discussions.  There will most certainly evolve superior models, but our debate enhanced the relationship between panelists and audience by allowing panelists to observe what the audience was thinking.  Without having to wait for a microphone to speak into, more public comments could be heard.

All academic discussions need publicity to attract an audience, but our forum made it easier for more people to attend.  With a higher scale of importance or a more personal subject, attendance would have been even greater.

Personal issues have more depth

To be more critical, Rethink08’s premise has reinforced for me the importance of prodding the public about more personal issues.  Personal has more depth.  Personal is true and manufactured by public interests instead of the newsroom.  Rethink08’s questions were fair, but they mattered more to news junkies and academics.  Issues that affect the public personally are more vital for journalists working locally.  Otherwise, we can all get jobs at tabloids or The Huffington Post.

Local elections will sprout up across Montana in 2010, and it would be a perfect opportunity for Rethink08 to use its ingenuity to serve the community with more valuable content.

A journalist’s work is to raise the national consciousness.  It is to devour over five megabytes of information a day and trim them down to 1,500 words.  Some journalists will learn how to do it all.  Some will hone one skill.  Each will find his or her place.  Ultimately, journalism will serve whatever function society gives it, whether it’s entertaining or enlightening or addicting.

Journalism transforms with the society that supports it. But the stories will all be recorded history, so if nothing else, get it right.

Read Neil LaRubbio’s profile of Anicka Kratina-Hathaway

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Robert Dundas permalink
    April 17, 2013 10:57 am

    Neil, I produce a newsletter for the non-profit Colorado Archaeological Society. I just read your HCN article on “Technology eases access to Ancient Ruins”. It was wonderful and I was hoping you would grant me permission to republish it in our next edition. Thank you for your consideration.

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