Hi, I'm Toby.
And I'm new here.
You see, I am from South Dakota, so I'm part of the community the Madville Times seeks to both serve and foster. I've read this blog for most of its existence, so I'm part of its audience. I've even left a few comments along the way, though the contributions have been significantly less frequent than they should be if I expect to be a meaningful participant in the myriad ongoing conversations in this particular corner of the blogosphere.
But it would appear that last part is about to change.
This, my inaugural post as a Madville Times author, represents a new and deeper foray into the blogosphere than the observer status I've largely maintained thus far. Yet at the same time, it also represents a return to places—both tangible and metaphorical—that feel a lot like home to me. And, as after a long day at work or a busy weekend of travel and activities, it feels pretty darn good to be home.
The Madville Times feels like home first on the simple geographic level. I grew up in Madison, graduating from Madison High School and completing a bachelor's degree in political science and journalism (more on that in a minute) at South Dakota State University. Then, like crowds of early-2000s Jackrabbit alumni who were told "You can go anywhere from here," I went anywhere. Mostly, I went to Minnesota and Ohio. Both states boasted a much larger collection of colleges and universities than South Dakota, and with my sights set on a career working in the field of higher education (in functional areas that so far have included housing, student conduct, academic advising, service learning, new student orientation, and living-learning initiatives), I aimed for locations that provided me with broader professional opportunities than my home state.
But, even without personally hearing Governor Daugaard's sales pitch for South Dakota's jobs environment (I guess the message didn't make it as far as central Ohio), I made the decision to pursue an excellent job opportunity that helped me return to the state I love and to the professional, social, and educational community that are responsible for shaping so much of who I am. In today's wired society, I managed to maintain some degree of connection to South Dakota from wherever I wandered (after all, "home" is about a lot more than physical location), but there's something wonderful about being immersed in that community once again.
That community I've returned to now also extends to the network of citizens created and fostered by the Madville Times. I'm excited to develop a new sense of a familiar place by engaging my community both within the literal borders of South Dakota and within the seemingly unbounded landscape of the blogosphere.
My Madville Times debut is also about coming home to journalism. I started my collegiate experience thinking that I might spend my career as an investigative reporter or a press secretary or a newspaper editor. I was Managing Editor for SDSU's Collegian my senior year (and have an editorial endorsement of John Edwards in the 2004 Democratic Presidential primary to show for it, embarrassing not only in the hindsight of Edwards' fall from grace but also in mis-identifying his home state). I took pride in serving as an intern at the still-independently-owned Madison Daily Leader for three summers. I was a couple of weeks and a copy-editing exam away from landing my first real newspaper job at The Tribune of San Luis Obispo, CA ... when I took my first job as a Residence Hall Director and started down a path that I thought left journalism behind.
I guess in some ways I have left journalism behind--but only if "journalism" is so narrowly defined as to include only the people who publish articles on actual presses, broadcast from a studio in Hi-Definition splendor, or pause for the identification of familiar call signs once an hour. And, to be clear, journalism is no longer that narrowly defined. Even in South Dakota, a state which is not exactly at the cutting edge of media law, the work of bloggers has begun to gain recognition as a modern part of the esteemed Fourth Estate--a bright spot for both this blog and the SDWC; now there's something you don't see every day.
But we bloggers (that's something I've never been able to say before ... cool!) need to be careful before we use our recognition as journalists to fuel aspirations to be just like our mainstream media colleagues. If the Madville Times or the South Dakota War College is just an online delivery tool of the same information available from that Sioux Falls paper or KJAM or KELO-TV, then it adds nothing to the media landscape and will be forever overpowered by the traditional outlets for news and commentary that ably represent our state's journalistic status quo. If, however, South Dakota's blogs (and you can find LOTS of them in the blogroll to the right) take advantage of their unique ability to add to, propel, and redefine the status quo, then they follow in the footsteps of journalistic giants.
Thoughtful blogging is most certainly journalism, but it is not the journalism of facts made to sound antiseptic and unimpeachable. It is not the journalism of passive reporting and even more passive consumption of news items. It is not the journalism of elite insiders dispensing what they believe the public needs know.
Blogging is a journalism of context--sometimes messy and confusing context that benefits from being sorted out along the way. It's a journalism of mutual learning--not setting reasoned opinion and argument aside, but putting it front and center and inviting the inspection and critique that draw us closer to shared understanding. It's a journalism of engagement—a forum that might start with one of my posts but only reaches its full potential in the interplay of ideas that a post can ignite.
Hmm ... context, mutual learning, engagment ... yeah, I think I'm going to feel right at home.