In an impromptu telephone conversation, Eesha Williams and Russ Baker posed to each other the questions suggested by the conference’s conveners. The answers were spontaneous first reactions to the questions provided, and both men are prepared to deny having uttered them:
1. Tell me about your work and how it led to saying “yes” to attending this event.
Eesha Williams: I edit a local nonprofit news website, www.ValleyPost.org , and wrote two books on journalism. Lynn Clark, who teaches journalism at the University of Denver, invited me to participate in the conference. I look forward to discussing the ideas in my books, and meeting other people in the field.
Russ Baker: Many years ago, long before everyone was talking about the need for non-profit journalism, I was talking about it on panels—and of course greeted with silence. Now, it is all the rage. Never mind that! I’m in favor of constantly innovating and finding better and more publicly-spirited ways of committing journalism. I was invited by Bill Densmore.
2. What outcomes would you like for yourself and your organization/work from this event?
Eesha Williams: I’m always looking for new sources of funding; in a perfect world, I would find sources of funding through the conference. However, I’m not counting on it, and appreciate the opportunity to meet new people and learn new things about journalism.
Russ Baker: I’m looking forward to having my brain stimulated, and to new and productive friendships. Also, our nonprofit news web site www.WhoWhatWhy.org is truly collaborative and we’re always looking for new partnerships.
3. Tell me a story about experiencing the emerging news and information ecosystem at its best.
Eesha Williams: It’s not that new, but Pacifica Radio is the model I’d like to emulate. At least in theory, they have internal democracy. Anyone who donates $30 gets to vote for the directors. They have five powerful FM transmitters around the country. The new part is they have good websites; they air local news and reject all advertising and the kind of corporate underwriting NPR relies on. And have fulltime paid reporters and editors.
Russ Baker: One of our young reporters at WhoWhatWhy.org got access to documents in the WikiLeaks database about the downfall of former CIA director David Petraeus. The reporter and I endeavored to dig and analyze these documents, contextualize them, and provide our readers with a more accurate understanding of what otherwise was being treated as just one more meaningless sex scandal. We curate that kind of raw material for the public so it makes sense and is accurately represented.
4. Without being humble, what do you value most about yourself? What do you see yourself bringing to this conference?
Eesha Williams: I’ll pass on the first question. On the second: My books are unique. The first one, Grassroots Journalism, is an alternative journalism textbook, used at several colleges around the country. The second, Good News: Local Journalism That Made a Difference, is a case history of local journalism that made a difference. I hope that it will inspire others to do local journalism and inspire people to get involved in their community.
Russ Baker: I come with enthusiasm, a tendency toward bluntness, and an interest in learning from others.
5. The year is 2018 and a vibrant media landscape exists that engages all people and serves the news and information needs of communities and our democracy.
a. What’s happening?
Eesha Williams: Bob McChesney’s and John Nichols’s proposal for government funding for journalism has been implemented. The mechanism that prevents government control is that every American gets a $300 annual voucher to donate to any news outlet of their choice.
Russ Baker: Most of the old media brands have vanished. The people who ran them now work at investment banks. News organizations are now run by people who are willing to tell the truth.
b. What steps did you take at this event and immediately thereafter to contribute to this outcome?
Eesha Williams: I continued to build up the local news site I founded, featuring internal democracy and no advertising. (But I haven’t figured out yet how to hire paid reporters—that’s the challenge.)
Russ Baker: Helped convince fellow travelers who believe that journalism needs to be much more vigorous and fearless in the face of growing corporate power and apathy, to truly work together to produce something vastly better.