The future face of news

Steve SouthwellLet me introduce you to regular guy, Steve Southwell. Well, he’s regular in the sense that he’s raising a family and works for a living. He’s also a blogger. His WhosPlayin.com blog has been around since 2005. In the continuing debate over whether bloggers are journalists, Southwell stands at the cutting edge. Without formal training in journalism or “credentials” from anywhere, Southwell is keeping an eye on government in the Dallas/Fort Worth suburb of Lewisville, Texas and serving the public trust in ways that today’s “real” journalists don’t. He is a textbook example (if there are any) of what it means to be a “citizen journalist,” and he could show those who have the invisible badge a thing or two.

A year ago, the Lewisville School board passed new rules — clearly designed to hamper Southwell’s efforts — stating that school district officials may turn down an interview request “if official press credentials are not presented or available.” This came on the heels of a Southwell investigation into the practice of allowing youth pastors from local evangelical churches to hobnob with students during the lunch period. He had asked three principals for interviews, and received the same email from each within 5 minutes of each other: “We follow district guidelines.”

Undeterred, Southwell has studied the laws and probably knows more about open records’ statues that any reporter in the metro area. He’s even filed an open records request for open records requests, just to see who was asking for what.

He videotapes government meetings and makes them available to anyone.

Then there was the case of a freshman city councilman who voted on a property tax law but wasn’t paying the property taxes for which the law was intended. This resulted in a confrontation, a story, and a public humiliation for the elected official.

Since Southwell began his work on local government, three of the seven school board members have been ousted in elections, and the guy is becoming a force to be reckoned with in Lewisville politics.

Southwell spoke at my class at the University of North Texas last night and said he got into becoming an activist with the Iraq War, with which he disagreed. I found him smart, driven and extremely knowledgeable about his rights. After a stint helping politicians, he moved to local government, because nobody was watching it. Since my class is an ethics class, we were most interested to hear how he understands and practices the basics of journalistic ethics of thoroughly doing the investigative work, presenting all sides fairly, and not blindsiding anybody. He makes the tough calls and does the deal, and I defy anybody to tell me this guy isn’t practicing journalism. In fact, he’s actually doing the work of the Fourth Estate that the so-called “real” press has given up on in favor of Chilean miner stories and Paris Hilton drug use.

The journalism world today could learn from Steve Southwell, but they won’t. He represents the new journalism, investigated and written by people with a passion for keeping an eye on things locally. He has two boys in the Lewisville School District, so he’s concerned with the way things are run.

To the mainstream press, however, Southwell has no right to be doing what he’s doing. He is, after, just a regular guy.

Comments

  1. Right.

    Sy Hersh, David Zucchino, Lally Weymouth, Dana Priest, Pat Collins, (to name but a few mainstream journalists) would learn nothing from Steve Southwell. He’s a Citizen Journalist. And I’m certain the mainstreamers listed above would be supportive of Mr. Southwell’s efforts. He’s just not in their league. Never will be.

    Too often otherwise bright observers get a bit too giddy when they discover someone can make an information impact via tenacity, distribution and old fashioned “curiosity”. That doesn’t make a “journalist” in my view.

    Steve Southwell can call himself anything he likes. But to me he’s not a journalist. I’ll take the peers of the group above. Despite their prestigous degrees, awards and experience. Indeed, given the option, I’ll take the educated and trained every time over “regular guys”.

    mike whatley
    pasadena, ca

  2. Thanks for the comment, Mike. Mr. Southwell doesn’t refer to himself as anything. He’s too humble for that. I’m the one who says he’s practicing journalism.

    Who’s a journalist? Good question. And maybe that’s the problem.

    Who’s practicing journalism? Lots of people who don’t wear the badge — who thankfully aren’t members of the league to which you refer. The public has rejected the league, according to Gallup. There’s nothing wrong with the educated and trained except the hubris that comes with it. I don’t know any of the people you’ve named, and I’m sure they’re all great folks with lots of talent. But they certainly aren’t “better” than Steve, nor does their training qualify them to ask better questions, do better digging, or write better, fairer stories. Nor does their education give them bigger balls, something that seems to be sadly lacking in the league.

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.