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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