The time for citizen journalism is now

Stephanie Kountouros

Stephanie Kountouros

A version of the following was delivered at the Paul de Armond Citizen Journalist Award Dinner on February 10. Stephanie Kountouros is this year’s recipient of that award.

(STEPHANIE KOUNTOUROS) Remember when Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009? I think I’m impudent to make such a comparison, but allow me to draw a couple of similarities:

It was President Obama’s first year in office. In his acceptance speech, he agreed with critics that he was receiving the Nobel Prize too soon. He compared himself unfavorably to those laureates who came before him, saying that their greatness was daunting to one who had “just stepped onto the global stage.”

I am also a bit daunted by the mastery of the recipients I follow. Sandy Robson, Riley Sweeney, Wendy Harris were honored for their relentless and brilliant journalism. I’m not deep-digging in the fact-mulch of Bellingham Bay. I’m just trying to get folks to talk about stuff.

But maybe that’s something. Paul DeArmond was a watcher and a voice against movements of hate.

There is no time more crucial for such citizens as right now. Today. Today, when hate groups feel empowered. When women senators are silenced. When information is disregarded and demeaned… and leaders erode the truth.

“Fake news.” “Reliable sources.” We draw lines between rogue bloggers and radio programs and monolithic news corporations, corporations which are increasingly monopolized, cutting staff, slack in their research, and above all responsive to their advertisers.

We have to speak to each other. We have to tell each other our truths, and we have to create space and openness to hear. And that’s why I’m so proud of this honor. For the first time, it was bestowed upon someone for doing work in the medium of community radio.

And why is that important? Why does radio matter? Social media is fun and fast. It can bring about Arab spring, can spread news of a marathon bomber and get it right faster than those monolithic news corporations. Social media dazzles us with pretty and horrific photos. But it’s owned. It’s controlled. It uses algorithms to show you what it thinks you want, while slipping in advertising, and, “appropriate” political messaging.

I love radio because yearn to fill a void. A void left by our missing town square, the commons, actual discourse. Different voices and viewpoints that can draw out shades and gradations of a story not presented by a single journalist, or comment thread.

Because the fights that are being fought, for justice and sovereignty and fairness and food and freedom and respect. Those fights begin with us shaking off the mantle of acceptance of institutionalized racism and privilege and corporatocracy. And community radio is a chance, if we take it. A chance to raise and support and bring together voices that have nothing to do with the almighty dollar, and everything to do with what we need to come together as a people, and begin to tear down some walls and hear one another.

The fierce, passionate voices of those folks who were honored before me, they are true journalists. They are voices of reason and of protest in a world that has greater and growing need for them by the minute. I don't count myself among them.

But maybe what I can do just a tiny bit, is to be unashamed of asking the difficult, challenging, and -- you know -- really stupid questions. I mean, the ones even I should know by now like: What is a comprehensive plan?

And maybe, just maybe, I can help start a conversation or two. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Barack Obama said “I do not bring with me today a definitive solution. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence… And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.”

I want to continue striving for new ways of thinking about the notions of journalism, and its role in fomenting a “just peace.” I hope you’ll join me. 

Stephanie Kountouros MSW, has had a varied and diverse career in radio broadcasting and social action. She is currently the Program Director for KMRE 102.3 FM. She lives with her wife, Ruth and her partner, Dave.