From the other Woster brother, a new blog and an old commitment to decent dialogue
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To avoid confusion, let's be clear: I'm not the Sioux Falls Stockyards guy. And I'm not the guy from Pierre who covered 40 legislative sessions. (Although I did cover 15 or 16...)
Those are my brothers, Jim and Terry. I'm younger than they are, although at 65 that's not meaning so much anymore. I'm also the one most likely to be found in a pheasant field or sneaking up on a brown trout somewhere up on Spearfish Creek.
Like my brothers and our two sisters -- smart, accomplished women wise enough to generally avoid clear public connections with their brothers -- I'm a native South Dakotan who grew up on a farm northeast of Reliance on the edge of the Lower Brule Reservation. And, oh, what a formative place that was.
There among the rolling Missouri River breaks, just a few miles from Big Bend Dam and the upthrust of Medicine Butte, a place sacred to the Lower Brule people, a kid could learn a fair bit about farm and ranch life, the vagaries of weather, the wonders of wildlife and the importance of interracial respect and cooperation.
All told, it was a pretty solid foundation for a career in South Dakota journalism. And, like my brother, Terry, I've had that. It began at the Chamberlain Register, where I wrote my first story on a mountain man from Wyoming named Timber Jack Joe. He stopped in Chamberlain in the summer of 1973, fully attired in buckskin with a .45 holstered on his hip, on a cross-country trip. And I thought, "Hey, this is kind of fun."
It has been.
I followed Jim, Terry and Mary Alice to SDSU (Jeanne veered off to Creighton), although I didn't follow them to a degree. Meaningful class experience, however, and several years of work at the SDSU Collegian and the Brooking Register led me to conclude that issues examination and public storytelling might make a pretty good career.
For most of that career, more than 30 years of it, I was a reporter for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and Rapid City Journal, stationed in their respective home offices or living and working in Pierre as a capitol bureau reporter. I concluded my full-time news career working as the West River TV reporter for Keloland News here in Rapid City, and I earned my title as the Oldest, Slowest Video Journalist in the West.
Along the way, this blogging thing happened. I didn't expect it. I didn't even want it. I fought it, in fact, when in 2004 my visionary colleague at the Rapid City Journal, Bill Harlan, began to pester me about joining him and reporter Denise Ross in something called a web log. I didn't have a clue what that was. Harlan told me it was the future, and that we'd refer to it as a "blog." Then he gave it a cool name, Mount Blogmore.
We were in the middle of that hard-fought U.S. Senate race between Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and his Republican challenger John Thune. That meant we also were the focus of the national media and political activists across the country. So we had quite a bit to write about and talk about on Mount Blogmore.
I found out pretty quickly that I liked being part of that conversation, and getting it started and managing its flow. Blogmore was a big hit in the new blog world in South Dakota. And it wasn't long before I began to see the value in a social-media site that inspired a spirited exchange of ideas and, when managed properly, built a social-media community. We had one on Mount Blogmore, sometimes generating hundreds of comments on a particularly popular thread.
We even began an annual Mount Blogmore pheasant hunt, which brought antagonistic bloggers together once a year and sent them into the fields with loaded firearms. And oddly enough, not only has no one been injured, antagonism has been absent during the event, which is still held each year as the Requiem to Mount Blogmore Invitational Pheasant Hunt & Charitable Chili Feed.
Just a few years into Mount Blogmore, Denise (ever the innovator) got me into something else. She was doing a periodic radio spot on Dakota Midday called Political Junkies. And she suggested I join in. I've been doing that regularly ever since, other than during a post-retirement hunting-and-fishing break last fall.
Meanwhile, Blogmore lived for nine years, fading away only when I -- the last of the three original moderators -- followed Bill and Denise away from the Journal toward other jobs. Mine was at KELO, where I continued to blog as often as I was able around my TV work, until I retired from full-time news work last fall.
I mention "full time" because I never thought I was leaving news for good. News really isn't really something you can leave. It's a way of life. In my case, you could say the same about blogging. It sort of gets under your skin, thin or otherwise.
So when Larry Rohrer and some of my other pals at SDPB shaped a part-time contract for me that included blogging and regular radio spots to talk about blog issues and news, well, that was pretty hard for a retired newshound to resist. When I learned that local news and talk were being expanded in the morning with Lori Walsh on In the Moment, I was hooked.
So now I'm back on a real news-media blogging platform, with the same goal of exploring important issues and inspiring and supporting respectful debate. I'll continue to be a little school-marmish -- as my sometimes-frustrated friend Don Frankenfeld considers it -- in the way I moderate comments.
No profanity, obviously. If you can't say it in a letter to the editor in your local newspaper, I probably don't want you saying it on my blog. And if all you do in your comments is lob one angry word grenade after another at others, I'll probably find the "delete" button eventually.
I want us to talk, not yell. I want us to engage, not attack. And I want us all, including the moderator, to consider the possibility that a differing opinion might be valid, or at least worthy of respect or tolerance.
In a time of angry division and coarse, disrespectful dialogue, it's easy to pile on. On the other hand, we can look for something better.
And I hope you'll help me find it.