The small story is the important one
Is too much good news harming our community? That is the contention of a few critics of the Heights Observer. The stories in these pages don’t seem important enough, or critical enough, in their view.
Perhaps the critics would like us to be more like the traditional news media they are used to. They want us to report on events as disinterested observers. They want us to be a watchdog of community institutions, to uncover all the bad things that are going on and broadcast them to the world.
I don’t see the value in being like other media outlets. Most people I know don’t enjoy reading bad news all the time. It doesn’t reflect reality. It generates fear and mistrust. And it doesn’t do anything to solve any of the problems it may uncover.
The Observer is different from mainstream media. It has no paid writing staff, instead it uses a citizen-journalism model, where all members of the community are empowered to write and submit their stories. These community members aren’t disinterested observers of what’s going on, they are participants. By and large, our citizen-journalists have good stories to tell about life in the Heights as they know it. These are “small” stories, every-day stories, but together they weave a powerful narrative about who we are as a community.
Have you read a story in the Observer that spoke to you? Maybe you learned something about an independent business owner that you didn’t know before, read of the accomplishments of a student in our schools, or discovered an issue that you were previously knew nothing about. Did that increased awareness inspire you to notice, or even to take action?
At the FutureHeights annual meeting on April 18, Peter Pula, founder and CEO of Axiom News, spoke of a new type of journalism, Generative Journalism, which doesn’t just report on the status quo, but looks to the future. “All that is required for a community to live into its aspirations is for someone to go out and ask the questions that discover the gifts, identify the energies of the community, and amplify them by way of media and publication,” said Pula. (If you missed the meeting, you can view it at http://vimeo.com/64661929.)
Pula described a four-part process: engage the grassroots, ask catalytic questions—questions that are thought-provoking and personal, and that invite people to think about the possibilities of what they would like to see—then write reasonably well, and publish often.
What we do at the Observer isn’t quite Generative Journalism, but we share many of its characteristics and aspirations. We write and publish “small” stories. We believe these small stories are important and can bring change over time. We’ve seen others learn from the stories they read, and then act. The challenge for us will be to see how these stories add up. Are our citizen-journalists asking the right questions? What is the new narrative that is emerging about our community?
Our critics are right about something: we do have an agenda. We seek to build a stronger community by offering the Observer as a forum for community participation. What is important to you? That’s what you should write about. We welcome the addition of your voice to the conversation. Submit an article on a topic that interests you at www.heightsobserver.org. Your participation can help determine the future of our community.
Deanna Bremer Fisher
Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer.