Media topic of next two talks in Charlemont Forum series






For the Recorder

Published: 06-17-2024 9:50 AM

Modified: 06-18-2024 9:06 AM

CHARLEMONT — The next two programs in the annual Charlemont Forum series are united by a common theme: the media.

Ted Conover, an immersion journalist, will talk about his approach to journalistic projects on Thursday, June 20, at 7 p.m. Jackie Jesko, an award-winning filmmaker and most recently the creator of the documentary series “Savior Complex,” will tell attendees about truth in our current media landscape on Thursday, July 18, also at 7 p.m. Both events will take place at the Charlemont Federated Church and can be accessed remotely via a link available at

Conover, a professor of journalism at New York University, recently wrote “Cheap Land Colorado: Off-Gridders at America’s Edge,” a book about people living in remote, rural areas of Colorado.

“It’s gotten really expensive to live — just the housing costs all over the country have skyrocketed,” Conover said. “And this is still a place where you can still live really cheap and I thought, ‘I’d love to see how people do that.’”

To do that, Conover immersed himself in communities of people living off the grid for weeks at a time, traveling between Colorado and his home in New York.

Conover considers his work to be a blend between ethnography and journalism. His first book, “Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails with America’s Hoboes,” was published in 1984 when Conover was an anthropology undergraduate. He adapted it from a third-person ethnography created for a school project, transforming it into a first-person narrative to appeal to a wider audience.

“I just wondered if there was something that might be partway between anthropology and journalism that I could do, and I thought of the culture of railroad trams as a way to see if that was possible,” Conover said.

Since his first project, Conover feels he’s changed as a writer.

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“I’ve gotten a little more skilled at figuring out how I might fit in and what the story might be. … I’d say as I’ve matured as a writer, the chronology changes more to the lives of the people I’m writing about, not 100%, but I lean into them for stories more than I used to,” he said.

Jesko, also a journalist, works as a filmmaker as well. Her 2023 television series “Savior Complex” followed the story of an American missionary in Uganda who treated children despite not having medical training, and who is accused of causing the deaths of 105 children.

She will be discussing what she calls “the weird economics of truth” — the ways in which money dictates what gets media attention.

“News and documentaries, these are all businesses, right?” Jesko said. “And so they rely on the attention of the public to survive, and so that creates an industry push toward certain things, certain kinds of stories, that sell, and sell in the sense that people want to watch them, they get eyeballs. … Even the news relies on commercial ad revenue to stay on. And so it’s interesting to examine the ways in which this impacts what is reported on the news or what is told in a documentary format.”

The Charlemont Forum has been bringing thought-provoking speakers to the community since 2010, and is looking forward to having Jesko and Conover present this summer, according to organizer Mary Ann Adams.

More information, as well as the Zoom links for the two talks, can be found at