For individuals without a background in Journalism, or who have not gone through the tumultuous J202, writing a piece of journalism can be a daunting task. With the advent of participatory sites like YouTube and citizen journalism hubs, as well as the increasing accessibility of video recording tools, citizen journalism is taking on the form of personal opinion/testimony videos.
A good example of this is the "It Gets Better" project. Earlier this year, popular sex columnist Dan Savage and his partner started a YouTube channel called the “It Gets Better” project, in response to increasing coverage of queer-related youth violence and suicides. He encourages people from around the world to share their personal stories of triumph over high school bullying, or for allies to come forward to express support. Groups from the employees of Google and Facebook to President Obama himself have posted videos for the campaign.
Scouring through these videos, I find myself frustrated. As a victim of some pretty emotionally debilitating bullying for being gay during middle and high school, I think the campaign is too simple. Yes, it did get better for me, but I didn’t just wake up one morning and find myself completely out and accepted. It was an on-going process where I had to gather courage to come out to friends and family, make an active commitment to reaching out to self-affirming queer communities in my hometown, online and in Madison, and search for ways to involve myself in advocacy.
Then I found the "Make It Better" project, a smaller spin-off of Dan Savage’s campaign that asks the question, “how can you tell people it just gets better without giving them tools to make it better?” Leaving a queer youth with the empty promise that it just miraculously gets better leaves them with no concrete tools for fighting through the isolation and fear.
So I submitted a video to the “Make It Better” project, outlining my involvement here on campus. This semester I am working as the Educational Outreach Coordinator at the LGBT Campus Center am facilitating the Mentorship Program which pairs queer students who might be just coming out, or freshly navigating LGBTQ life in Madison with an “out” student who can relate to their experiences. The idea is to build connections within the queer community as a means of identity development: the Mentor and Mentee are supposed to meet weekly just to chat about life, dating, telling friends and family, finding community, or anything else that may come up. I currently have thirty-two Mentors to which I provide guidance, fourteen of which are currently paired up with a Mentee.
Even though I am openly gay, it is still a task for me to publicly “out” myself in order to share some of the things I work on. Posting a video of myself just talking is an especially vulnerable endeavor when speaking on subjects so deeply personal.
I have to wonder why the “It Gets Better” campaign has hundreds of videos, but “Make It Better” has only five. I think a lot of the problem with citizen journalism efforts, especially around advocacy in the context of this issue, is that it gives people a way to feel like they’ve really made an impact when they haven’t. Online activism that tries to make itself accessible doesn’t hold its supporters accountable for actually doing anything. To me, it’s just a step above “liking” something on Facebook: sometimes good intentions just don’t cut it.