Academia Category

Attention Economy, Part II: The Curious Case of Randy Shilts

Randy Shilts on the Rainbow Honor Walk

With respect to the attention economy, Goldhaber notes, “We struggle to attune ourselves to groups of people who feel they’re not getting the attention they deserve, and we ought to get better at sensing that feeling earlier.” While he’s making this observation about those who recently tried to overthrow the 2020 election, the comment gives me pause because I think it applies quite aptly to the stories of ordinary people that Randy often featured in his work. To the extent that attention functions as currency in our society, what can we make of someone who was undeniably ambitious, yet tried to use his journalism to help lesser-known and less powerful individuals?

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The Attention Economy, Part I: Commodity, or Human Right?

It perhaps goes without saying that in order to establish and maintain healthy, productive social relationships, we need to start by paying attention to each other. Simplistic as it may sound, this is a crucial step toward establishing more substantial bonds like empathy, attachment, mutual concern, and reciprocity. “Attention is a bit like the air we breathe,” Warzel comments. “It’s vital but largely invisible, and thus we don’t think about it very much unless, of course, it becomes scarce.”

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Stiff Necks, Sore Eyes, and Hidden Treasures

New York Public Library

Turning through page after page, the voice in my head that hates being uncomfortable was telling me, “Close it up. I have to use the bathroom. I’m hungry and thirsty. There’s nothing new here, so let’s go.” Soon, I was down to one last piece of paper to examine, which I was sorely tempted to skip. After all – what could I possibly find, that I hadn’t already seen?

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The Pilgrimage

By stepping into the role of biographer, I realized that I’d taken on the part of quasi-time traveler, putting myself in the same place at different moments and connecting what I’d witnessed in archival footage with the evidence provided by my own senses.

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Video Blog, Pt. 2: Answering Student Questions

Clear sky on a cold, sunny day

Here’s Part 2 of my video blog, answering students’ questions about researching and writing a biography from a social work perspective.

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My First Video Blog! Answering Student Questions (Pt. 1)

A couple months ago, I was invited to give a guest lecture to a class of social work students at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. I was so blown away by their curiosity and enthusiasm, I thought it would be fun to share their questions – and my responses – through the blog.

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“Would You Have Liked Him When He Was Alive?”

Instead of distancing myself from the more complicated emotions of Randy’s story, I’ve tried to move closer, even when it’s challenged my comfort levels and forced me to reconsider my own assumptions and beliefs. Being able to explore those uncomfortable spaces has helped me to write about them in ways that I hope will make it stronger.

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Politics, People, and COVID-19: The Band Plays On – Again

Good science and the dogged activism of ordinary citizens have substantially improved the outlook, but HIV still affects far too many people both domestically and abroad. If scientists’ predictions hold true, it appears that in the years ahead, so will COVID-19.

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Far From Home, Facing the Unthinkable: My 2016 Election Story

Shockwaves from the previous night were emanating from every corner of the news and social media, and I had another full week ahead of me. The only way I could keep calm was by focusing as narrowly as possible on why I’d even come to Oregon: the story of Randy Shilts.

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From Bar Outreach to Aspiring Biographer: A Reintroduction

When people ask about my project and I say the name “Randy Shilts,” they almost never know who I’m talking about. When I say “And the Band Played On,” if they are of a certain age, there’s often an emotional reaction. Then, they tell me about someone significant in their lives: the uncle who’d moved out west, but then came home to die with lesions on his face; the roommate in New York, who they took care of in his final months; or the older cousin from Milwaukee, whose funeral they weren’t allowed to attend.

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