Funny town, Missoula. One woman lives in a closet. One man, a military recruit, wears his ROTC T-shirt on campus and believes some people mistake it as an invitation to give him a Nazi salute, or spit. In Missoula, some dogs eat well and some people starve.
These are some true tales that Footbridge Forum Executive Producer Crystal Ligori learned while producing the on-air open discussion, which will air its final program of its first school year on Monday night on KBGA.
The forum brings together citizens who are not in the public eye and asks them to examine sources of tension between the University and the community at large, with an emphasis on civilized discussion, as opposed to overbearing opinion.
“One of the reasons that Footbridge Forum is so groundbreaking,” says Ligori, a broadcast student on the verge of graduation, “is they haven’t really done public deliberation on radio.”
“They” are the Kettering Foundation, which studies how best to fortify the democratic process. This school year, the foundation awarded the University of Montana School of Journalism a $40,000 research contract to put on the forum, in the hopes that the forum would “strengthen the role of citizens in governing themselves,” a goal the Kettering website declares.
The first show aired on Dec. 8. In order to prepare for it, forum staff popped into coffee shops and law offices and pulled people aside while they shopped downtown to ask them, “What really gets under your skin about Missoula?” says Ligori.
Ideas for subsequent shows emerged from the first. During show number two, “Whose Missoula is This?” panelists discussed the relationship—and sometimes animosity—between the UM community and the rest of the city. Then came “Shelter Shock,” a discussion about housing. This school year’s final show, “Wage Rage: Taking a Cut for the Big Sky Benefit,” will air Monday night.
Ligori feels nervous about the final show. “It’s kind of my baby,” she says, but one of her possible successors will host. Also, a representative from Kettering plans to attend.
Denise Dowling, a broadcast professor, is the faculty advisor for the program. As part of the contract, forum folks are administering surveys to learn whether listeners perceive that real work took place during the on-air deliberations. “As long as the work is happening,” says Dowling, “I hope that this continues next year.”