Sunday, October 16, 2005
Media Giraffe Project editor teaching "Issues in Journalism" at MCLA
Densmore brings experience and new project to the college
The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Beacon - News
Issue: October 6, 2005
By KARA TAJIMA, Senior News Editor
Bill Densmore did not expect when he answered the phone that he would be teaching a college class the next day. A "visiting lecturer," Densmore teaches "Issues in Journalism," a 400 level English class which meets every Tuesday and Thursday. "There was almost no syllabus, no books had been ordered and the first class met the next day," remarked Densmore.
"It was such an impossible situation. I figured I had nothing to lose to try it. It was rough getting started in the classroom, but the mechanics of getting set up on the computer network, getting employed and learning the campus couldn't have been smoother, with great help from folks all along the way," said Densmore.
Born in Worcester, Mass., Densmore now lives in Williamstown, with his wife, Betsy Johnson, since they moved here in 1983. Together, they bought control of what was then called the Williamstown Advocate. They changed the name to The Advocate, the newsweekly for the Berkshires/SW Vermont, and tripled circulation and advertising revenues in four years. Densmore then sold the paper in 1992 to Ellen Bernstein, who owned it for nine years and sold it to BoxcarMedia Inc. (Ozzie Alvarez' outfit). Early this year Ozzie sold it to MediaNews Group Inc., the Denver-based owner of the Eagle, Transcript and Bennington Banner.
Densmore started his journalism career early, doing public radio as a teen-ager in Worcester. "At UMass, I was writing album reviews for the literary supplement of The Massachusetts Daily Collegian when my car was towed from campus," said Densmore. "I was annoyed, and looked into how the towing contract was awarded. It turned out the wife of the owner of the towing company worked in the contracts-administration office at UMass. After our story ran, the contract was rebid," explained Densmore.
"Until then, I had always considered writing a chore and I wasn't very good at it," said Densmore. "But now I discovered that writing could have a purpose -- to convey the results of inquiry and curiousity and that it could make a difference. I was hooked."
"I pretty much abandoned academics at UMass (although I did graduate) and went full time with The Collegian, also stringing for the Springfield, Northampton and Boston papers and for The Associated Press. The rest is on my resume. My passion is making a difference. It sounds corny, but as I think of it, that's the simplest answer," stated Densmore.
When asked about accomplishments or achievements, Densmore answered, "No great achievements but there are things which give me tremendous satisfaction. Helping inspire up-and-coming journalists, though the hiring we did at our weeklies, teaching and the Media Giraffe Project," said Densmore.
In Densmore's "Issues in Journalism" class, the discussion is revolved around stories and interviews which play a role in mainstream media. The class looks at a variety of journalistic issues such as: "The Project Censored", ethics questions, writing and posting class collaborative allegations on different issues, and getting their feet wet with Densmore's "Media Giraffe Project" (MGP).
"I was intrigued by the fact that the work we're doing with the Media Giraffe Project is all about 'issues in journalism.' And that was the name of the course I was to teach," said Densmore.
"As far as the MGP, like many career journalists, I have been discouraged for years about the way profit pressures and changing markets have shrunk the resources available for watchdog reporting of government and social issues."
Densmore went on to explain how consumers have gotten out of practice at spotting and enjoying truly quality reporting because they now see it so seldom. "As a result, our ability to function as a participatory democracy is really seriously threatened. Uninformed voters can be manipulated and I think we are starting to see that in the United States now," explained Densmore.
With that background information , Densmore began to contact some of the deans of the journalism world about two years ago with the idea for the Media Giraffe Project.Aware of the Giraffe Heroes Project in Washington state (www.giraffe.org) Densmore called the founder and got his permission to appropriate his idea. "People stick their necks out for the public good, in the specifically media context," stated Densmore.
While working days as advertising director at The North Adams Transcript, Densmore consulted nights with journalism's senior practitioners and put together the current project.So far Densmore has identified over 260 potential giraffes. There are interns at UMass, at the College and at Williams College who are researching and profiling these folks for the website.
A number of 25 or so will end up featured in a book and about five will be part of a documentary film. The film will capture what inspires people in the media field to be stand-out performers in journalism.
If you have any questions or would like more information on The Media Giraffe Project, you can contact Bill Densmore at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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