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Civic Engagement vs Civic Journalism


For the last ten years, all I wanted to be was a television journalist. I wanted to be Tom Brokaw. Or at least, the charming but awkward producer behind Tom Brokaw. I loved the news.

Inform the masses. Create an enlightened populace. Effect progress.

Play a vital role in the national discourse. “There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful,” as my journalistic hero, Edward R. Murrow, said.

I knew that was a call to action for all of us. Murrow was trying to get through to all Americans. Journalism just seemed like the easiest way for me to heed his words. So I became a local news producer. Part of a group of a half-dozen unspoiled, ambitious, idealistic J-school grads at my first TV station, I did my best to carry on in the ideals of Mr. Murrow, minus the on-air smoke break.

But local news called. Fires. Shootings. Wrecks. Sure there were the occasional school board meetings. The rare “newsworthy” city council meeting. But there only was time for sound bites, and never from residents. There was no involvement. And if there was, it wasn’t worthy of a mention.

I toiled on, all the while with old Ed’s words in my head. “Nothing but wires and lights in a box.” What happened to informing the masses? Effecting progress?

After months of soul-searching, weighing the pros and cons of what I saw as turning my back on my inner journalist, I left TV. For the first time in ten years, I’m not in news. Fortunately for my parents—and the tuition and fees they paid to send me to journalism school—I found my way to MindMixer, a place where the principles of good journalism are alive and well, under a new name.

It’s civic journalism.

MindMixer is a messenger for local governments and their constituents. But instead of discourse as a one-way street like it is on the 6 o’clock news, it’s a give and take. Civic leaders share their plans and engaged citizens share their input, even their own plans for their community.

But it can’t stop there. We all have a role to play. Citizens have to take it to the next step. Maybe after voting in a MindMixer poll on modes of transportation in his town, a father of three might leave a comment about how his neighborhood has no sidewalks. Maybe he goes to a city council meeting to voice his concerns. Now that he knows the lines of communication are open, he can open his city council representative’s eyes to a problem that she may not have known about.

So it works both ways. People are inspired to get involved because they know their contributions will lead to action. That’s something even the best journalists strive for but can rarely achieve—something that has fallen by the wayside, even as new and more interactive forms of media emerge.

Something MindMixer and other civic engagement platforms are doing for hundreds of communities every day.

Informing the masses. Creating an enlightened populace. Effecting progress. I guess I’m not turning my back on my inner journalist after all. Like the thousands of people already joining the online conversation, I’m turning to face my inner citizen.


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