Local Xanga Fears Update (or, don't trust the journalists too much…)

I have a pretty long “to do” list for this Memorial Day weekend, a combination of stuff around the house and more “professional” activities (writing, web work, planning for teaching, etc.). On that “to do” list is a belated update to a post I had a few weeks ago, “Xanga fears come local!” In that post, I quoted and talked quite a bit about a passage from Karel Graham, who is an eighth-grade counselor at Tappan Middle School in Ann Arbor. In the Ann Arbor News article, Graham came across as thinking that Xanga in particular and blogs in general were the work of the devil.

Well, Karel actually read my post and emailed me (and, in a subsequent email, she gave me permission to quote her). This is what she said:

Thanks for your feedback regarding the blog article, in the Ann Arbor News. I agree with a lot of what you shared on your site. You would never know it, however, from the few negative comments the A2 reporter chose to publish from our 1/2 hour conversation. I too pointed out all of the benefits of self-expression that blogs offer. This is a good lesson in humility and I will be much more selective in agreeing to future interviews.

I wrote back and told her what I have found to be true: whenever you talk to the press, you cannot be subtle. You have to focus on the story that you want to tell them, only that story and nothing else. The minute you try to complicate things, as Karel says she did, you are likely to not get your real story told right.

Who says that print newspapers run by “professional” journalist are automatically “right” and reliable sources, while individual “amateur” bloggers are automatically “biased” and unreliable sources? (And how am I going to explain that in my textbook?!)

Anyway, like I said in my original post, I do have some sympathy with the situation that Karel and her junior high/high school colleagues are in. As a college professor, I have the luxury of working with adults– well, at least almost always people who are over 18 years old and thus technically “adults”– which means I don’t have to worry that much about a whole host of issues. Colleges and universities seem a lot more willing to serve in the role of “in loco parentis” than they were when I was an undergraduate in the mid-1980s, probably because the legal drinking age was different (in Iowa, it was 19), this was before the “just say no” message of Nancy Reagan, and we weren’t as conservative of a country back then. Nonetheless, there’s nothing I can really do to stop an 18 year old from writing about drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll on their Xanga blog (and I wouldn’t want to if I could).

On the other hand, if you are teaching students who are literally and technically “children” (especially children who think they’re “adults”– you remember being 14 vaguely, don’t you?), teachers have a whole different kind of obligation. I mean, it’s one thing if an 18 year old first year composition student is posting to her or his blog about the “totally awesome” house party (complete with pictures of drunken young people); it’s another thing entirely if a 13 or a 14 year old does this. And if those 13 or 14 year olds are posting this kind of thing to their blogs at school, teachers are pretty much obligated to get involved in a much different and more direct way.

In any event, I was glad to hear that Karel wasn’t completely against blogging. And I’m guessing she’ll be a lot more careful the next time someone from the Ann Arbor News calls for a quote.

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