Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain

On Thursday, Joy Mayer will engage us on the subject of engagement. Yes, I realize this is a bit like a conversation about conversation. But it’s different.

Joy is doing some research at the Reynolds Journalism Institute this year on how news organizations are engaging with their communities. But, she writes:

…what does engagement really mean? And what does it look like in community newsrooms, from mainstream newspapers to experimental startups?

Mike Jenner gave us a pretty close look today at what one large newspaper did to transform its relationship to its readers. Joy Mayer will focus on Thursday on what start-ups are doing.

Be ready to engage Joy by reading more about this question of engagement. And then see how you like the parallel she draws between the Great and Powerful Oz and the old-fashioned news organization with its one-to-many “lecture” journalism that presumes to know what the reader needs (and ignores what the reader wants).

I would venture to say that we at the Missourian and Vox haven’t yet managed, as Toto did, to pull back the curtain that separates the mere mortals from the magical machinery of journalism.

But I want to know what you think.

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8 Responses to Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain

  1. Dustin says:

    Her Wizard of Oz/margarita combo is interesting. I think I would have picked one or the other. But I agree with her. Who said that journalism had to live in an ivory tower, and why didn’t we challenge this sooner? I’ll bring the chips.

  2. tomnagel says:

    I’ve always been interested in that definition we received in our first years of the J-school that journalism is a tool to promote democracy. It seems to me that only an organization with big ears is capable of that.

  3. Trupti Rami says:

    I think journalists do not see themselves as participants enough. We have become so sensitive to remaining objective that we are hindering our reporting potential. We shouldn’t be afraid to bust out the margaritas now and then.

  4. What strikes me is how futile the “Great and Powerful” Oz’s efforts are to stay hidden–they clearly see him, and they’re smart enough to get that something’s up. Our lack of connection is just as futile as his attempt to hide. The relationships Dorothy and her crew make with “the man behind the curtain” are enriched when they interact with him for what he is–a man. It’s awkward at first, as he fumbles to keep his old mysterious identity, but in the end, it’s much better. Our transition might seem fumbled and awkward, but once we learn how to engage, both we and our readers will benefit.

    Let’s have a salsa recipe swap.

  5. Ben Frentzel says:

    It’s all fine and dandy talking about plopping ourselves into everyone’s parties. But when it comes to actually doing it, it’s a lot harder than bringing “chips and salsa.”

    New journalism requires new methods. How do we fully immerse ourselves into a community we have to remain transparent about?

  6. baileywrites says:

    As a Kansan, let me just say I appreciate the Oz reference.

    The questions of Joy’s that made me pause were, “How do I as a journalist structure my day? How do I participate in my community?”

    I understand her concern about trying to be two things that sometimes seem irreconcilable–a journalist and a consumer of journalism. One thing that struck me, particularly when she asked how to structure one’s day, is how packed our calendars are. We are students, we are reporters, we have enough trouble making time for both of those things–how are we supposed to engage in our community?

    I know Joy’s not so much getting at a time constraint, but such is a legitimate concern of our unique role as MU J-students. Admittedly, while I enjoy coming across some cutie-pie old men at city hall meetings, or shooting the breeze with the Historic Preservation Commission folks, by the end of the day I am spent, and don’t have energy–or time–to do any more schmoozing with my community to find out what they want.

  7. rosiedowney says:

    I think hyper-local journalism and companies like are moving closer and closer to community engagement. I personally find that the easiest way to get involved is to try and only interview my sources in their home environment. They feel more comfortable, you might get inspired by something you see in their home or office and you might realize that you have something in common with them that can help break the ice.

    Yesterday I interviewed a source in his office. I quickly noticed a collection of figurines on his shelf. I am also a fan of this character and I mentioned it to him. He was thrilled that we had this in common and proceeded to give me a completely open and informative interview. He even gave me names and numbers of other sources that can help me with this story. I know that my willingness to open up and share something about myself helped me get a more detailed interview in the end. As journalists we’re taught to only be professional and detached but sometimes a little discussion about a shared hobby can go a long way.

  8. Allison Seibel says:

    I do agree that we haven’t yet “pulled back the curtain” in all aspects of our paper, but I do think we are sort of in the process of doing that. Working in the neighborhoods beat, I have to make connections with people in my neighborhood. Otherwise I would have far less stories or story ideas. Sometimes when I contact someone I have a story idea in mind already, but other times I’ll just contact people at churches and schools and ask basically, “Hey, what’s going on at your (church/school, etc.)?” and these people will give me ideas. I think the neighborhood beat really depends on communication with the people who live in it. And they are the people we write our newsletters for. I personally have become friendly with a few people in my neighborhood and feel comfortable enough with them to just have a conversation – not just interview them. To them I’m not just strictly Allison Seibel – Reporter from the Columbia Missourian, I’m just Allison – a person they can talk to about things in their neighborhood; and I think this really helps my stories/blog posts. I know that it’s probably more difficult to have this friendliness and transparency in other beats, but hey, it’s a start.

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