What’s the big idea?
“Engagement.” It’s the holy grail for content producers in digital media. “How many hits did you get?” “How many shares?” “Did anyone retweet it?” Gone are the days when you hit publish and walked away from a story.
Michigan Today enjoys a long legacy of reader engagement. It’s one of the most attractive elements of the site. And what makes the dialogue unique and especially valuable at Michigan Today is the high quality of discourse our stories inspire. Rarely does one come across a comment that attacks the writer of a piece or a fellow commenter. Most often, comments enrich an existing story with additional facts, insight, or personal experience.
Leading the editorial slate for September 2014 with a story about the controversial alumnus Tom Hayden, ’61, a founder of Students for a Democratic Society, was bound to agitate readers. Hayden is a polarizing force. For some, he represents the most inspiring aspects of student activism, courage, and the “New Left.” For others, he embodies treason, cowardice, and elitism.
For the curator of the U-M Library’s Labadie Collection, he represents a valuable historic resource regarding the role of social protest movements in democratic societies. Whether one agrees, disagrees, or is indifferent to the role Hayden has played in American society as activist, author, and legislator, is irrelevant. The boxes that comprise his life experience represent one window into contemporary American history that helps link past to present, and present to future.
The discourse that follows the Hayden story in September 2014 is typical of the Michigan Today reader, opinionated but not insulting. Educated but not pretentious. As a rule, the editorial content is just the beginning. It’s what comes after the content that is often most compelling.
As U-M President Mark Schlissel noted in his inaugural address Sept. 5: “It takes far more courage to hear and try to understand unfamiliar and unwelcome ideas than it does to shout down the speaker. You don’t have to agree, but you have to think.”
(Top Image: Hayden with Labadie Collection curator Julie Herrada, Credit: Michigan Photography.)