Democratizing our media

This past weekend, I attended the National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis. Organized by Free Press, the nation's largest media reform organization, the conference drew some 3,500 journalists, scholars, activists and concerned citizens for three days of lectures, workshops and panel discussions on the state of our nation's media at this critical moment for our democracy.

Some of the conference highlights included an opening talk by Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig on the connection between battling government corruption and media reform; Saturday morning's keynote address by the legendary Bill Moyers, who in the words of singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie called on us to "rekindle the patriot's dreams"; a Saturday night speech by Dan Rather that blasted the corporate press for its emphasis on boosting profits over delivering critical information; a packed screening of Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro's new film "Body of War"; and a rousing closing speech by Van Jones of Green for All about the moral responsibilities that come when a reform movement makes its way into the corridors of power. There were also moving presentations by journalist Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, and Bleeding Afghanistan author Sonali Kolhatkar.

There was just as much interesting action taking place outside the lecture halls. The Institute for Southern Studies was among the dozens of organizations set up inside the exhibit hall, where we had the chance to pass out our publications and talk one-on-one with an amazing array of journalists and activists from across the country. BirchBark Books, an independent bookstore founded by renowned author Louise Erdrich, was also there as the conference's official bookseller. And attendees had the chance to create their own sessions on a wide range of topics and to gather to talk about what's happening around media reform in various regions of the country.

Not surprisingly, the gathering inspired a backlash from some in the corporate media it critiqued. Before the conference even began, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News attacked it on the air as a gathering of "crazy" people and "real nuts." He also sent a producer to accost Moyers in what Democracy Now! called an "animated confrontation" -- a description that could also apply to filmmaker Robert Greenwald's response to the presence of Fox News at one panel discussion.

My head is still spinning as I try to digest all of the information I took in over the last three days. I'll be writing more about some of what I learned as well as linking to other attendees' thoughts. In the meantime, visit the Free Press Web site for more information. And if you haven't already signed up to receive the group's action alerts and other materials, please do -- for the sake of our democracy.