Our conversation has to be more than shouting and memes. Let’s get started

Connect with the Statesman and engagement editor Bill Manny

The Idaho Statesman has a new effort to reach out and get out in the community, which will be headed up veteran Statesman editor and former Boise City Club President Bill Manny.
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The Idaho Statesman has a new effort to reach out and get out in the community, which will be headed up veteran Statesman editor and former Boise City Club President Bill Manny.

Too often today what passes for public discourse is a shouting match or insult contest, each of us trying to outshout or out-snark the other guy. If you’re like me, many days you dread opening your Facebook feed to wade through the nasty memes and take-no-prisoner posts. You’re tempted to just stay out of the fray.

But tuning out is the wrong response. We need engaged citizens and constructive conversation more than ever. In my new role overseeing the Statesman’s Opinion content, I’ll be guiding those conversations and creating new connections, and working with an Editorial Board made up of six really smart, engaged community members.

My new title is Community Engagement Editor. But what that really means is that I’m in charge of connections. My job is to harness media, new and old, to encourage the conversation that the community relies on to stay informed, make decisions and keep our democracy alive. And to have some fun in the process.

Some of you know me through Boise City Club, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that puts on lunch programs and tours. But its real mission is to get people talking — and listening. My time as a board member and as president showed me the hunger people have to be engaged and be part of a larger conversation that is, well, still a conversation. As an editor at the Statesman for 16 years, I’ve worked with reporters on big stories and with readers on their letters and opinion articles. I try to keep an open mind and give people the benefit of the doubt; most people are trying to do what they believe is the right thing.

In my experience, real people engaged in real conversations are the antidote to the poison in public life. If we disengage, we let the shouters win. If we absent ourselves from our community’s conversation, we cede the field to the extremists and partisans and others who benefit from gridlock and apathy. They want the rest of us to ignore what they’re doing to our public life.

Many of these things I learned growing up in Pendleton, Ore., from my parents, big-hearted people volunteering in school and church and Little League and community theater. We were a family that talked books, sports, puns and politics. One of the great things about living in Boise is being closer to my family in eastern Oregon than I was when I lived in the same state.

Like most journalists, I moved a lot, including stints covering the Oregon Legislature and Congress in Washington, D.C. But when we moved to Boise in 2000, we found our home.

My wife is a kindergarten teacher; I have two grown daughters, both in Boise. We love the rivers, mountains, Foothills and bike paths, the Criterium and the Idaho Potato Drop (well, I love the Potato Drop; my daughters agree to disagree). I play softball. I ride my bike to work. I climb and hike and backpack. I love living here. That’s why I want to help Boise and Idaho celebrate its successes and fix where we fall short.

I’ve been a journalist my entire adult life. I have a vested interest in seeing my calling thrive. That’s why we’re retooling everything we do at the Statesman. Reporters and editors are getting new beats, new responsibilities, new ways of producing and sharing our work. And this editor is getting a new charge: Take what I’ve learned as a journalist, as a nonprofit volunteer, as an Idaho dad, husband, neighbor, cyclist and outdoorsman and find ways to host a conversation that you and your friends want to be part of.

I’ll take you along when I can. I’ll invite you to interviews with smart people I think you should meet, people I think make a difference in our community. People like Jimmy Hallyburton and Wyatt Schroeder and Elena Langan and Corey Surber and Rick Ardinger and Jim Jones and Christine Hahn. Don’t know who they are? Follow me and you will. And with Facebook Live, you’ll be able to ask questions, too.

I’ll ask you to share my stories and videos and columns and editorials to your Facebook pages, because that’s where I can reach and persuade people today. I’ll ask you to follow me on Instagram and Twitter for the same reason. I can’t make a difference if people aren’t reading and sharing and talking about what I do.

That’s a big change for us seasoned journalists, who have long insisted that our work speaks for itself. In this noisy, distracted media world, that’s no longer true. I need your help.

So let me know what you think. Send me your ideas for stories and columns. Tell me about people I need to meet, people who are breaking barriers and solving problems in new ways. Invite me to come talk to and hear from your organization or book club or coffee klatch. You’ll find my email and Twitter and Instagram handle below. Let’s stay connected.

Bill Manny: 208-377-6406; email: bmanny@idahostatesman.com; Twitter/Instagram: @whmanny