Saturday, October 30, 2010

Make It Better

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.


  1. "Make It Better" featured me on their page!:

  2. Awesome job Jake and congrats on getting featured! I think the way you approached this assignment is great. Citizen journalism is about more than posting a news story and can take many forms. Like what DJ said in his post, citizen news stories can include a bit of bias in their reporting, so I am sometimes wary of how much merit should be given to those stories. Therefore, I think the social activism and personal testimony angle that you used is a great way to expose the positive and tangible effects of citizen journalism. By "reporting" on your involvement in the mentorship program here on campus, you've given other gay students the opportunity and resources that they may have been looking for to "make it better." While I realize all I am doing right now is hitting the figurative like button, I thought it had to be done.


  3. I agree with Katelyn. Personal experience/testimony is something that drastically separates citizen journalism from mainstream news. Reading (or viewing for videos) a first-hand account of how a particular issue or event impacted a person and those around them has a completely different value than reading hard news. In some ways I think this allows citizen journalism sites and blogs to thrive - they humanize issues and put them in real-world contexts in ways that traditional forms of news often do not.

  4. I think you've shown yet another way new technology holds the potential to give support in an unprecedented way. Social media is often scrutinized for its ill effects. That is, new technology makes us lazy, anti social, partisan or less intelligent. However you have bravely and purposefully used online video to deliver your messages of support and encouragement in a way that has the potential to reach more than you may ever know. Congrats on putting yourself out there and taking it beyond the "like" button of Facebook. It's often easy for people to hide behind their computers, but you're right, more action has to be taken. Hopefully your personal testimony will inspire more to do the same.

  5. I love the "It gets better" videos. I think they are inspiring and I can watch them all day long. This is the sign of a good campaign: one where people enjoy consuming and contributing to.