Sunday, October 16, 2005
NEWS: Media Giraffe Project hopes to bring out journalism's best
The North Adams Transcript
May 10, 2005
North Adams, MA
HEADLINE: Densmore hopes to bring out journalism's best
By Karen Gardner, North Adams Transcript
WILLIAMSTOWN -- Concerns about the state of journalism in America have led one local resident to embark on a project that aims to find and spotlight people who are making sustainable, innovative use of media.
The "Media Giraffe Project," directed by Williamstown resident William "Bill" Densmore at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, is looking for individuals willing to stick their necks out for the sake of journalism that fosters participatory democracy and community.
Sticking their necks out
Once identified, these "giraffes" will be featured on a Web site, mediagiraffe.org, in a book, and also in video materials to include a documentary film. The project is a one-year initiative housed with the UMass-Amherst journalism program.
"Everybody's concerned about the way journalism is going," said Densmore. "Where are the people who are doing good works in journalism? And, is there some way that we can find them, spotlight them and describe what they're doing so that other people can emulate them?"
Many have left the profession to go on to write books or articles, expressing concern about their perception of the existing system, Densmore said. Under that system, he continued, public corporations must produce ever-increasing earnings, which is changing the way journalism is practiced.
"Oftentimes, resources that might have been available for additional staff for long-term journalism projects is not always as available as it once was," Densmore said.
When a group of newspapers is purchased by a company for tens of millions of dollars, he said, it could cost that company $1 million to $2 million each year in interest alone to carry that debt.
"As a result, you can't spend as much on the newsroom," said Densmore. "What's happened in the last 20 or 30 years, is a historic shift from family ownership of newspapers to largely corporations. ... Anybody that bought them couldn't have continued to put the same amount of dollars into reporting that they used to." What's more, said Densmore, circulation numbers are declining in many markets.
"Therefore, it's very difficult to maintain the kind of revenues that people would like to maintain to be able to grow their journalism operations," he said. Another issue is the nature of non-local ownership of a newspaper, radio, or television stations. "It changes how news is gathered and presented," said Densmore.
He hopes the project will profile people who are doing noteworthy things in the world of journalism. He also wants to present these profiles in a way in which others may replicate in their own communities what others have done elsewhere.
"The third thing I hope will result, is that by focusing attention on some positives about what's going on in the media, that we can encourage the people that run today's media companies to recognize that they have a responsibility to make sure that they continue to provide citizens of our democracy the information that they need to be responsible, participating citizens," Densmore said. "That may, to some degree, trump the obligation to have ever-increasing profits and always trying to get larger and larger."
The project is being funded in part by UMass-Amherst, and through private donations gathered by Densmore. But, "I need to raise quite a bit more money to keep this thing going," he said. In addition to funding support, Densmore is looking for "media giraffes" to profile.
For more information, contact Densmore, (413) 577-4370, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.mediagiraffe.org .
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