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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Journalism That Matters -- Madison Blogger Attends National Conference

Gentle readers, thanks for keeping such vigorous conversation going while I was away! I just got back from a couple days of vigorous conversation at the Journalism That Matters Minnesota gathering at the U of M Minneapolis campus. The conference, attended by 90+ placebloggers, citizen journalists, and community website gurus from around the country, gave me a chance to see how other people are using the Internet to promote open government, commerce, and, most importantly, conversation in their communities.

Whoops -- definition first: What's a placeblogger?

placeblogger: a blogger who devotes attention to a very clearly defined geographical location, usually a smaller community, although a placeblogger could conceivably focus on a state, maybe even an entire nation. Examples:
So, what did I learn? Oh, I could write all day and night... but long posts drive Todd crazy. ;-) So how about a Top Ten list?

Top Ten Cool Things I Learned at JTM

10. Josh Wolf and I have a psychic link.
At a session he convened on Democracy 2.0, the San Francisco activist proposed an e-government website where every bill before the legislature would have its own webpage where citizens could leave comments, suggest amendments, take straw polls... exactly the idea I am researching this year at DSU!

9. I'll never make money. Some conference attendees are turning a profit, and I had planned to attend the sessions talking about business models, advertising, etc. But when I got there and heard people talking about government openness and journalism ethics and other fun stuff like that, I couldn't tear myself away to talk about practical capitalism. Oh well!

8. The University of Minnesota makes really good cookies... and chicken sandwiches, and barbecue mini-pizzas, and hummus, and scones....

7. South Dakota has some catching up to do in building online community. Our political blogs have developed an interesting organic community, but we still seem to linger out at the edges of the civic consciousness. And the forums of the mainstream media, like those hosted by KELO and that Sioux Falls paper, are just insult-fests that don't build a sense of community. Our online communities can and should become foci for civic discourse -- just ask Griff Wigley in Northfield!

6. Measure your success in influence, not hits. It's fun watching the SiteMeter numbers spin up when some post gets linked on CNN or the Washington Post, but what good are those numbers if people don't stay to have a conversation? I felt this way the past month when my IRS stimulus check post and South Dakota Democratic primary polls post started topping the Google search results. Big numbers, sure, but did any of those Googlers notice they were reading a site from South Dakota? Did they leave a comment, read any other posts, or hang around to get to know our place and our people? Even if lots of people are clicking onto our sites, we need to ask why they are clicking, and what good that clicking might be doing.

5. Dante Chinni at the Christian Science Monitor has a really cool job: see the Patchwork Nation project he directs!

4. Our readers are citizens, not consumers. Again, more synchronicity with ideas I've been coming across in my DSU research: The 21st century is about recognizing that we are all participants in our communities, our government, and the marketplace, not simply passive consumers. We aren't here to just take what we're given, to be told what to think and do by politicians, advertisers, and corporate media. As John Nichols of The Nation told us Thursday morning, treating citizens as consumers is what is killing the mainstream media (newspapers will be dead in 20 years, at current attrition rates), and it will kill us bloggers, too, if we make that mistake.

3. Tools and technology are necessary but not sufficient for building community. The technology we have now offers wonderful possibilities for keeping tabs on our government, inviting people to conversation, and connecting with our neighbors. But all the techno-whizbangery in the world isn't enough by itself to sustain communication and neighborliness. The technology should serve people and community, and we should blog in the spirit of bringing our communities together for open, constructive dialogue.

2. We are all journalists -- what's it to ya? We've had some discussion here about whether blogs are journalism or something else. John Nichols says that the only definition of that matters is this: "somebody who gathers information and conveys it to others." The KELO reporter, the blogger, the gossip at the end of the bar -- all journalists, says Nichols. And what of journalism ethics? Nuts, says Nichols: there's no such thing. "Journalism ethics is a lie" created in the 20th century to justify the lies of the corporate media. Under Nichols's expansive definition, the only ethics we journalists need follow are personal ethics: respect each other, treat others the way we want to be treated, and do good.

1. The fate of the world rests in our hands. Fellow bloggers, loyal readers, we are what democracy is about. America started with words, with communication. We celebrate our nation's birth not on the date of the Battle of Bunker Hill or Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown, but on the date a bunch of guys signed a document. We meet, we converse, we record our thoughts, and we stake our names (if not our fortunes and sacred honor) to our beliefs about what's good for our community. These online conversations are an essential part of making the 21st century safe for democracy.

Stay tuned -- I'll probably have another post or two about what I learned on my summer vacation (and it's only June!). More importantly, I'll be busy figuring out how to put everything I learned into practice right here on the blog. Forward the blogolution!

* * *
Update 2008.06.11: For more reflection on the conference, see my notes on cah-jtm.blogspot.com.


  1. This blog is journalism. Many are not, IMHO. :-)

  2. Smiles back at you, Stan! If more people will hit the "Tips Jar" button, I might be able to afford to do even more journalism! ;-)

  3. Cory - great summary of the conference. I haven't written one myself but I don't think I could say it any better so if I have occasion to, I may just point to yours. Which reminds me I better write up the two breakout summaries on which I took notes, before Bill D starts sending threatening e-mail -- Take care and much success (and influence!!!) to you!

  4. Good post and looks like it was an interesting conference. It seems long past the time for something like this sponsored by a university or organization interested in electronic journalism in SD.

    I have often on pushed for something like that for a couple of years, but don't know which buttons to push or if there are even pushable buttons.

  5. So be honest... better than SDSU's? ;)

  6. The food, I mean... because State made a killer hot turkey sandwich when I went there. In fact, I considered it one of my basic food groups!

  7. So true about No. 4. Our little venture, Altadenablog, has been up for eight months, and already it's a fixture in community discussions -- the town council reads it, people refer to it at public meetings, I've just been appointed to a civic advisory committee, and I get treated like a rock star at the public library. I even noticed that our town council's webpage for their upcoming elections looks suspiciously like the one I put together for my blog, including my typos!

  8. #10: Is it a psychic link or we just turned into the same frequency on the global awareness network?

  9. Synchronicity! Gaia-mind! Whatever it is, Josh, I'm glad it's happening!


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