By KATHLEEN PAKARINEN
LITTLE FALLS (Aitkin Independent Age Newspaper) —
Every town has a story every day but some days are better than others. While Aitkin was busy painting the town purple last Tuesday, a citizen journalist with CNN just happened to be passing through by canoe. That’s right – CNN in Aitkin by canoe.
And it gets better.
Neal Moore who calls himself an “unprofessional, unpaid citizen journalist” has a relationship with CNN and the report he did about purple Tuesday in Aitkin was posted on the website on Wednesday morning and, by the afternoon, it was tagged “On CNN,” meaning it’s now featured on their iReport.com main page. If you were watching CNN at 10 a.m. last Thursday morning, you were among the first to see Moore’s report on Aitkin as it hit the airways.
Everywhere it leads
Just like he’s doing with the river, he followed the story everywhere it led. The purple on the store windows led him to the story about the Aitkin Area Relay for Life and that brought him into our office. We led him to one of our front pages and Elaine Hill.
And she’s just one of many local people featured in the 15-minute film – people like police officer, Tim Catlin; business owner and cancer survivor, Sue Fox; and Adam Mehr, an AHS and recent college graduate who was having coffee with his mom and sister in front of the Beanery.
By the trails end, Moore had interviewed Kathie Smith, the honorary chair of this year’s relay, and Austin Price, a 6-year-old whose battle with the disease helped Kathie’s kids deal with their mother’s diagnosis.
On the river road
Moore is a novice behind the paddle but even though he says he’s just a “citizen,” he’s an experienced journalist. He grew up in Los Angeles and his degree is in English Literature but he has been traveling and writing in Asia and Africa for 20 years while he was also teaching English. For the last year, he has been iReporting for CNN as a citizen journalist. He said that a lot of his reports end up on CNN.
Moore expects to put in five months on the story he was chasing in Aitkin last week. He is combining his first long solo canoe trip down the Mississippi with stories that highlight community projects. He started at the headwaters near Bemidji and he won’t reach the end of the long and winding river road until he reaches New Orleans.
“I’m looking for positive American stories … genuinely postive from all facets, all angles,” he explained.
So far on the river, four of his stories have landed on CNN – Homesteaders Protect the Upper Mississippi at Wanagan’s Landing, The Andy Wells Interview from Bemidji, Passing on the Dance of the Ojibwe from Ball Club and, last but certainly not least, Small Mississippi River Town Rallies Against Cancer in Aitkin.
He hopes his stories will shed a positive light in difficult times – a light on an America of “real towns and genuine people.”
He was including the story he happened upon last week in Aitkin when he said, “These are wonderful stories that I hope will inspire the rest of the nation and even the world, bringing international understanding.”
Unlike Aitkin’s, some of the stories have been predetermined including one about Practical Farmers of America in Iowa, another on the Rocky Lynne country band in Nashville and their performance for charity and one more on the Habitat for Humanity in Nachez near New Orleans, La.
The Aitkin story was an accident. After spending Monday night at the county campground on the river, Moore walked into to town for food and supplies. As soon as he hit downtown, he saw purple and the rest is his story. Well, his and Aitkin’s – soon to be the nation’s and, who knows, maybe the world’s.
And the best part is
“A single traveling bachelor,” Moore’s most trusted traveling companions are a small video camera, a pocket-sized notebook, his cell phone and his laptop. He shoots and edits his video and writes a story to accompany it before uploading them to the site.
Besides CNN, he works in association with Creative Visions Foundation and Kathy Eldon. Eldon launched the foundation in honor of her son, Dan, an artist, adventurer and activist who was killed in 1993 while on assignment for Reuters News Agency in Somalia.
Creative Visions Foundation supports “creative activists,” individuals who use the media and the arts to create positive change in the world. Through its for-profit sister organization, Creative Visions Productions, the organization has produced award-winning television and film projects. Moore said Eldon has been a mentor for him and a great source of moral support.
Preparation for his challenging mode of transportation included little more than his background as an Eagle Scout and a book he read (Mississippi Solo, A River Quest) by Eddy L. Harris that, according to Moore, is the “best book ever written on the subject.”
“He helped to inspire me,” Moore said.
He sees the river as the perfect metaphor for his journey, explaining: “It starts as a trickle … There are 26 locks between Minneapolis and St. Louis but they get you through them.”
You have to know where the major stumbling blocks are. After you get past St. Louis, the road gets rougher and, all along the way, the river gets wider. It’s a long and winding road cutting straight through the center of the American heartland.
“Like T.E. Lawrence [Lawrence of Arabia] said, ‘I ride in the name of the clan’ – to highlight something bigger than myself,” Moore said.
That’s exactly what he found here in Aitkin – a small town pulling together, rolling up their purple sleeves, getting ready to join a cross-country relay race against the nation’s most dreaded disease.
“I have a really good feeling this story will go far and wide,” Moore said about the Aitkin story he calls, “Small Mississippi River Town Rallies Against Cancer.”
Far and wide – just like the river that runs through it.
Photos by KATHLEEN PAKARINEN
Read the Aitkin Independent Age story
Read Kathleen Pakarinen’s complete story from the Aitkin Independent Age Online Newspaper here.