Magazine article American Journalism Review

Coming Together over TV. (Free Press)

Magazine article American Journalism Review

Coming Together over TV. (Free Press)

Article excerpt

A pair of self-described idealists are betting on the healing powers of television.

Trying a new approach to cure an age-old problem, the owners of a Massachusetts media production company are asking journalists and regular citizens in about 80 cities around the country to sit down, watch some TV; then talk about it. The Ford Foundation-funded effort is called "Preview Forum."

Connecting communities and journalists isn't just good for democracy, cofounder Robert Lavelle says. "If you care about media and media's impact, we think it's where the action is."

The plan is to use advance copies of television series (and eventually, films, books and radio programs) to spark conversations--productive ones, not the same tired debates between accusing citizens and defensive journalists. For instance, participants in the first installment, scheduled for various dates over the next two months, will watch segments of four upcoming PBS documentaries, then talk about ethnicity and race in America.

"There is a growing market for the kind of work that we're doing in terms of using media to connect communities," says Lavelle, who's working alongside Martha Fowlkes of Roundtable, the company directing Preview Forum. Their short-term goals include giving journalists access to more diverse sources while teaching viewers and readers "both about the process of news...and how to be better [news] consumers," Lavelle says. Long-term, he adds, in addition to establishing relationships between journalists and communities, "We'd like to see people dropping support for shoddy journalism and increasing support for good journalism."

Preview Forum grew out of similar discussions Roundtable organized around the PBS series paper was also widely distributed on the Hill.

"Our worst fears came to pass," Federal Paper Editor Mark Willen says. …

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