In the spirit of tentativeness, and as a signal that this is evolving, this is a draft statement. I'd love to get feedback, whether in public or in private, and I will remove this italicized disclaimer, replacing it with update statements at the end of the article.
On Saturday, October 18, the first articles posted on a new website went live, thus inaugurating a new newspaper project, the Queens Free Press. An outgrowth of other efforts, some dating back several years, this project promises to link "teachers, students, community and business leaders, as well as a network of friends and advisors from around the New York region," according to a statement posted on the website, http://queensfreepress.com.
This is a rolling start, and more work is to be done, not only on the structural and design aspects of the website, which is based upon the Largo theme by the Investigative News Network—itself a fork of the NPR-backed Argo Project—, but also on the content of the site, which is still coming together in terms of contributors, staff writers, editorial curators, as well as the group of advisors and board members who will be crucial to the long-term success of the project.
The hope is to find friends and supporters, leaders who can contribute advice as well as make the crucial referrals that will bring in the main engines of the newspaper—students, members of the community, and issue-oriented activists who might otherwise not have direct access to "the media."
Typically, community organizations and interested young people are shut-out from public discourse, relegated to social networks where they can be a powerful force in the right environment—but whether they find that environment or are stuck with no followers or friends, the question of how remains as elusive as "what makes content go viral." We at the Queens Free Press intend to provide the support young people and smaller organizations need in order to "go live" in the context of a community newspaper.
No experience necessary. The developers of this project are prepared to offer one-on-one assistance, workshops at community centers, libraries—wherever we are welcome and needed—in order to ensure that anyone who would like to be involved has the resources they need. This may include digital audio and photography equipment, proper technical training, but also advice and support about some of the canons of journalism, how to navigate social networks and how to present oneself. This last one is especially important for young people, who may have good intentions but not good information about how to exist in the digital age.
Perhaps my strongest motivation or purpose for creating this project is to provide young people with a credentialing engine, giving them access to a real-life communication scenario they can use on their résumés, college or graduate school applications, and more.
It should be noted that this is not a professional newspaper, but a community newspaper. Some authors will be advocates for a cause, others firmly against. Student writers are likely to make mistakes, and hopefully this project will allow enough autonomy so that these mistakes can be made in the context of a production site/project (as opposed segregated behind classroom doors).
And while having an opinion is not against the law, libel and slander can have serious consequences. Speech may be "free," but it does not come without a cost. It is a covenant of the Queens Free Press that hateful speech, as well as the kinds of bias typically seen in corporate media, will not be tolerated. As the publisher and initiator of this project, I am working on formal bylaws, governance language that will make it easy for organizations to determine whether we are a good fit for them.
So expect writing by students, from college, high school to hopefully middle school students, to exist side-by-side that which has been syndicated from other publications as well as from our own stable of more experienced writers.
Over the next weeks and months, I will roll out a series called "Historical Antecedents" wherein I will explore some of the inspirations that have led me, at least, to this point. Hopefully, these explorations will create a historical and social imagination of how a project like this might proceed, what the pitfalls have been in the past, as well as demonstrating that there is "nothing new under the sun"—we are part of a continuum that goes on with or without us.
What do you think? —Be in touch.