I had a beautiful drive this past weekend to Falmouth, where I had enthusiastically agreed to speak at the Alliance for Community Media (ACM) northeast region conference. I regularly work with area media hubs like Cambridge Community Television and the Somerville Media Center, and have given similar presentations to the alliance before. Titled “Local Investigative Journalism on a Shoestring,” the workshop was designed by my DigBoston and Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ) comrade Jason Pramas not because we think the next Panama Papers will be leaked through a Public, Educational, and Governmental (PEG) access channel, but instead since these community facilities are in some cases the only eyes left watching officials, while their neighborhood media makers are increasingly drilling critical wells in news deserts.
For the record, I have some previous experience speaking in places where I expect to be ambushed. This wasn’t one of them, though. So I got a little bit tripped up when, just a few minutes into my talk, one of the audience members in Falmouth cut in with an aggressively raised hand and an unsolicited gripe. From what I can recall, their issue was threefold: The troll disliked my unflattering characterization of Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone; they took issue with my choice words for university-based journalism incubators like the New England Center for Investigative Reporting; and they had a coronary at the definition of investigative reporting I had on the screen: “journalism that tries to change what happens—not just cover what happens.”
Considering that my detractor also specifically needled a particular episode of Beyond Boston, the monthly news digest on which my team from BINJ collaborates with several ACM members, my guess is that they planned to sabotage the session all along. While the confrontation didn’t bother me too much, I will admit that I was happy when one of the attendees asked them to chill. Because after the hater eventually split, I got to spend the next hour-plus breaking down a number of ways for rookie sleuths to activate. In our short time, we examined specific project ideas that some people brought, addressed all parts of the reporting process from research to distribution, and even found time to discuss the importance of youth media.
When I said that some of the work they are doing is far more important than the garbage that mainstream commercial reporters crank out, I meant it.
As a longtime cheerleader for unorthodox and alternative media, I’m used to being told that what I do, and what my team does, “isn’t real journalism.” So I shouldn’t be surprised when an apparent hack legacy press apologist knocks me. It’s a price that I’m happy to pay for the chance to preach about things like how more funding for reporting should go to the grassroots rather than the college programs, and to point out how a lot of journos claim to work objectively, yet don’t feel that poor or working-class people are worth listening to.
You’d like to think that everybody at a community media conference is on the same page, but I suppose there’s always one.