Friday, November 12, 2010



One of the things I love about being a journalist is the randomness. One day, you’re working in rural Missouri, talking to a rancher about the time his bison went AWOL and tied up traffic on Highway 47. Another day, you’re wading through smoke of an illegal origin in a college student commune in Austin, Texas, getting your tympanic membranes abused by South by Southwest bands.

It’s not all amusing and weird, though. Sometimes you’re in a newsroom when a well-respected member of the community cuts his battle with cancer short by going into his back yard, kneeling on a tarp, and pulling the trigger on a shotgun aimed at his chest. Or when a state trooper, who is texting, talking on a cell phone, and using a laptop computer while clipping along at 120 mph, crosses the interstate median and kills two young sisters on their way to have family photos taken for Thanksgiving. (The trooper later plead guilty to reckless homicide and was given 30 days probation)

Lately, randomness means being a graduate student of journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and instructing young, aspiring journalists on the craft (or perhaps some students who just need the English credits, but it’s all good, as they say).

Graduate school also entails doing some work for the community news and social networking site It’s a project funded in part by the John S. Knight and James L. Knight Foundation, and we collaborate with the local paper, the News-Gazette, to publish content.

I came to with the goal of understanding the poverty situation in the twin cities of Champaign-Urbana, and reporting on the success or lack thereof of programs that aim to uproot people from that poverty (a.k.a., “upward mobility”). According to the 2000 census, the poverty level in Champaign has a poverty rate of 22.1 percent, and Urbana has a poverty rate of 27.3 percent. For comparison, Chicago has a poverty rate of 19.6 percent.

Originally, I conceived this blog as a straight-news site. No commentary. Just the facts. But as my role as a journalist, and now educator, have changed, so too has my vision for this outlet.

What I envision this site becoming is a digital reporter’s notebook. I hope to repost clippings here, so you can get background information. But I hope to add extra content (or “value-added,” if you’re hip to web 2.0 pitch-speak), including commentary and notes that go beyond what I’ve done in the field, hoping to give people more perspective on the issues I write about.

And that’s partly because digital journalism and convergence journalism are changing the way we do our work. Journalists are coming to the realization that we, too, are human, and we can’t keep hiding behind the false promise of objectivity. We need to bleed a little for our cause, and show that blood to the public, if only to regain their trust. We’re not the Neutral People. That’s not why we’re here.

Be seeing you.

Read on...