Jim Buell spent the week sleeping in a box.
Jim and his fellow MU students raised money for Habitat for Humanity by spending the week in cardboard boxes. Jim also reports for the Missourian. In past years, editors may have told Jim to steer clear of any reporting on the event. Journalists don’t want to be accused of playing favorites, either in selection of stories or bias within them.
So what did Jim do? Why, he blogged all week about the experience – at the urging of his Missourian bosses.
Observational reporting can be powerful because there are no filters between the reporter and the event. Sports reporters do it all the time. So do those reporting on war, at least when they have access. Jim was participating though. He wasn’t a journalist first; he was a citizen trying to affect change in the community.
Journalists give up some participation, especially political things, to serve an important role in democracy. But journalists can have a life, too. Today, there are more options in responding when there are potential collisions.
It wouldn’t have been OK for Jim to do a news story about the cardboard box mini-city. You would have felt tricked, wouldn’t you, if Jim tried to write a story without talking about his involvement? There’s no such distortion in his blog. You know exactly what he’s doing, and why.
A professor at New York University, Jay Rosen, used to say that it’s just important for journalists to “get the connections right” as avoiding potential conflicts. A newspaper is part of the community, not separate from it.
An example: the Missourian’s collaboration with neighborhoods to produce e-newsletters. The most prominent have been in Benton-Stephens and East Campus. The Missourian’s role is to help neighbors create their newsletter. It’s not a Missourian publication, even though the newsletters have news from Missourian reporters.
If demand is an indication, the newsletters have been a hit. Several neighborhood associations around town have asked whether they could form similar partnerships. A group of us is trying to figure out how to do just that. Stay tuned.