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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

When Geneva is more than a city

Where Lake Geneva’s best meet

The people. The minds, the debates and news and information. Events. Cultures. The spinoffs from all this: GenevaLunch can bring them together and provide a needed service to the entire community.

The community includes radio, TV, print and dozens of good web sites that were created for particular groups, slices of the community. Some reach out a little further than others. The center of this English-language buzz is the city of Geneva. It’s easy to assume this means the city is also at the center of the community, a notion that English speakers in Montreux and Lausanne and small towns up and down the lakefront find baffling. I suspect statistics bear this out.

More on that, another day.

Geneva’s English language media

Geneva, the city, has an English-speaking community, large but hard to measure, varied in age, backgrounds, interests, cultures and certainly politics.
The city needs a good strong English radio station and WRG-FM is finally, after 10 years, filling that void. Radio 74 has been around longer, but its Christian base and 1970s approach to radio has weak appeal even to some of us who were listening to radio 35 years ago.
WRG-FM can’t be heard in Saint-Prex, although streaming now makes it possible for some people to listen online. Okay while I’m at my computer working but not while I’m outside oiling my bike.

Lucy Walker is right to believe that radio is all about community and speed, just as the web is. But a radio station's web site should rightly drive traffic to the station, unless a lot of money is pumped into creating two separate, strong media outlets. Fine for big cities with big communities, but Geneva’s profile doesn’t fit. The BBC and other shareholders appear to want the radio station to focus on doing better what it does best.
A group called Sindy set up a membership organization a few years ago to make sure Geneva was a place where you could have fun, and they now have a very good beta version website. Retired gardeners might not check out the parties there, but if I were single and 30 and new to Geneva, I would. Definitely. I’d go for the services, but news is limited to what the members are up to (quite a lot).

The Tribune de Genève is a popular local newspaper in Geneva, owned by the publishing giant Edipresse, based in Lausanne at the other end of Lake Geneva, which owns several other papers. The TdeG has an English corner on its web site. I have yet to meet an English speaker who goes there regularly even though the reporting is adequate. Translations are used, and the reader feels it. The newspaper’s site hasn't found the right voice for the community, and TdeG needs to ask itself if a French language publication ever will. The English corner’s supposed community differs in too many ways from the newspaper's francophone readers. Community with one very strong tie

It all comes back to community, with emphasis on that root "comm". Most media outlets are designed to reach out to a group of people who can be clearly defined. They generally share common interests and points of view. What happens when the main thing the community shares is a language? Common starts to look like a tough word to apply. When that language is English it is a second or third language for a chunk of the community. It is nevertheless a crucial language because it is used for school, work, play and religion, key areas in our lives.GenevaLunch is a meeting place, open 24 hours, for the English-speaking community in the Lake Geneva region. The city of Geneva is one part of this, as is Lausanne and the towns around them. Students looking for research paper themes and good parties for Friday night are part of it. So are young professionals and staid middle managers and – the list is long.

“Great,” enthused journalist Ed Girardet, when I said this isn’t about the city of Geneva. He is a longtime special correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and a reporter for National Geographic, Time, the BBC and other media. He grew up in Morges, speaking three languages, and he now lives in France, with a wife who works in Geneva. For Ed, the GenevaLunch community must mean not just Geneva to Lausanne and back, but a larger geographic area, from Bern to Lyon and over to Torino.

Switzerland, France, Italy. Why not? In the end, the community may well define itself once it has a clearer voice than it now has.

There is a long tradition of this in community newspapers in the U.S., which often began life in an attempt to provide news coverage to straggling rural communities. William J. Gilmore-Lehne, a professor (died, 1999) at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, provided a rich history of American newspapers.

For some Geneva areas journalists, including wiseman Xavier Comtesse at the Swiss think tank, Avenir Suisse, this means finding the voices of experts and knowledgeable people and great writers in the Geneva area. Bill Dowell, who recently moved to Care International in Geneva, has similar thoughts. Xavier dismisses a Craig's List type media outlet for Geneva on several grounds, including killer workload for the editor, but mainly he doesn't find it very interesting. Craig’s lists assume people have nothing in common except the need to find each other for a specific reason, such as a job seeker and a company with a job, or a house hunter and house seller.

Pierre Grosjean and Gabriel Sigrist at Largeur.com, a press agency with a strong audience for its French language web site, are interested in the concept but they are concerned that the business model for a community newspaper doesn’t guarantee enough income to keep it afloat. Advertisers like narrowly defined audiences and this is the opposite.

A newsflow tweaks the future

GenevaLunch is above all an experiment, a laboratory for testing a new form of media. Blogs are being touted as the new media, but most often for the purpose of commentary, where blogs have already proven their value. Bruno Giussani has a good piece on The Guardian’s new collection of blogs, called “Comment is Free.”

The spreading excitement and fear about old media using blogs seems to me to overlook a key point: comment will never replace news reporting. Each needs the other. Comment has found a new home on the web, but can reporting do the same, using blogs?

There are dozens of issues, many unanswered questions. We could debate and speculate endlessly, something journalists love to do. I’ve decided we should keep talking about it, but also give it a try.


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