Let a million local media outlets and citizen journalists bloom

As we head into the 10-day countdown to May Day, once again the mainstream media is snoozing its way into irrelevance.

Check out today’s New York Times and you will find nary a mention of the busy preparations going on now for the day of action in New York and around the country on May 1.

This seems to just prove the point of media pundit Dr. Alan Chartock, founding president and CEO of the 20-station, seven-state Northeast Public Radio Network here in my neck of the woods.

Speaking last Sunday at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Dr. Chartock depicted a coming media landscape dominated by a few big national and international players, reaching audiences principally through the World Wide Web.

Progressive media analysts have long been concerned about the homogenization of the news that comes as a result of corporate conglomerates controlling vast swaths of the airwaves, as well as almost all print news outlets.

The good news is that at least so far, it has been impossible to impose corporate control over the internet.  Witness the huge outcry over the proposed PIPA and SOPA legislation last winter, which critics said would have limited free speech on the Web.  Millions of signatures were collected on petitions against the legislation, and the proponents backed down—at least for now.

Dr. Alan Chartock

Dr. Chartock is worried about the wholesale media move to the internet for two good reasons.

One, accuracy: it is often impossible to know for sure that the information on a given blog or even larger online media outlet has been carefully and objectively reported.

Two, money: Where is the business model that will support the reporters and editors needed to continue to perform the traditional watchdog role of the press?

It seems to me that his own Northeast Public Radio Network provides a good answer to these issues.  It is supported by local listeners and underwriters who put their dollars behind the station because they recognize a good thing when they see one.  They would start to withdraw their support if the quality of the programming went down.

To counter the drift to a globalized corporate media desert, let’s let a million local radio stations, blogs, vlogs, livestreams, tweets and You-Tube videos bloom!

Let’s not only support our locally owned, locally produced media, let’s start producing it too!

Here in the Berkshires, we not only have WAMC and other Northeast Public Radio affiliate stations, we also have WBCR-LP, which is not only 100% listener-supported but also all-volunteer and open to any citizen journalist who takes the trouble to get trained as a programmer.

We have the Berkshire Record, our hometown print newspaper in Great Barrington, and we also have iBerkshires and various locally produced blogs and small websites.

And let’s not forget the countless Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and You-Tube channels devoted to getting us localized news we can use.

The truth is that the Occupy movement doesn’t need the New York Times to reach its target audience.  The fact that the mainstream media is ignoring the upcoming May Day protests is just one more example of how dominated by the 1% these big media corporations are.

Whose media?  Our media!  Mainstream media?  Who needs’em?

Love Letter to Great Barrington MA

Just this morning in the shower, I was mulling over what I would like to write about for my submission to this year’s Made in the Berkshires Festival, and it came to me that I want to write a kind of love letter to Great Barrington, the dear little town that I call home.

What a surprise to get to my media studies class today and learn from my students that dear little Great Barrington was just named the number one small town in America by no less than Smithsonian Magazine!

Railroad Street, Great Barrington MA

In justifying their choice, Smithsonian writers Susan Spano and Aviva Shen cite the town’s hip cultural scene, its local foodie economy, complete with CSAs and farmers’ markets, denizens of note like W.E.B. DuBois, Arlo Guthrie and Alan Chartock, and the fact that we have our own printed currency, the BerkShare.

Even my own alma mater and current employer, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, gets a mention!  We are, after all, the first and still the only residential four-year college dedicated exclusively to highly motivated students who choose to leave high school early, after 10th or 11th grade, to begin their undergraduate studies.

In my dreamy early-morning shower reflections, I was thinking about celebrating other aspects of Great Barrington.

For instance, the incredible camaraderie of the cultural community here, especially, in my experience, the community of women artists.

Berkshire Festival of Women Writers special presentation of Made in the Berkshires, co-curated by Hilary Somers Deely and Barbara Sims

I have led, participated in and witnessed so many outstanding cultural events here in the Berkshires, many of them centered in Great Barrington, where artists, writers and other creative types have collaborated with such grace and panache, with such incredible generosity and unusual willingness to leave their own personal ego at home.

This doesn’t happen everywhere.  In fact, I’d venture to guess it’s pretty rare.

For instance, almost everyone who participated in this year’s Second Annual Berkshire Festival of Women Writers did so pro bono, offering free events at which they shared their passions and talents with all comers.

As one of nearly 100 women who gave a Festival workshop for free, I can tell you that there is tremendous satisfaction to be gained from simply sharing one’s talents and knowledge with an appreciative, receptive audience, without expecting financial reward.

That spirit of generosity is one of the many reasons I love living in Great Barrington.

The Smithsonian article also failed to mention a few other aspects of Great Barrington that I really love.

One: having town leaders, our elected Select Board, who are vibrant creative folks in their own right.  Check out Selectperson Alana Chernila, who just published a wonderful cookbook, or Selectperson Andrew Blechman, editor at our homegrown national environmental publication Orion Magazine, or Selectperson Sean Stanton, part of an extraordinary local family of sustainable farmers and foodie entrepreneurs—and you will see what I mean.

Atop Monument Mountain

Two: the wonderful natural resources at our doorstep in Great Barrington.  The Housatonic River winds through the town, and polluted with PCBs as it may be (thank you General Electric), the Housatonic is still visually beautiful and a lovely, peaceful river to walk beside on our very own Riverwalk.  The town is shadowed by East Mountain, the north side of which houses our ski area, Butternut Basin.  On the north side we are bounded by Monument Mountain, a steep, wooded reserve that got its name from the Mohicans who used to live here, who left their signature on the mountain in piles of stones.  All over town there are beautiful places to walk, hike and meditate.  This kind of open space is quickly vanishing in so much of our country, and should not be taken for granted.

Three: Having a community that truly cares about its young people, and its disadvantaged folks.  The support for wonderful local organizations like Railroad Street Youth ProjectCommunity Access to the Arts, and Volunteers in Medicine is truly heartwarming.  We also have a lively Senior Center, and a weekly Occupy Great Barrington protest and meet-up.  A town that doesn’t forget its kids, its old folks, its most vulnerable citizens and its radical fringe is the kind of town I want to live in.

And not only that, but we have our very own community radio station, WBCR-LP, 97.7 FM, where anyone who makes the effort to get the requisite training can become an autonomous radio broadcaster, subject only to FCC regulations as to what they can or cannot announce.  This year I started a new Citizen Journalism Project, seeking to get local teens involved in producing news for the radio–and it’s been a great success.  We also still have a homegrown local weekly newspaper in Great Barrington, the Berkshire Record–which is pretty rare in the US, as more and more local newspapers are swallowed up by big media clones.

The Smithsonian Magazine description of Great Barrington was right on target, but there is also so much more that goes into being part of a truly outstanding small town.

I will write a longer love letter to Great Barrington in the future, but for today, let me just end with a big smacking kiss.  GB, I am proud to call you home.

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