Hey, you can’t expect to avoid politics when you attend a national media reform conference. If you lean toward the elephant side, you probably don’t want to read this. If you are an elephant and you read this, don’t shoot the freaking indie messenger. Today seems to be a little less about the media and more about politics.
The first session I went to is titled From Broadcast to Broadband: The Next Frontier of Media Reform. Amy Goodman started out as the moderator thanking many people in attendance and wound up getting a huge amount of applause. She also gave a special mention of Birch Barks Books in Minneapolis, owned by Louise Erdrich which received another round of applause.
Freepress.net founder Robert W. McChesney was first up to the podium. He gave Amy Goodman big props as she is a tireless champion of Independent media. Another huge round of applause came (huge applauses are definitely a theme today). He claims our current administration has done little to help independent press and mentions that monopolies and big telcos don’t yet realize the full potential of independent media.
We shouldn’t lose site of the big picture, he says. Net neutrality is important in the digital area, but that’s just a start. Even if we win net neutrality, freedom of speech doesn’t translate to freedom of press. People are often frustrated by the policy makers who limit citizen input to the press. He gives the Seattle Times as an example of one paper who has done it right (more applause) partly because of their participation in the community.
Tim Wu from the Columbia University Law School is up next. He spoke yesterday in a session and again talked about his dark side (of the past). He used to sell and market a more controlled and discriminatory Internet. They had a simple message. Make the Internet like the cable network. Do that and big box companies will make more money, actually controlling what people could do on the Internet.
He gave a past analogy of 100 years ago. They had the invention of the radio, phone, and film. Back then there were dozens of competing phone companies. The first radio was actually like blogging. Anyone could do it, and it was actually easier to be a radio broadcaster 90 years ago than it is today.
The bell system then managed with the cooperation of the government. We all know what happened next.
Malkia Cyril from the Center for Media Justice was up next. She drew a lot of laughter when she joked that she had to go on the Internet to learn more about broadband. She is not an academic, but a grass roots organizer and claims that in a free trade economy, journalism will always have trouble. Regarding the media, we need to think about the 1st amendment that’s distributed across race, and taking the amendment away from millions of people when they move into prisons.
She claims that people interact with media based on what they watch, read, and listen to. They care about the Internet because that’s what they read and thus believe in. Also, people care about what’s happening where they live and we need to bring a media movement not from the beltway to the city, but the city to the beltway (more applause).
They had to open up the back panels for the second session titled Media and the War: An Unembedded View. There must have been over a thousand people at this session, and they were energized! This session was actually on Free Speech TV and it was electrifying (elephants, no need to read further). Norman Solomon is the moderator and is giving short descriptions of the panelists such as Phil Donahue, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, and Rev. Lennox Yearwood. Again, the applause is just incredible!
It started out with a clip of Phil Donahue’s Body of War movie with collages and people such as W, Cheney, and many others claiming proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and popular news feeds from places like CNN and MSNBC with anchors stating what has been found, which pretty much justified much of the public that it was in fact necessary to invade Iraq. Man, you could really see the different emotions in peoples eyes.
The point was that W and company were able to manipulate the media to convey their message and that the war was completely justified. Any claims that it was not at the time was just dismissed.
Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus is up first. Being a former US Air Force officer, his thoughts and prayers went out to the million + Iraqis who have been eliminated, and the Iraqis who are wounded and homeless. He is part of the US Veterans against the war (more applause). He also gave notice to the MPLS bridge collapse while we’re spending so much more in Iraq (that was cool of him). An eruption of applause came out when he said that we need to impeach our president.
He does mention that there’s a new blue-collar group of 18-30 year olds that are not going to college. He calls on to engage this group and organize this future generation of activists and leaders.
Towards the end he just lashed out. Fox News was there filming and he just slammed into them, blaming them for being complicit about the US troops that die every day in Iraq and complicit to the veterans who call him in the middle of the night who are on the verge of suicide from post war disorder. Here’s a picture of the audience during it.
Naomi Klein, author of the Shock Doctrine is up next and joked that she has a tough act to follow by speaking after Rev. Yearwood. She says it’s hard to cover the ongoing coverage of Iraq since it’s been so destroyed. They cant cover up as much anymore for the fear of their lives. She argues the war on terror doesn’t make since since a the war was cited by W as a war versus evil. The war on terror has now come home and is now based on immigrants.
Next up, none other than Phil Donahue himself. He might be the most compelling and eloquent speaker I’ve seen in a long time. His presentation was short but to the point.
He claims that media reform is less to do with media itself, but more from a general standpoint that this is not the nation our parents raised us to pledge allegiance for. He noted that he was the first person to be awarded the GLAD award back in 1983 and the movement has really grown since then.
“We can have any country we want! It’s up to us. We are never going to feel safe or be safe until we have leaders who speak out, not lash out.” He states that being against the war was not good for business. We had every paper supporting the war, but we needed more examples of corporate destruction than that.
Amy Goodman took the stage again and mentioned that it’s a good idea for us to demand Phil Donahue’s “Body of War” to be played in our local movie theaters. She talks about the people who have always been against the war. Where were these people when the media was talking about it? Well, they weren’t invited. When the lead up to the invasion, she stated that three of almost 400 anti-war pundits were invited to be on TV while the hundreds of pro-war advocates were in fact on TV.
Last up was Sonali Kolhatkar and was there to talk about Afghanistan. She states that the only changes in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban was on paper. Violence is actually up 50% now and where suicide bombers now thrive, they were non-existent prior to the war. She also states that the media hasn’t talked about that NATO has killed more Afghanistan civilians than the Taliban.
Ok, so that was just the morning. I decided to not blog the 3rd session (man it got tiring) but did blog the great last session titled Owning our Own and Reaching the Masses.
This session was a bit different as moderator Davey D interviewed Greg Watkins of AllHipHop.com, Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post, and newly added to the panel, Lizz Winstead, co-creator of Air America Radio and the well-known Daily Show (she is flat out funny!). I jot down notes as fast as I could so here goes:
Greg says they filled a void by eclipsing newspapers by making AllHipHop.com its own direct place and medium for users to get their information. He also states that they understand their audience and do everything they can to understand them further to what the users want. Know your audience, and by doing that you have to also be that audience.
Davey D then notes that what Barack Obama did with social media has been done in some way for a long time in the hip hop industry.
Greg: This is obviously where everything is going (noting social technology). He loves technology and tries to find something new all the time. He states his cell phone as an example to do absolutely anything.
Davey D: All Hip Hop found a way to deliver news to those who don’t have a computer.
Greg: The TV spectrum will also open up when it goes digital in 2009. Taking this bandwidth will make mobile devices much faster.
Davey D to Arianna: What void did you try to fill when creating the Huffington Post?
Arianna: It started after they (John Kerry) lost the election in 2004. As a result, she brought people together, including younger people to attract an audience who didn’t even necessarily agree with her.
They do three things: Aggregation is one, and blogging is another. This has been huge with them and they strive to make it easy for bloggers to use their platform. They also have a strict policy to only allow quality posts and to never, ever accept posts about conspiracy theories. They believe that the simple facts allow them to succeed.
Community is the third part. In addition to blogging, people need to comment and the Huffington Post has been very successful in making this happen. This often brings people to the Huffington Post who might not even care about politics and they start reading posts.
Davey D: When you were inviting people to your blog, you got to know your audience. Did you have particular readers in mind?
Arianna: Everyone with a computer (more audience laughter)! She drew more laughter when she mentioned of a logo she has used stating something like “surfing for news since 2005”. They just try to get people. Red, blue, it doesn’t matter.
One example on this is that she received a link to the entertainment section from Perez Hilton. It brought a huge amount of traffic, and a small section found something else on their site and has retained readership greatly.
Davey D: People of color have challenges. When looking at the Huffington Post, does one size fit all or do you think we need more younger people or more people of color?
Arianna: It’s definitely important to reach out and states that their youngest blogger is 13. They’re always looking for people whether their younger, older, black, or white.
Now it’s time for some Lizz.
First, she mentions the cool thing about the Huffington Post is progressives can get mad at each other there. It’s a positive step saying “wow, I don’t get where he/she’s coming from”. That’s fine as it brings readers back.
Davey D: How did the Daily Show start off? Was it your goal to produce official news?
Lizz: She stated she actually started out doing political comedy. At the time John had a syndicated show. When it came official and daily, they basically said they wanted to pick on the news. She was sure about it at first, but she started seeing a cool theme.
They eventually were able to make the war more of a reality show. They needed to take on how fear mongering media was feeding us news and putting their own satirical spin on it. She wanted to use humore and to show the hypocrisy in the media.
Davey D: One of the criticism to people on the left is that they are very serious, almost preachy. The right sometimes pretend to be humorous and intelligent at the same time. Should they use humor? How does the celebrity culture play in this as well?
Lizz: States they’re doing something new called Shoot the Messenger. She jokes with audience laughter about morning shows are run 23 hours a day. When you reduce people to their idiocy, she has a problem with that. She made a hilarious analogy stating that people turn on Dancing with the Stars because when they turn on the news they watch achors TALKING about Dancing with the Stars. Again, the audience erupted in laughter.
Arianna then joked about pretty, young blonds who anchor MSNBC reporting on missing pretty, young blonds.
Davey D to Greg: We talk about a target audience. Should you be looking for others like people who do not have the Internet?
Greg: Everything we do is a distribution game. How do we get our information to our readers include the Internet, cell phones, RSS feeds, print newspapers, and whichever other means that they can. He also notes that 70% of their users are in the US and they’re out to go more global.
Davey D: Is it important for All Hip Hoop to be black run?
Greg: He made a funny statement something like – it’s important that I run it along with my partner. I’m half black and my partner is black. So I guess it’s important if you count it like that.
Davey D to Arianna: Did a sound business plan happen with the Huffington Post?
Arianna: We started asking family and friends for support and just went from there. They don’t pay their bloggers although they do pay their editors.
Davey D to Arianna and Lizz: What do you think about Al Franken and his chances? And can a comedian be a Senator?
Arianna: Well, about an hour ago he just got endorsed by his party (audience again erupted in support).
Lizz: With comedy, the flat truth is that not everyone is going to think it’s funny. If you’re funny, you’re going to make people think, and not everyone is going to like that.
So, that’s day 2. There’s one more session tomorrow morning plus a closing keynote. More to come.