Bill Densmore moderated a 90-minute discussion about the state of community news in North County, and Williamstown in particular.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — About 50 concerned citizens turned out Wednesday night for a community forum focusing on the future of journalism in town.
The event was spurred by the recent folding of the North Adams Transcript and The Advocate, the daily and weekly newspapers that historically have covered Northern Berkshire County in general and, in the case of The Advocate, Williamstown in particular.
Journalist Bill Densmore, who published The Advocate before it was purchased by MediaNews Group (now Digital First Media), facilitated the discussion, which looked at possible solutions to the hole left in the community by the papers' departures.
Some participants said that while new media alternatives, like iBerkshires.com
, fill some of that hole, they still miss the physical presence of a hard-copy newspaper that focuses on the town of 4,300.
"The retail base of Northern Berkshire County is very different than it was 30 years ago," Densmore said, referring to 1983-92, the period in which he owned The Advocate. "I don't want to say [a newspaper] is not possible, but it would be a tough business model."
Densmore and organizers Tela Zasloff and Harry Montgomery invited Tom Stites of Newburyport to talk about an alternative model he is developing through his non-profit, The Banyan Project.
Stites talked about a news co-operative that is following the Banyan model in Haverhill. He likened the community-based "Haverhill Matters" website
to a food co-op like Williamstown's Wild Oats.
"There are a lot of food co-ops and essentially no reader co-ops," Stites said.
He talked about "news deserts" in other parts of the country that could benefit from the cooperative model but noted, "I'm not sure this community needs it. Maybe it does."
Densmore pressed the crowd for concrete ideas on how to address the needs of readers who relied on the two shuttered newspapers. Among the responses:
♦ a public press release service to help people in the community get their news into the remaining media outlets;
♦ the development of a new business plan for print media;
♦ a meeting with The Berkshire Eagle's publisher to address community concerns;
♦ and greater participation by readers in letters to the editor or blogs and comment sections like those offered on iBerkshires.com.
The meeting was attended by iBerkshires.com Publisher Osmin Alvarez and Editor Tammy Daniels, Berkshire Eagle Regional Vice President of News Kevin Moran and Deb Dane, the manager of Williamstown's community access television station, WilliNet, which filmed the meeting for telecast at a later date.