Aldon Hynes's blog

Let the conversation begin

(Cross posted at Greater Democracy)

At the Journalism that Matters conference, JTM, in Memphis the other week, I was struck by the parallels of the second and fourth estates. For the second estate, I’m thinking of that political class that most resembles the nobility of the Ancien Regime.

For the past forty years, political discourse has been dominated by broadcast politics, the art of the sound byte. Starting somewhere between 2000 and 2004, the interest started to change these dynamics. Jock Gill has suggested we are moving into an era of post-broadcast politics, and Nathan Wilcox has refined this to talk about networked politics.

Whatever we call it, political discourse is moving from a broadcast monologue to a dialogue or perhaps even a multilogue where even lateral communications is encouraged. At JTM, I wondered aloud if we are seeing something similar happen in the fourth estate. No longer are the readers and viewers of the press satisfied to simply be told what local editors or the most trusted man in America thinks is important. We want to talk back. We want to engage in a conversation.

In 2004, Gov. Dean was noted for saying, “The biggest lie people like me tell people like you is that if you vote for me, I’ll solve all your problems. The truth is, You have the power.” Perhaps readers and viewers are looking for the same sort of transformation in the Fourth Estate. We can go to our conferences on Media Reform where one new organization or another tries to position itself as the group that will solve all our media problems, but perhaps what we are looking for is an editor or anchor to acknowledge that we have the power and to work with us in making the best use of that power.

Many people attribute the printing press as the tool that brought about fundamental changes to the First Estate. Will the Internet bring these changes to the Second and Fourth Estates? Will a leader in the Fourth Estate rise up and tell us we have the power of media reform and help us make the best use of that power?

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Bridging Media Reform

There have been two parallel conferences in Memphis dealing with media reform. One was the Journalism that Matters conference. (See Ilona's write-up about this event.) This was a small group made up mostly of print journalists and academics struggling with changes in the economic models affecting the news industry and how journalism can survive, and to use the language of one attendee, be deserving of its first amendment rights. The other was around three thousand grassroots activists. I was fortunate to attend sessions from both conferences and have been thinking a lot about what goes on from here.

The stodgy old print journalists used open space techniques to promote conversation, and while I as one of the few representatives of new digital media may have been perceived as a threat or interloper by some, we had great discussions. The conference ended with people sitting around in a circle talking about next steps. What sort of innovations will be brought back to the newsrooms across our country?

The facilitator of the sessions had commented about open space techniques being used for large conferences as well. Some may be skeptical of whether this could be used at a conference as large as the National Conference on Media Reform, it is an interesting idea to ponder, because the media reform folks, struck me as much more traditional. There were the standard keynotes. Sen. Sanders delivered what in other circles might be called a good ‘red meat’ speech to fire people up. Although, here, it might better be referred to as a well seasoned tofu. There were the panels, mostly white men sitting up front, broadcasting to the audience, with the token woman or black, and the token Q&A at the end of the session.

Don’t get me wrong. There were some great presentations and I don’t think the conference was trying to simply meet quotas of people of color and women. There were also some great discussions, many of which took place over coffee between sessions. I was simply struck by the contrast between the traditional people exploring new ways of communicating and the reformers staying with fairly old methods.

Perhaps it was because of being included in the Journalism that Matters conference that I was thinking more about bridging between different groups, of being a bumblebee carrying pollen from one group to the next that I attended sessions that were not in areas I spend a lot of time thinking about.

I’m glad I did, because the two session I like best were “There is No Media Justice Without Women: Models for Feminist Media Action” and “Make the Music with Your Mouth Kid: Hip-Hop Activism for Media Justice” I was disappointed that more of the ivy league educated young straight white men were not at these sessions, because I do believe that the most exciting media reform is coming out of these sessions.

At the feminist session, my mind wandered back to classes in feminism I took in the seventies. There was a sense of the importance of looking at the underlying structures, which I wish more people were doing. There was a discussion about the importance of telling our stories, stories of real life, not filtered through the eyes of editors telling us what they think is important.

The Hip-Hop session built nicely on the feminist session and I have a few clips from it up on Blip.TV. Links that I brought with me from the sessions include Hip-Hop lives here, the Texas Media Empowerment Project, Third World Majority (Culture is a Weapon), Women in Media and News and Reclaim the Media. If you want to see exciting media reform happening, go visit these sites.

Sunday morning, I went to a session on a topic I’ve been following closely, “Civics on Steroids: Turning Average Citizens into Media Reform Activists”. Bob McCannon Rob Williams from the Action Coalition on Media Education (ACME) gave a shortened version of their shtick on media education. If you ever get a chance to here them speak, don’t miss it. And if you want to really reform the media, ACME is a great starting point.

The conference ended with Van Jones delivering a rousing keynote calling people to action. He pointed out that Martin Luther King, Jr. was known for saying “I have a dream”, not for saying “I have a complaint”. There is plenty to complain about with our media today, but conferences like Journalism that Matters and the National Conference on Media Reform can be venues to find powerful ways to bring about meaningful media reform.

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Statewide wireless

Over on MyLeftNutmg, MattW points out Rep. Tom Drew’s proposed bill, Proposed Bill No. 6502, AN ACT CONCERNING WIRELESS INTERNET ACCESS.

That the general statutes be amended to establish a working group to make recommendations for creating incentives to expand or maximize wireless Internet access in the state.

On initial reading, this sounds like a great idea. Statewide WiFi. As I commented on MyLeftNutmeg:

As a starting point, every public building ought to have WiFi. Schools, libraries, town halls, court houses, police stations, etc. Some already do, and many others can without much work.

Getting WiFi at parks and Community Technology Centers probably brings even more bang for the buck, but is harder get through.

Yet the devil is always in the details. Who will be in the working group? What will happen to the recommendations? What sort of incentives are being considered? Will the group be made up of industry executives pushing for proposals for large corporate giveaways to get the corporations to make $30/month WiFi access more ubiquitous? Will the group be made up of technogeeks pushing for some wonderful but arcane and unusable solution? Will the recommendations end up being one more set of recommendations that get added to a library somewhere and not acted upon? We shall see.

How will this “maximize economic and other development” in our State? Will it be done in such a way that helps alleviate the digital divide, or will it compound the digital divide with policies that make it useful only to people that already have WiFi enabled laptops and the knowledge of how to use them.

I hope that we get a lot of people working together to make sure that this bill does bring about greater Internet access for a wide spectrum of citizens.

"The War on Journalism" - Updated

This morning, I received a phone call from Sergeant Hanlon of Group 12, the internal affairs bureau of the New York City Police Department. My wife was a little concerned about why a Sergeant from the New York City Police was calling me, but when she understood the details, she handed the phone over to me. He was calling in regards to the email I had sent about "The War on Journalism".

Sergeant Hanlon said that the Police Department and received several emails about the event at the Mexican Consulate and that many videos had emerged online. The Police Department’s Video Unit is reviewing the online videos and will be providing information to Sergeant Hanlon. He will be handling the investigation from there.

If any people have additional information they should contact Sergeant Hanlon at 212 694 3115. Sergeant Hanlon was very helpful in providing information and hopefully will conduct a thorough investigation into what happened.

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Are bloggers Group Psychotherapists?

This may sound like a strange question, but I think it is well worth exploring. I’ve been on the road for the past week attending two different conferences on media and journalism. One of the questions that always comes up is, “Are bloggers journalists?” It is an old question that many people are getting tired of. Blogging is a medium; websites with content posted in reverse chronological order. Bloggers may use this format for journalism, advocacy, naval gazing or a myriad of other purposes. So, on the simplest level, bloggers are not necessarily journalists, group psychotherapists, or anything else. They are simply people writing things in a specific format.

So, why am I asking this question then? Well, on my return, I found my mailbox full of all kinds of stuff to sort through including an interesting discussion on a group psychotherapy mailing list about the pros, cons and ethics of group psychotherapy online.

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