You are viewing the print version of this article. Click here to view the full version.
Columbia Missourian

Technology helps journalism evolve into engaging readers with what’s important to them

By Tom Warhover
June 13, 2008 | 5:00 p.m. CDT

Dear reader:

I created the first flood I can remember. Some kind of fun.


Related Media

My family lived just a horse pasture away from Sandy Creek in Jefferson County, just down the road from the covered bridge that is now a state park and was then just another way to get over the water.

It was raining, and I thought it would be really cool to dam up the little ditch that ran into the creek. I succeeded. I realized I was a bit too successful when the water got up to my chest. Later, Sandy Creek itself broke its banks. The creek wasn’t a horse pasture anymore. It wasn’t so much fun, either.

Once again, Missourians are looking to stream banks and wondering whether they’ll hold. It’s been a whisper of a threat for months, and occasionally more.

On this week, you may have seen a short news item announcing a flash flood warning, and another describing the fact that the rain wasn’t so bad and the creek banks held. Just a ripple of news, nothing more.

I’m in Boston right now, at a conference at MIT on “the future of civic media.” It’s a fancy term for a group of people dedicated to the notion that the role of the press is to help people help themselves and each other, though they tend to use a few more syllables when describing the work.

So there’s a woman who created an online site for people to report on others doing acts of “civic courage,” such as helping a blind couple on the subway with directions. (I have no idea how she verifies these stories, an act of journalism that, when it works, exposes would-be fiction writers.) An associate professor from MIT has built a place to report on the transgressions and transgressors of natural gas mining in Colorado. Another bright MIT type built a system for kids 10 to 20 to connect with each other for news they care about. It’s another Web thing — go to for an example — that also builds in a phone function for kids who don’t have a laptop or access to the Internet.

Not much of it is the journalism that I grew up with. That’s good. Some of the ideas here won’t go very far. That’s to be expected. But almost all of the ideas begin with that powerful idea: Journalism works in the service of people engaging with other people.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep an eye on the Big Muddy and the creeks and ditches around Columbia. I hope there won’t be another form of engagement — filling sand bags — for anyone any time soon.