Tom Stites changed the world for me back in 2006, when he gave the keynote speech at the first Media Giraffe conference at U Mass-Amherst — a lively event addressing issues of innovation and public participation in media. At a time when the winds of change were slowly stirring, he upped the ante, made clear the issues, and affirmed the basic hope and struggle of journalism and media reform.
Now, with hurricanes of change battering journalism and media, Stites again has the opportunity to raise the roof — and raise the stakes and aspiration of the whole conversation on media, journalism and democracy, through his finalist status at the upcoming WeMedia GameChangers contest.
In Amherst, getting up in front of a roomful of entrepreneurs, academics, newsroom leaders and publishing, Stites asked: Why do we care about media? What’s the point of this work in journalism? If all we are worrying about is newsroom jobs, technological innovation and saving the advertising model, will our work come to any consequence?
Stites put it all on the line by questioning the impact of the ad model on mass-market journalism. He identified specific communities that were categorically underserved by an editorial focus on content that appealed to advertisers who valued “upmarketing” above all else. He linked the ongoing coverage of celebrity lifestyles and glossy materialism with the equally relentless disinvestment in newspapers and news media by everyday citizens (i.e. market share fleeing in droves) who find little value in paying for reporting that’s not relevant to the immediate needs of their lives.
His essay based on that speech — “Is Media Performance Democracy’s Critical Issue?” — is required reading for anyone who cares about journalism and media today. It grounds the discourse in what really matters — people, communities, and their meaningful participation in democracy as a granular, daily activity that directly impacts the quality of human life from the individual to the societal level.
Since then, he’s been an adviser to my own work, and that of my peers. He’s also taken on his own, amazing project — BANYAN, a consumer co-op that links journalists directly with the communities they serve, with the aim of producing real “news you can use” for all the people dropping the upmarketed commercial newspaper like a cold, stale potato.
Here are the key links. Check ’em out, vote for Tom on the WeMedia Web site, and, tell your friends and peers about his great work!
“Is Media Performance Democracy’s Critical Issue?”
Keynote speech, Media Giraffe Conference, July 2006
GameChangers Award VOTE! (Stites is listed aphabetically near the bottom)