Spoonful of sugar helps the journalism go down


It seems tough nowadays to get time or attention to any serious topic. The audience is busy and distracted. Traditional print and broadcast journalists are demoralized by cutbacks. The Internet is growing but rarely creating news and current events content, at least not with staff. Why hire writers in an age of user-generated content? But this audience-involvement model of developing information is unproven even if promising.


But I don’t want to be bleak. In fact I’ve been advised to look on the sunny side. A Poynter Institute commentary by writing coach Roy Peter Clark includes this thought which he attributed to the late journalism educator James Carey:


“The stories journalists are telling about themselves these days are stories about degeneration and decay. Journalists need some new stories that will make them well, stories about hope and aspiration.”

With that in mind I point to an article in Online Journalism Review about a wonky, foundation-supported website called Gotham Gazette which has used interactive, online games to involve New Yorkers in revising the city’s budget among other things. Gazette editor Gail Robinson says:


“Almost anything can work with a game if you have an intelligent way of flushing it out– I think it’s important to not be too complicated. That doesn’t mean you can’t have people making lots of choices, or you can’t have graphics and animation . . . Don’t talk down to someone just because it’s a game. You can put people in interesting, genuinely challenging situations.”

What a great idea! I recall in 1994 or so, back when the Clinton health plan was in the news, the Markle Foundation created a CD-Rom “game” that was meant to be used in a series of parlor discussions — somebody would get the CD and hold a party. I think that distribution technique doomed the project. The Web solves that problem. I wonder how well the Gazette has done on participation? No info on that in the OJR article. Nor on cost. Maybe the Gazetteers will post a how-to later. Here’s a link to their games page so you can see what they’ve done.


Have time & money for a conference? Check out the who, what, when, where and why of the Journalism that Matters conference in Washington, D.C., August 7 & 8. Alas I will be a non-attendee. But with any luck I’ll be doing journalism that matters on the day job.