September 1-15, 2005 General News

September 1, 2005
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September 1-15, 2005 Edition GENERAL NEWS Study Finds MyMissourian,

MU’s Citizen Journalism

Project, is Paying Off COLUMBIA, MO/08/17/05—Some of the first videos, pictures and descriptions of the destruction that followed the explosions on London’s mass transit system on July 7 were not from the lenses or pens of professional journalists. Rather, witnesses with camera phones and online blogs were the main sources of information following the blasts. A recent study of a unique program at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism shows that this new type of reporting is successfully turning ordinary citizens into working journalists.

The London bombings are one of the latest examples of how “citizen journalism” is changing the face of how news is covered. Conventional media outlets, such as television stations and newspapers, increasingly are offering opportunities for viewers and readers to submit their own stories, pictures and experiences about major news events, such as the December 2004 tsunami or the recent hurricanes.

Clyde Bentley, associate professor in the MU School of Journalism, helped launched in October 2004. The Web site serves as the citizen journalism outlet of the Columbia Missourian daily newspaper. He recently completed a case study on MyMissourian’s successes and failures since its inception.

“Citizen journalism turns the traditional news model on its head,” Bentley said. “The citizen is the news gatherer and writer, rather than the source, for a news story. The journalist is a ‘shepherd’ in the process, helping take the reported news and making sure it is dispensed in a readable format that does not violate standards of decency or libel.”

Bentley notes that MyMissourian editors adhere to several rules to determine what is suitable to post—no nudity, profanity, personal attacks or attacks on race, religion, national origin, gender or sexual orientation.

Bentley said the Civic Life section of MyMissourian is the most popular section of the Web site. People have discussed everything from a proposal to ban smoking in local restaurants to the death of Columbia Police Officer Molly Bowden. The response to Bowden’s death in February has been one of the biggest draws to the Web site to date. The success of the Civic Life section taught the editors of MyMissourian an important lesson, Bentley said.

“Readers and potential contributors are not interested in a rehash of events and issues that are already covered by the city’s other news media,” Bentley said. “Rather, they are interested in issues that go largely ignored on the nightly news.”

That interest has contributed to the success of the Spiritual Life section of MyMissourian. Bentley said that since many religious organizations do not receive mainstream media coverage, the Internet has become a natural gathering place for religious groups and individuals. On MyMissourian, people have written about everything from Paganism to Christianity.

Although some sections of the Web site have not been as successful, Bentley said the MyMissourian experiment is paying off and that readers are hungry for local, people-centered news.

“The aim of citizen journalism is to help strengthen community ties by opening up the process of journalism itself,” Bentley said. “The community is one of participation rather than passive readership.”

Literary Heavyweights

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On Public Radio Show Santa Monica, CA/08/22/05—Toni Morrison, Tom Wolfe, Susan Sontag, and twenty-seven other literary heavyweights have shared their insights on the hidden complexities of ethnic stereotyping in literature in Escaping the Cage: Identity, Multiculturalism and Writing,” a ten part series broadcast on the nationally syndicated public radio show “Bookworm.”

The weekly show, called “a national resource” by The New York Times, is hosted and produced by Michael Silverblatt at the leading public radio station in Southern California, 89.9 KCRW/Santa Monica (and, and is broadcast to thirty-five public radio stations around the country including WNYC in New York City and KPFA in Berkeley, California.

Silverblatt, who has been called “the go-to guy for brainy authors” by The Wall Street Journal, spent a full year taping interviews with a wide range of today’s most respected literary writers. The result is a polyphonic collage that explores with remarkable depth the heart of one of the most significant areas of change in the perception of literature.

Silverblatt was surprised to discover a whole new dilemma affecting writing in America. “There is a new freedom, yes, but how many writers have felt confused or limited by an obligation to explore identity? Have publishers, finding a new marketing tool, created a new cage?” Silverblatt asks.

Escaping the Cage: Identity, Multiculturalism and Writing, began when Silverblatt interviewed Sandra Cisneros and another Latina writer, Nina Marie Martinez. During the interview Nina suddenly said, “I know I should be talking about ethnic women of color, but the real influences on my work right now are Thomas Pynchon and Louis Althusser.” Also against type, Sandra Cisneros revealed that Marguerite Duras is her favorite writer.

The resulting conversations were incredibly varied. One writer chafed at being called an Asian writer, wanting only to be thought of as a writer, and someday to be thought of as a great writer. Some writers wanted the freedom to explore many different cultures and identities. Even the description “great American writer” seemed to be limiting–many writers’ aspirations are global.

Silverblatt says “In 1969 when Maya Angelou wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she could only have guessed how wide those cage doors would open. Freed from the cage, some of the birds are singing songs about a new cultural openness. But many writers feel they have flown from one cage to another.”

The writers interviewed in the series have been: Russell Banks, Susan Sontag, Maya Angelou, Camille Paglia, Stephen Greenblatt, Tom Wolfe, David Mitchell, E. L. Doctorow, Norman Mailer, J.D. McClatchy, Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, Jonathan Lethem, Rita Dove, Edward P. Jones, Alice Walker, Jayne Cortez. Art Spiegelman, Cynthia Ozick, Jonathan Rosen, James McCourt, Alan Hollinghurst, Edmund White, Susan Choi, Maxine Hong Kingston, Don Lee, Sandra Cisneros, Nina Marie Martinez, Margaret Atwood, John Banville.

Now in its 17th year, BOOKWORM, produced and hosted weekly by the acclaimed Michael Silverblatt, features dynamic conversation with the most accomplished authors of literary fiction and poetry. Produced at KCRW-FM, a public radio station in Santa Monica, California, the show airs on thirty-five public radio stations including WNYC in New York City and KPFA in Berkeley, California. The show has a weekly audience estimated at over 600,000 listeners across the nation and is also available online at The show is funded by the Lannan Foundation, Barnes & Noble, Inc., and Miramax Co-Chairman Bob Weinstein and his wife Annie Clayton. The New York Times has called BOOKWORM “a national resource, a sanctuary from lightweight pop fiction and/or the celebritization of well-known authors,” and The Wall Street Journal has called Silverblatt “A bibliophile with a hypnotic gift of gab” and “the go-to guy for brainy authors.”

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