Bill Densmore hosted an open discussion period during the breakout session “Media with message: Theory and practice” with about 20 journalists, former journalists, and those looking to grab the attention of the media.

Leading the discussion were Tom Stites, Miriam Bernstein, Jim Lescault and Karen Marzloff, which focused on the role of journalists in a community. The question posed was, “how do we best be community catalysts as we inject ourselves as journalists?”

Densmore, of Williamstown, Mass., a director of Journalism That Matters, started the conversation with the idea that the model of journalists being detached observers is outdated.

“I think it is failed paradigm,” he said.

Miriam Bernstein, a staffer at the non-profit Social Capital Inc., in Woburn, Mass. (which is seeking funding for a National Civic Communications Corp.) ; Jim Lescault, of Amherst Community Media, in Amherst, Mass.; and Karen Marzloff, the editor of SeacoastLocal.org and BALLE member, in Portsmouth, N.H., each focused brought a different perspective on the role of media in social transformation.

“I think there is a desire for an honest broker,” said Jon Greenberg, the former director of New Hampshire Public Radio’s Public Insight Network. He added that the problem with the media is that there is an assumption that some of the discussion is already established and one of the points of activism a media organization can take on is to open the discussion up on broader points.

“The difficulty is when are you beating a dead horse,” asked Marzloff. “When do you/ are you on a soap box?”

Katherine Gustafson, a blogger and author, said the problem with a having a point of view when walking into coverage of something is that a journalist might be less likely to question presented information or less likely to question it in the right manner.

“It’s very hard to see the critical points when you are coming at it with a point of view,” Gustafson said.

The discussion circled around questioning the role of a contributor who is not impartial. Lascault has viewed Amherst Community Media as an opportunity to use the local cable access television station and the associated website as a forum to connect local residents, local organizations and local information. The question he is struggling with is, how responsible is his organization for the information posted and what rules do they need to set for their contributors, especially when they do not want to set any.

Stites of The Banyan Project, which is taking root in Haverhill, Mass., explained his work to create a local community news source for the members of a community interested in reading and those interested contributing. Dubbed “Haverhill Matters,” the web-focused resource will be co-operatively owned, Stites said,  so all those involved will be owners in the project and anyone in the community can be part of it. “The real value is in engagement,” Stites said.

A series of links related to the Banyan Project can be found at mediagiraffe.org/wiki/index.php/Sls-banyan (no www). Another list of suggested reading was the work being published at www.whoneedsnewspapers.org.

Caitlyn Kelleher