Brian Vines first learned to watch television — not just passively, but in an intellectually engaged way — from his grandmother who was blind.
“I was her eyes,” he says. “When the news report was about urban blight, she’d ask, ‘What pictures are they showing? What does urban blight look like?’ So, I had to tell her, ‘It looks like three Black guys on the corner with a basketball.’ ‘What does it look like when Wall Street has a bad day?’ ‘Oh, there’s a bunch of white guys sitting on the curb loosening their ties.’ ”
Vines is a journalist for BRIC TV, a community television channel in Brooklyn — his show is called Going In With Brian Vines — so he is well aware of the power of words and images, and how they influence people’s perceptions.
Vines — along with artist Maynard Monrow — is a resident at Twenty Summers’ Hawthorne Barn this week. “Provincetown is not unknown to me,” says Vines. When he was a grad student at B.U., he’d stay in B&Bs here on weekends during the off season. “I’m excited to be having the experience of coming there with my husband now, who’s never been,” he says.
His talk on Saturday, June 5 will be about the role of community journalism in telling the story of climate migrants — people forced to move because of climate change.
“It was prompted by these images that you see of people who’ve been displaced because of wars or famine or environmental or natural disasters,” says Vines. “I felt personally far removed from it, but emotionally, it’s very resonant.
“I wanted to look and see how community media is telling the story of their new neighbors,” he continues. “Who are these people who’ve moved in with us? Are they our country cousins who are only an interstate drive away? Are they people with different food, language, customs?”
It’s an issue that should matter to people on the Cape. Our fragile peninsula is especially threatened by climate change. We also have a problem with racial diversity, not to mention a massive housing crisis.
Vines grew up in Chicago and did his B.A. in international relations at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. But he was always fascinated by perceptions of the media. So, he got an M.A. in broadcast journalism at B.U. “I’ve never not worked in journalism since that day that I graduated,” he says.
As an undergraduate, he was awarded a fellowship to do research comparing the Promise Keepers Rally and the Million Man March. When it came time to do the presentation, Vines was nervous. He was worried his audience would assume he had come to a forgone conclusion because of his race.
He asked his adviser for guidance. “She said to me, ‘Brian, you’ve done the work. Now you just have to have the courage to tell the truth.’ I’ve carried that with me for the rest of my career and everything I do.”
Vines says that journalism is all about connecting with people. He occasionally gets recognized on the New York subway, which he loves.
“They talk to me about my bedbugs, because I did a story on it,” he says. “They talk to me about elections. They talk to me about the story or the question that I should have asked. They hold me accountable. And I don’t think that’s something that happens in the mainstream corporate media.”
On the difference between print and broadcast journalism, Vines says, “If you’re doing it right, there’s not a lot of difference between the two.” But broadcast journalists have perhaps even greater responsibility: While reading a newspaper takes some effort, television is ubiquitous, conveniently packaged, and easy to consume. Accuracy and integrity are always more important than ratings, he argues.
Whether or not one cares about the issue of America’s climate migrants, says Vines, his talk on Saturday “really is my love letter to community media, something that has been so formative and transformative for me personally and professionally. I just hope that people leave with a sense of what it means to invest in community media and how vitally important it is for all stories.”
The event: “Hello Neighbor: Climate Migrants and Community Journalism,” a Zoom talk with Brian Vines
The time: Saturday, June 5, 3 to 4 p.m.
The place: Register at 20summers.org
The cost: Free