Voices to Be Heard
Conversations on the Green
It all began eight years ago as a means to raise money for local charities and to bring speakers of note to the Litchfield Hills. Thus, thanks to Jane Whitney and her husband Lindsey Gruson, Conversations on the Green was born.
“It was partially organic and partially planned,” says Gruson, a former New York Times correspondent. “A group of local people wanted to start a speakers’ series but it never quite got off the ground. As a reporter I learned that it doesn’t matter what topic you choose, there are people who have devoted entire lives to that question. Why not bring in speakers who are experts on whatever you want to learn?”
Which is exactly what they did. And, as Gruson pointed out when he presented the concept, they would need a moderator. Enter Jane Whitney. During her 25-year career in television, Whitney was a correspondent for NBC News based in Central America and a reporter for >Entertainment Tonight. She also anchored broadcasts for PBS, CNN and CNBC.
The mission of Conversations on the Green is to educate and invigorate the community through discussions of the country’s most provocative issues and ideas. It has done that in spades. It transcends conventional boundaries to examine historical, political, social and ethical perspectives and cross-pollinate diverse but interrelated ideas. And the roster of speakers reads like the Who’s Who of the most influential and well-known authors, newscasters, historians, scientists and analysts of the 20th and 21st centuries: Chris Hayes, Nicolle Wallace, Jahana Hayes, Jim Acosta, Malcolm Nance, Jeffrey Toobin, Donna Shalala, Bret Stephens, William vanden Heuvel, David Jolly and Seth Meyers, to name but a few. Even though they are experts in their fields, the speakers are not paid. They are willing to participate in these conversations because they are eager to share their thoughts and to be part of an event orchestrated by Whitney, one of the best moderators in the business.
The programs run once a month from May through October. Originally they were in a town hall format, due to the pandemic, COG has had to make some adjustments.
“We had a concept and the corona virus forced us to change priorities,” explains Whitney. “From a technical point of view, it’s been extraordinarily intense and time-consuming. The good news is that we can reach a wider audience. I have never done socially distant television in my life, a show that doesn’t involve being in a studio with people. It taps into an entirely different discipline.”
When COG was live, the audience was confined to those who lived in the Litchfield Hills and its environs, but now that it is virtual its reach has expanded.
“The good part is it’s easier to get speakers,” says Gruson. “They don’t have to fly in and stay over. Moreover, you don’t have to leave your house to come to the event. Someone in Chicago can now see it and we are trying to expand our base to other states and countries. We have a much bigger pool to draw from, but we also have more expenses and ticket prices have taken a beating.”
But, as they say, one door closes, another opens. After the 90-minute show is screened it is edited down to an hour and broadcast on CPTV. It is also made available to every PBS outlet in the country. Additionally, after it is run on television, it is put up on COG’s website and a podcast of the event is made available on every major podcast platform.
“I have to thank Tim Rasmussen, chief content director at CPTV, and his team,” says Gruson. “They took a technology that is not easy to handle and mastered the feat of putting three to four people in different places together on the screen. Technologically, they had to buy new equipment and learn to use it. Point TV is working with is as well.”
On Sunday, June 28th, Whitney will moderate Democracy in Color featuring MSNBC host Joy Reid, civil rights activist, Maya Wiley, and political analyst, Jason Johnson, who will discuss the role of race in American politics and how identity issues will shape the 2020 campaign for the presidency and Congress.
Because of its timeliness and importance, this event is being made available free of charge. However, any donations are accepted and appreciated as the proceeds will support local charities.
“The pandemic has cut into the amount of money we can raise for the charities,” says Gruson. “This year we are supporting Greenwoods Counseling & Referrals, Susan B Anthony Project and New Milford Hospital. I think that, as is being proven during the pandemic, hospitals are an unappreciated asset of the community. We’ve also added the American Nurses Foundation Corona Virus Fund.”
“Given the panel and the subject, it just made sense to drop the pay wall,” adds Whitney.
To watch Whitney as she poses her questions and encourages—and challenges—her panelists is as exciting as the show itself. Her passion is evident and her knowledge extraordinary.
“It has always excited me,” says Whitney. “Spending six full days at my desk, researching a show, annotating articles and spending time putting information in my head because I don’t use any notes. The most important thing for me is to listen. Once I put all this time in behind the scenes, I get to have a conversation with amazing people—that’s the most exciting part of the process.”
Conversations on the Green is now a 501(c) 3 organization and a television show with a cultural enrichment series. Whitney and Gruson are the mainstay and work with a dedicated group of volunteers.
Next up in the schedule is July 26th: Prescient Predictions—Who Won 2020 with Steve Kornacki, Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, and David Axelrod; followed by America Standing Tall: U.S. Foreign Policy with Madeleine Albright, Wendy Sherman and Senator Chris Murphy on August 18th.
For more information and to register, please visit the link below.