What “engagement” means to Chattarati’s David Morton

Kathleen Majorsky is a Mizzou masters student. She is fascinated by new media, and this is her second involvement with an RJI project. She is working with Joy Mayer this semester on how information providers define engagement. She interviewed David Morton and wrote this post.

You had me at “Chattarati.” The name of the 2 year old hyperlocal online community that features Chattanooga news would absolutely draw me into the site. I also appreciated the site’s organization, with five color-coded categories: Metro (red), Culture (lime green), Editorial (orange), Neighborhoods (blue) and Calendar (purple).

But David Morton, editor-in-chief of Chattarati, emphasizes more than just user-friendly Web design. There are three areas Morton says are important to the mission of Chattarati: passion, conversation and commenting. These three areas are cornerstones in supporting the sites mission of building community both on and offline.

Morton said he hopes having writers who are extremely passionate about the topics they are writing about draws community members to the site.

“Everybody that writes for Chattarati loves the subject matter that they are writing about, whether it is a music writer or a film critic. We are all just really passionate about the subjects. We try to present them in a really honest way. I hope that people are attracted to that,” says Morton.

I love that. Passion is something we don’t talk about often in the classroom in graduate school. I think it is assumed since we are here studying journalism that we are, by default, passionate about it. Which in most cases is true. But on days when the work seems overwhelming, it is nice to be reminded by people out in the field why we started in the first place.

The hope is that the passion of the contributing writers is so evident that it inspires dialogue. To Morton, that is the true meaning of engagement.

To me engagement is having a conversation. That is the bottom line. What direction that conversation takes is sort of up to the community you are serving. It is getting a lot of reader feedback, trying to gauge what people are interested in and providing that to them. It is very much a shared kind of experience.”

Morton and his contributing writers engage in this conversation through the comments on their site. “Commenting is something we are really big fans of. When people ask us questions or when they have additional insights into whatever the story is.”

As I continue my independent study of engagement, it is evident to me that there is an evolution in its definition. Hyperlocal news sites like Chattarati have shaken the proverbial snow globe when it comes to the meaning of having that conversation between journalists and citizens. In the old debate between Lippmann and Dewey, Dewey is definitely coming out on top with his belief that the public should participate in the conversation to fuel democracy. I am hoping that passion, conversation and commenting are common themes on the remaining sites I will be studying.

— Kathleen Majorsky

This was originally posted on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute, where I am a 2010-2011 fellow.

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