The mission that Vermont Independent Media set out for itself when it was founded in 2004 was to promote local, independent journalism in Windham County; to create a forum for community participation with its newspaper, The Commons, and its website, commonsnews.org; and to promote civic engagement by building media skills through the Media Mentoring Project (MMP).
We feel we’ve done a good job with the first two parts of the mission. Our award-winning newspaper reaches more than 20,000 people in Windham County every week, and we have created a place where every person in the county can have a voice.
However, we spent so much time making a great and inclusive newspaper that we let the third part of the mission slide — helping the residents of Windham County to be not only engaged and aware news consumers, but also to learn how to get their ideas and events and causes out to the public at large.
We are in the process of changing that.
The Media Mentoring Project brings together journalists and practitioners, connecting these professionals with residents of Windham County who are interested in reporting, writing, journalism, and media communications training through community workshops.
It’s a unique program that sets us apart from many media organizations.
The Commons really does have an open door policy. If you want to learn about journalism and have the opportunity to try your hand at it, we are here to help.
We’ve had many people of all ages and experiences take us up on this learning opportunity, and in the process, they’ve learned as much about themselves and the community as they have about writing and reporting.
We know not everyone wants to be a reporter, but we know many people who want to improve their news diet and learn ways to determine fact from fiction, or spot unbiased analysis, or an informed opinion.
They might want to research an issue and know which sources are credible, or they may want to know how to obtain public documents from local and state agencies, or do a Freedom of Information Act request to get information from the federal government.
They may just want to learn how to get their event covered by the local media.
We’ve had MMP classes that have addressed all these topics, and hope to have even more in the future.
Admittedly, we do have a selfish motive for doing this.
We’re trying to develop the next generation of media consumers — people who think critically, are engaged with the world around them, and have finely calibrated and fully functioning bullshit detectors — not merely because we want to stay in business. They are also needed to keep our democracy alive and functioning from the town hall to the halls of Congress.
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So, for 2018, here’s what we would like to accomplish with MMP:
• We want to hold MMP workshops each month all over Windham County.
• We want to revive Journalism in the Schools, a curriculum tailored for elementary-, middle-, and high-school students to teach not just writing, but media literacy and critical thinking.
• We want to see each of Windham County’s public high schools — Twin Valley, Leland & Gray, Bellows Falls, and Brattleboro — have fully-functioning, student-produced newspapers and websites if they don’t have them, and strengthen the efforts at the schools that do.
• We want to do more outreach to underrepresented communities in Windham County and get their voices into the news mix.
• We want to develop a workable model for “pro-am” journalism and teach to anyone willing to learn them the skills for telling stories across different news media.
• We want to collaborate with our fellow media outlets and develop ways we can work together to tell the stories that need to be told, incorporating the ideas and enthusiasm of our MMP students.
It’s an ambitious to-do list for our newspaper, and for our parent organization, Vermont Independent Media. But it is essential to do it.
And, with your help, it can be done.
• If you are interested in being a media mentor, or have an idea for a subject area we should be teaching, please contact our Media Mentoring Program with your proposal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• We are in the process of creating a new, flexible program for people of all ages who want to become involved in the reporting of our news. We want to match interested apprentice reporters with issues and themes, from environment to health to education. If you’re interested, let us know at email@example.com.
• We will soon launch a crowdfunding campaign to get some of these programs off the ground, so we can offer modest but fair stipends to our mentors and to our apprentices. Everything that makes this newspaper and this nonprofit special is made possible by our members. To join or make an additional donation earmarked for MMP, visit donate.commonsnews.org.