Welcome from Folk River Writer and Producer Rhonda Miller

Welcome to Folk River, the digital territory where you are invited to consider the importance of songs that come directly from the people, not intended to bring fame or fortune, but to offer thoughts and share the joy and power of music.

Folk River is the natural intersection of my experience as a journalist working in public radio, newspapers and magazines and my long-time interest in folk music and its commentary on social and political issues.

I will not try to define folk music, since academics, music producers and musicians offer varying descriptions. My general view of folk music is that it arises unedited from everyday life and travels from community to community, offering insight into the life and times of the society.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University, my career has carried me to jobs in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Mississippi and Rhode Island, as well as freelance work in Connecticut, Massachusetts and California.

I’ve discovered in the regions where folk music continues to thrive and songwriters gather to sing opinion and vision, there tends to be an enhanced sense of public engagement in civic life. This is my perspective, of course, not a statistical measure. This could mean that folk music encourages civic engagement or that civic engagement encourages folk music – who’s to say? Either way, these grassroots voices have been instrumental in societies around the globe, rising sometimes to a pitch demanding attention when social issues may be ignored by the powers that be, such as during the civil rights struggle and Vietnam War eras in America.

As I developed my master’s thesis in media studies at Rhode Island College in Providence, it became increasing clear to me that my interests in journalism and folk music have one important thing in common – they are both channels for voices of the people. Democracy is healthy in a society where voices are free to speak, and sometimes those voices are raised in song.

Rhonda Miller WVTF edit studio Roanoke, Virginia 2

As many friends and colleagues left or were forced out of journalism due to financial pressures in the industry and monumental changes in technology, I began to consider the importance of folk music as commentary that may be increasingly important in this unsettling, and also promising, time of sweeping media changes.

I reported and produced all the stories contained in the categories on this website, except for the pieces in the category of “related stories.” My stories aired on public radio stations or on broadcast outlets such as Voice of America. Some of the pieces are posted on Public Radio Exchange, where they are available to radio stations around the world. RJMAwards

The category of “related stories” contains work produced by others that complement the perspective of Folk River and are intended to encourage reflection and thoughtful discussion. Some of the related stories point to the evolving state of journalism, which has long been called the “fourth estate.”

“It was Thomas Carlyle, a British historian of the 19th century, who popularized the term ‘fourth estate’ in reference to the press,” Columbia Journalism Review publisher Evan Cornog wrote in a 2006 blog called the Future of Journalism.

“Carlyle credited an earlier man of letters, Edmund Burke, with the phrase, saying that Burke had observed that in addition to the ‘three estates’ represented in Parliament- king, lords and commons – there was a ‘fourth estate,’ the press, more powerful than them all,” wrote Cornog.

Our technology-infused society is cluttered with torrents of information and often scarcity of facts. Of most concern to me is that many people never bother to check where information is coming from, whether the sources have been documented, if the information has been confirmed by more than one source, and if the presentation is fair, balanced and worthy of our democratic nation.

To maintain a diversity of public opinion, I believe voices offered by folk music complement journalism and contribute to a healthy democracy.

Rhonda Miller, Johnston, Rhode Island, April 14, 2013

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