How should I cover the Wanderlust Festival?

Via on Apr 13, 2011

Maintaining Journalistic Integrity in the Blog Era.

At the National Conference for Media Reform last weekend, I had a good chance to reflect on this odd technological-social moment in which we find ourselves: newspaper reporters are out of work, while people who are decent writers—but have no formal training in journalism—like myself—find themselves getting press passes to pricey gigs like Wanderlust Festival. I’m not even positive how to use a colon.

The upside of the effect of the Internet on communication is that many more people get to participate in social discourse.

The downside? I’ve heard of this thing called journalistic integrity and I understand that the press is the Fourth Estate, but my training is in writing the academic essay and not hard-hitting investigative excellence.  Add a personal twist to college writing and you’ve got yourself a blogger!  After helping me get the press pass, Waylon (the Elephant Journal editor) emailed to remind me to “write something real about the event and not merely PR.”  But I still have no training in journalism. I am glad I get to join the conversation and I do want my contribution to enrich public discourse, accountability and critical thinking and not to erode it.

So, what’s a blogger to do? What do readers want? What does society need?

You look at the front page of Elephant Journal and “Funny talking animals (video)” has soared ahead my “Natural disaster. Conflict. Poverty. How do we respond?” in views (125 vs. 32 at 1:42PM). Do you really want to think critically?  At the same time, editors don’t need to resign themselves to fluff and sensationalism. The Elephant Journal staff has featured a story on fighting climate change on the top of the page (currently at 583).

The topic I want to cover at Wanderlust is the ecological focus and charity-oriented work, like the event’s chosen service project, Off the Mat Into the World.  How can I cover this topic in a way that isn’t just regurgitating their press releases, but adding something of substance to social discourse?  Let’s try to combine the best of journalistic integrity with crowd-sourced standards.

Dear readers, please tell me what you’d like to see and how I can do this well. I’ll incorporate your feedback into my coverage of the Wanderlust Festival in Vermont this June—and with your help, be able to pass something “real” on to you all.

About Ari Setsudo Pliskin

Ari Setsudo Pliskin is Zen Yogi who works to actualize the interconnectedness of life online and on the streets. While once addicted to school, Ari has balanced his geekiness with spiritual practice and time spent on society’s margins. As a staff member of the Zen Peacemakers, Ari assisted Zen Master Bernie Glassman in his teaching around the world. Ari studies Zen at the Green River Zen Center in Greenfield, MA and is an Iyengar-style yoga teacher. Ari loves comic books as well. Ari currently serves as the Executive Director of the Stone Soup Café . Connect with Ari on Facebook or Twitter: @AriPliskin.

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15 Responses to “How should I cover the Wanderlust Festival?”

  1. matthew says:

    Great request. Combine personal experience with the big picture. Compare it to other socio-cultural movements. Investigate the space between spiritual consolations and the angst of social activism. Find out the budget of the event, and follow up with its charitable bottom-line. Try to assess the mixture of community cohesion and the glue of celebrity charisma.

  2. Katie Sachs says:

    Write about how Yoga and Music can work together to reduce suffering in the world!

  3. Easy. Write about whatever's exciting to you, for whatever reason.

  4. Hi, Ari. Just had another thought. I was trying to figure out why I don't have these same concerns about "journalistic integrity."

    It's because my inner model for Elephant is that of creative writing and personal essays, not journalism at all.

    It could be as simple as me being a literature major and Waylon being a journalism major. I don't think of the vast majority of what we do at Elephant is journalism at all, but rather creative writing (not the same as "fiction" by the way).

    Journalism at Elephant would have to be like a new venture. We don't really do much of it now, although there's no reason why we couldn't.

    • Ari Pliskin says:

      Bob, I hadn't been too concerned about "journalistic integrity" either… until I attended a media reform conference and got a sense of the context in which we are operating. Indeed, our lack of consideration of journalistic integrity may well indeed be indicative of that context. Technological change, economic hard times and unchecked corporate consolidation are resulting in the death of the investigative reporter and the growth of the blogger. Maybe bloggers and reporters serve entirely different functions. Maybe journalism is just dead and we have to resign ourselves to reality TV, celebrity gossip and Fox News. Or maybe bloggers will play a role in civic discourse?

      The fact that Elephant Journal is about sustainability and politics (in addition to yoga and non-new agey spirituality) suggests that we are trying to pick up the mantle. If you look at today's popular lately, most topics are about yoga and life. A couple do address civic issues though. Is that something that matters to us?

      • I'm with you, Ari.

        All that's required is a passionate volunteer to build this area for Elephant (like we've been doing for Yoga).

        How about you?

        • Ari Pliskin says:

          Part of the problem is that journalism's operating business model has been shaken up. It used to get by on advertising, cover prices or sometimes public funding, but bloggers largely operate on passion. I can get away with generating content related to Zen Peacemakers' work, which charges program fees that pay my salary, but how can somebody really justify and get away with doing a part-time or full-time job without getting paid for it? The question is: is a sustainable business model going to emerge for citizen journalism?

          • Don't understand why a passionate volunteer has to "justify" their work!

            One has to be fortunate enough to have the time to give, of course (in my case I had been happily retired for seven years.)

            But I think for most of us wild-eyed passionate volunteers, the reward is in the work itself, and the results we see.

          • Ari Pliskin says:

            I do a lot of things on a voluntary basis and a few things that I get paid for. Sometimes, I get paid to do things that I used to do on a voluntary basis. Sometimes, it goes the other way. I do have bills to pay, so I need to work. Life experience has shown me that I get a lot more done at a given task when it is my day job. I get to spend a lot more time doing it.

          • I admire you, Ari. I did infinitely less volunteer work than you're doing during my 30 years of working for a living. I'm making up for lost time!

          • Ari Pliskin says:

            Well, I don't want to make myself sound too generous. Maybe I do a few voluntary things and a lot of things I get paid for… depends on how one measures "doing things", I suppose.

  5. spiritnetwork2 says:

    I appreciate your honesty and find myself in a similar position. I feel key now is interviews. Everything we have to learn we can learn from each other. Physically meeting and playing with the leaders of Wunderlust is something people will want to read about I think because they are not there. Even those who attend will be intrigued to here an inside view from the leaders of the festival and this is a major benefit of the press pass- access to the people. Hope this helps! Look forward to reading what you experience. Blessings, Emily

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