Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Blogging and social change

A couple of years ago, when I would have thought it impossible that I would ever have a blog, my daughter recommended that I read Sweet Juniper. It was love at first read. Sweet Juniper started as a parenting blog written by a father, but over time has become a more general reflection of Dutch's passions ('Dutch' is the blogger's nom de keyboard).

He lives with his family in Detroit, Michigan in the USA. He has chosen to live in this city - more generally a site of avoidance. The part of his blog I really like, apart from his photographs which are beyond wonderful, is his commentary on living in a once-grand industrial city that has become a reject of the post-industrial world.

But to get to the point of this entry. The Sweet Juniper blog and Dutch's photographs are now quite famous and from time to time he's asked to speak to groups about his work. I was catching up with his blog and read a post from April this year when he was asked to be part of a panel in Ann Arbor (I'll tell you my Ann Arbor/Detroit story another time) talking with a non-profit organisation that was considering integrating blogging into their outreach and fund-raising efforts. This is how he tells the story (forgive the long quote):

During my presentation, I showed them the photo of the tree growing from the books to explain how social bookmarking sites like digg and reddit can help reach beyond a particular audience or region to attract potential readers from all over the world. During the questions afterward, a member of a group of Detroit community activists stood up and angrily accused me of distorting the image of the city to the world, portraying only its ugliness, and she told me I should be ashamed. She had never read this website; she had only seen a few photos during the presentation.

After the room cleared, I tried to initiate a dialogue with these activists. The argument they posed was that there are many people working very hard to do positive things in Detroit and they have been doing so for many years before I arrived (I was called a carpetbagger, and replied that Detroit needs more carpetbaggers: about a million of them). To those working hard for positive change, any media attention perceived as negative (be it about crime or failing city schools or neighborhoods turning to prairie), is somehow a rebuke of their good deeds. These people attacking me were good people. But they were, in a sense, no different from the right-wing ideologues shouting endlessly during the worst days of the Iraq War that "the media never reports the good news in Iraq." I suppose I sympathize with any journalist unable to see past the dismembered corpses of suicide bombers and their victims to write only positive news.

I told these angry activists that I am not a reporter. I am just one man telling his story. If you don't like the story I'm telling, start your own blog and tell yours. That's how this works.

This post echoes, much more eloquently than I could manage, several conversations and discussions I've had recently - at work, with my friends, and within knitting circles. The way we spread information about our lives and our world is changing. We can't control the spread of information - even if we wanted to do so. We also can't control how people read and interpret the information we make available. What we can do is contribute a point of view and make sure that it is as interesting and engaging as possible. As Dutch says - that's how it works.


Bells said...

yes! Wonderful. That is just how it works. Tell your story. Someone somewhere is listening. Nice.

Rose Red said...

Nicely written Lyn - I would add that we can also control how we respond to what others have written, we can and should question our assumptions and we can aim to be balanced in our responses. It's not always easy but it's important to have these sorts of goals.

M-H said...

Bravo. This is an interesting discussion. Many people seem to have a very limited view of how internet communication is changing how the world is understood. There are the old channels that told people what was going on - broadcasting - and the newer channels that people self-select, and that anyone can create - narrowcasting. These include social networking, blogs and other websites, and they are really changing the ways in which information becomes public. That's how this works.