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Leaving KERA

By Marla Crockett, KERA Reporter

Dallas, TX –

Sam Baker, Morning Edition Host: 90.1 News Director Marla Crockett is leaving KERA today. Her chief interest as an anchor, talk show host, reporter and manager has been politics and elections. In this essay she says after 21 years with the station, it's time to concentrate on a different kind of politics.


Marla Crockett: A friend used to tell me, "It must be tough to be in the news business." She was right. In fact, frustrated by mindless political campaigns and coverage, I almost quit journalism in the early '90's. What kept me going was something called public journalism.

Reformers in the field brought citizens together to deliberate issues. We looked for common ground, not conflict, and tried to connect genuine public concerns with political campaigns. Unfortunately, that kind of journalism failed to take root in our combative news culture. What has gained traction is a grassroots movement--quietly gathering force-- for a more deliberative democracy. I'm leaving KERA to join it. The concept isn't immediately clear to most people, but a perfect example of deliberative democracy occurred in Dallas just a few weeks ago.

About 400 Katrina evacuees at a downtown hotel joined a few thousand more in 20 cities for a national town meeting on how New Orleans should be rebuilt. Former ad agency supervisor Frank Milton was one of them:

Frank Milton, former New Orleans resident: I'm glad to participate in it and then get the chance to make history here.

Connected via satellite and the web, New Orleanians told each other what they missed and what they wanted to change. They heard and discussed briefings about the state of the city--its levees, neighborhoods, and schools. Then, using hand-held keypads, they voted on priorities for moving New Orleans forward. The city backed the meeting. Providing the town hall model and technology was America Speaks, a Washington, D.C. non-profit headed by Carolyn Lukensmeyer:

Carolyn Lukensmeyer: If I were to pick out the single skill that qualitatively changes what we do together as a public it's whether I've learned to listen, and so today is a real exercise in democracy in how we listen to each other.

Lukensmeyer and others have big ambitions--to reinvigorate democracy by engaging citizens in public decision-making. That was my secret desire, too, as KERA and other public stations waded into civic engagement projects. In 1994, the station recruited 23 citizens to help question George Bush and Ann Richards during their statewide debate. We've brought diverse groups of people together for dialogues about education, concealed weapons, Americans' role in the world, and the economy in a key 2004 congressional race. I moderated many of those forums, and each one left me feeling inspired and hopeful. I've seen fears dissipate and heard stories that softened ideologies. Sometimes, potential enemies left as friends.

There's no clear road map for me yet. It'll be a journey that I hope to return and tell you about from time to time, because my greatest joy in more than two decades at KERA has been interacting with you listeners. You've challenged me, corrected me and listened to me. And for that I'll always be grateful.

My hope going forward was articulated by Frances Moore Lappe and Paul Martin Dubois in their book, The Quickening of America. They said democracy should become, not simply what we have, but what we do. It's time for me to focus on that goal and do my part.

Contact KERA's News and Public Affairs staff about this piece

To visit the America Speaks web site

To learn more about citizen deliberation