Flux magazine has never shied away from the hard topics. The theme of its very first issue, published in spring 1994, was “race on campus.” Twenty-two years later, the student-produced magazine has come full circle, tackling race and identity once again in its 2015-16 edition.
For a new take on a complex issue, the Flux staff experimented with an innovative approach to journalism: community engagement. Inspired by the four-day Experience Engagement “unconference” hosted by the SOJC’s Agora Journalism Center in October, SOJC Chair of Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement Andrew DeVigal and Flux adviser Todd Milbourn decided to use the magazine as a laboratory to explore what engaged journalism looks like in practice.
“Our basic idea was: How do you do storytelling that’s not just about transactions, but about relationships?” said Milbourn, an instructor in the SOJC. “How do you use journalism as a way not just to tell stories, but to forge bonds among communities?”
Eager to innovate, the magazine’s 23-person staff extended invitations across campus and the Eugene/Springfield community for a live event. More than 60 people showed up to the January forum, where small groups participated in focused conversations about issues of race and identity. Mike Fancher, former interim director of the Agora Center and former executive editor of The Seattle Times, moderated the event.
“The idea for the theme came from the students,” said Milbourn. “It wasn’t long after the University of Missouri protest, and students were deeply interested and passionate about exploring race and identity at UO. One thing we considered at the outset was: How do we find a theme that not only lends itself to great stories, but also important conversations? Race and identity fit that perfectly.”
Flux Editor-in-Chief Caitlyn May said the discussion alerted the magazine’s staff to a number of new and unexpected perspectives. “There are all sorts of stories about race and identity out in the community we didn’t even know about,” she said. “We found out that the Black Student Union gave a list of demands to the UO administration back in 1968 and formed a task force to address them. Recently, in 2015, the Black Student Union gave another list of demands to the faculty, and they are nearly the same.”
That piece of information became “Still Marching,” an account of black students’ continuing fight for equality at UO over the past 48 years. Other features in the 80-page special edition of Flux tell a range of personal stories of race and identity, including:
- “Mixed,” an examination of ways multiracial individuals reconcile their identities.
- “Region and Religion,” which looks at the lives and cultures of five diverse individuals.
- “Naming Rights,” an account of a rural Oregon town’s debate over its high school’s Native American mascot.
- “Finding Rongelap,”a glimpse into the lives of the Marshallese who settled in Salem, Oregon, after nuclear testing drove them from their island home.
Because the community engagement model of journalism calls for an ongoing conversation between community members and those who tell their stories, the Flux staff hosted a second live forum in June, moderated by DeVigal.
“One of the most satisfying things was having people who attended our first event come back six months later to learn what our Flux reporters had found out,” said Milbourn. “They were truly invested in what we were doing and even felt a small sense of ownership. That was one of the most powerful takeaways for me: Community engagement doesn’t just lead to richer stories. It creates a more connected audience.”
Story by Andra Brichacek
Video by OR Media