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Welcome to my subversion

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I’m sitting here cranking out this column from the patio of a rented beach house, overlooking the ocean. I’m on vacation. Now, some might say “working” like this is an act of perversion and not subversion, as the title of this column suggests.

Now, I could argue that by writing this I’m actually subverting my own vacation. But that’s a personal problem, and not why I’m winging in during a break from four hours of surfing my brains out.

I want to talk about how you can turn into a subversive and improve this column and maybe the scope of MSNBC news coverage in the process. You start by using the resources of MSNBC — the so-called “bulletin boards” that have recently been installed here on our site.

You get to these bulletin boards by clicking on the link sitting right there in the left margin. These bulletin boards are actually threaded message boards that are at your beck and call. You pick the topics, you can control the conversations and all on MSNBC’s servers. Now if that isn’t subversive, I don’t know what is!

Before you jump into your new role as a subversive, be sure to read the bulletin board disclaimers. There’s a lot of legalese. There also are some pretty restrictive rules but, hey, any good subversive works from the inside. Push the envelope and see what happens.

The most vanilla use of these boards is to start a discussion based on whatever the topic of this column happens to be. For example, you might start a discussion that questions my sanity at having filed this column while on vacation. Another use is to start a discussion topic that’s been inspired by a particular column or story you’ve read on MSNBC, or elsewhere for that matter. Each section of MSNBC has its own bulletin board section so you can target strategically.

There are good reasons to use these message threads. First of all, it gives you a chance to share your insights with other readers of this column. I’m continually impressed with the level of comments I receive. Agree or disagree, you and I can learn from each other, even if the dialogue gets rough and tumble. That’s what spirited debate is all about. And for a long time I’ve wished that the comments I receive via e-mail could be shared with other readers. Why should I get all the benefit? Well, my wish has been granted. Using the bulletin boards you can share your thoughts not just with me but with other readers.

This sharing begins to build a sense of community — a kind of Holy Grail for online communication. Friendships grow, relationships form. There is a collective “brain trust” that arises and we all begin to learn. Sure, fights break out; any family argues and has disagreements. But the community works it all out. It’s like magic. Trust me on this. I’ve seen this happen in several instances and it’s truly a wonderful process.

Next, you can use these bulletin boards to send a message. Not only to me, but to “the powers that be at MSNBC.” What’s working for you? What’s not? Use the message boards to sound off.

You might be surprised to find out how many others agree with you.

A week ago, MSNBC had its one-year anniversary and we still haven’t found our “voice.” Is that a problem? No. Because we don’t need a “voice” to set our news coverage apart. I wouldn’t have believed that a year ago and would have argued until I was blue in the face that “voice” was essential. I was wrong — sort of. What we’ve done here is define the way news is reported and delivered online. When you’re blazing the trail, when you’re setting the standard, who the hell needs “voice”? In fact, to try to get more “voice” into our reporting would dilute it.

However, I believe that some element of voice is needed. It’s like adding the right amount of spice when cooking. Now columns like this add some spice, or at least I like to think so. But it occurred to me that where we can really pump up the volume on voice is to get your voice involved. And that can happen with your infusion of opinionated, reasoned comment, via the message boards.

So be subversive. Is something really griping you about MSNBC? Sound off — hijack a message board and cut loose. Have a great idea for some in-depth coverage? Jump in and suggest it. I guarantee people at MSNBC are reading. And when these bulletin boards get cranking, they will start to take on a life of their own and will help drive our coverage in ways that I can’t even image right now.

Now before you tell me to “get a life” because I’m filing this on vacation, let me tell you that I’m having a wonderful time. I’ve spent more time in the past two days with my family than I have in the past month. My older boys are chowing down at the beach and checking out the skimpy swimsuits. My 20-month-old is taking a well-deserved nap; my wife is doing the same. And me? Well, I’m here nursing sore muscles I forgot I had, the ocean breeze is whipping through my hair and I’m so close to the surf that the sound of the waves crashing on the beach is drowning out the clack of my keyboard.

Everyone should have to work this hard.