Sunday, September 30, 2012

Civics, Humanities, and News Media in NJ

This past week, there was a well-attended public forum at the Arts Council of Princeton, entitled "Civics, Humanities, and News Media in NJ", organized by Susan Haig of The general topic had to do with civic engagement and what people are looking for from the news media. There were quite a few comments relevant to the theme of this website.

Chris Satullo of WHYY spoke of the need to make connections between global events and local realities, and vice versa, and link problems to solutions. Doug Doyle of WBGO in Newark said people in this part of the country tend not to know their neighbors, and that there aren't enough conversations happening. He gave an interesting example of how he triggers conversations with people he doesn't know, on the street or at events, simply by wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers shirt. The conversation may start with football, but quickly veers off in all sorts of interesting directions, and an engagement and communication happens where otherwise there would be none.

In discussing how to reach people, Kacy O'Brien of Passage Theatre in Trenton encouraged collaboration between organizations, and bringing in new constituencies by telling stories relevant to them. Sharon Ann Holt of the NJ  Council for the Humanities spoke of the need for news media to let people from the community tell their own stories directly to the audience, particularly stories of success in making the community a better place.

Prior to starting NJ Arts News, Susan Haig had an extensive career as a classical pianist and conductor. Her shift, from music to news, sounds reminiscent of the shift that public radio stations took back in the 1990s from playing classical music--interrupted by news at the top of the hour--to extended news and talk shows. Unlike classical music, which typically progresses from tension to resolution, dissonance to tonal agreement, the news media tends to present stories in which problems lack for solutions and tension continues seemingly without end. Audiences are both drawn to and repelled by these perpetual conflicts. My dream would be that so many problems get solved that the daily news becomes boring, at which point people can finally return to the arts for their dosage of drama.

More on the event can be found here.

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