LOWELL - At the very first TEDx Lowell event, Haverhill mattered. Journalist and Northeastern professor Dan Kennedy's TEDx talk "Telling the local story" gave the attentive audience at the Teen Equity Center in Lowell, Massachusetts an insightful view into the state of the news and what is being tried to address the woes of the news industry. The talk drew partly from Kennedy's book" The Wired City", and like the book, it ended with a discussion of Haverhill Matters, the novel local, online news cooperative starting up in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
"What really interests me is the future of community journalism" said Kennedy, talking about a breakdown of our social fabric, "The person who defined this very well is Robert Putnam in his book Bowling Alone". We used to bowl in leagues but now we bowl alone, as we have become increasingly disconnected from each other, according to Putnam. Kennedy asked "How do we rebuild those community ties?"
Describing a handful of efforts to make community news work, Kennedy turned to the New Haven Independent in New Haven, Connecticut. The audience laughed when the "huge technological component" that allowed the Independent to cover community news was revealed on a slide picturing a bicycle. Saying that the Independent fundraising base is more like public radio, Kennedy talked about the importance of community engagement to maintain support. Giving one example he said "The Independent has been able to make sense of online comments." Kennedy believes good photography helps too.
So you have professional journalists and amateur journalist working together to fill this gap.
Telling the audience that a community news effort exists not far from the TEDx Lowell site, Kennedy talked about "The Haverhill Experiment ... aimed at what its founder Tom Stites calls a news desert." According to Kennedy "Haverhill in some respects is well covered ... But they don't have an independent local newspaper." Haverhill has become the pilot site for the Banyan Project, with the idea that the co-op business model might foster the level of engagement needed to coax a community into supporting a thriving local news operation. "So you have professional journalists and amateur journalists working together to fill this gap." Kennedy said Haverhill Matters is not in operation yet, but will be later this year.
This TEDx event was, as one would expect, filled with well-told stories of hope and innovation. But Haverhill Matters was there to capture one particular story of hope and innovation, and was not disappointed.