Community engagement was a good idea before we had a name for it

pearl-harborTwenty-five years ago, I crowdsourced the Minot Daily News’ coverage of the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I didn’t call it crowdsourcing. That word was not in the journalism vocabulary back then. Neither was “community engagement.” But I knew that the community had good stories to tell, so I invited readers to tell their stories.

Most wrote with memories of where they were when they heard the tragic and historic news of the Japanese attack on U.S. naval forces in Hawaii. A few wrote of being in the military at the time and scrambling to full alert, in case other military bases were attacked. I didn’t save the coverage, but I think I recall correctly that we wrote stories on the two or three stories of local veterans who responded with first-hand accounts from Pearl Harbor.

It’s a community engagement approach that wouldn’t work as well now, on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Surviving sailors and citizens from then would be in their 90s or older. So we have fewer now, and more of those remaining no doubt suffer from dementia that has dulled their memories or stolen them entirely. (My mother, who turned 90 this month, vividly recalled for most of her life how and when she learned of the Pearl Harbor attack, but Alzheimer’s has robbed her of that memory and many more.)

Maybe community engagement isn’t part of some magical solution to the economic woes of the news business (though I am certain it has economic value). But it was good journalism in 1991, when the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor was huge news. And it remains good journalism in 2016, when the 75th anniversary is noted with less fanfare.

Cancer update: I informed followers of my CaringBridge journal Monday that I am finished with treatment for my pancreatic cancer. There are no current clinical trials for my kind of cancer that has spread to the liver, and no successful treatments once it’s in the liver. So I’ve stopped treatment and will try to enjoy whatever time remains.

 

Filed under: community engagement

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