Monday, January 22, 2007

The Stakes Are High: A Brief Recap on The National Conference for Media Reform

Starbucks has virtually wiped out independent coffee shops, Wal-mart has killed the corner store, and media conglomerates have devastated locally produced newspapers, television stations, and radio programs across the nation. The domination of local markets from coast to coast is rapidly increasing, along with the monopolization of information that the public receives. Television news broadcasts are now laced with sensationalism; sitcoms are filled with the product placements that aim to turn entertainment into infomercials; and news about local community projects, or reports on such important topics as the rise in diabetes, are frequently interrupted by coverage of high-speed pursuits or celebrity scandals.

It’s a fact that replacing home-cooked meals with a steady diet of Big Macs is a serious problem. Likewise, as Eric Klinenberg explains in his book, Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media, replacing well-researched, quality media with a twenty-four-hour, all-you-can-eat-buffet of stale, extra-crispy news is crushing and destroying creative and independent voices. “With media the stakes are higher,” argues Klinenberg, “because both cultural diversity and democracy in American require a rich and varied supply of news and information in the public sphere.” Kleinberg is not alone. Thousands of individuals and political groups across the nation believe the stakes have already gotten high enough.

On January 12th through the 14th, the 3rd annual National Convention for Media Reform was conducted in Memphis, Tennessee. With a scholarship from the Free Press, and the support of the American Forum/Youth Media Justice Project in Atlanta, Alexa Harris, a senior Comparative Women’s Studies major at Spelman College and the 2005-2006 managing editor for the Spelman Spotlight newspaper, embarked on a life-changing journey to learn about media reform with nine other students from the Atlanta area.

Over 3,500 students, educators, freelance writers, staff journalists, and political activists gathered at the Cook Convention Center in downtown Memphis to discuss the numerous injustices plaguing the media, and methods with which to solve them. “Prior to attending the event,” said Harris, “I had no idea that media reform was such a huge issue nationwide, let alone that so many social and political activists with a passion for media justice even existed.”

Open-minded and ready to learn, Harris explained that because the National Media Reform Conference taught her a great deal she wants to share her experience with other students--especially young African-Americans in the Atlanta University Center. The speech by Bill Moyers of National Public Radio against “The Plantation Mentality” of media owners and the speech done by Jessie Jackson from the Rainbow Push Coalition about “Freedom’s Obligation” to all citizens, according to Harris, were two extremely informative and enlightening events at the conference. Three additional lessons stood out in her mind, as well, and were taught to her by prominent African-Americans who served as panelists throughout the weekend: Attorney LaVonda Reed Huff from the Syracuse University School of Law; Christopher Rabb, founder of the Web site, Afro-Netizen; and Lisa Fager, founder of the Web-based think tank, Industry Ears.

“During the ‘Race and Gender Matters in Media Ownership’ session on the first day of the conference,” said Harris, “attorney LaVonda Reed-Huff, from Syracuse University School of Law, conducted a dynamic presentation titled ‘Preserving Black Radio'…[H]er presentation discussed the history of Black news radio in America and the important impact it played on uplifting and uniting a conscience and active Black community.” Harris further explained that Huff said she believes that “there is a connection between the lack of social and political news on “urban” radio stations today and white ownership.” In her lecture, Huff explained that by finding ways that don’t require governmental support, women and minorities can overcome the barriers created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that prevent women and people of color from gaining media ownership. “[Huff’s] hope is that with more Black radio ownership, more social and political news with a balanced prospective can be brought back to the radio airwaves,” said Harris.

Harris also elaborated on what she learned in the session, “Citizen Journalism: Making an Impact in a New Media Landscape,” where Christopher Rabb was a panelist. “In addition to the other panelists, [Rabb] discussed ways journalists use the Internet to reach the masses, particularly through blogging,” Harris said. Rabb shared a story about his transformation into becoming an “Afro-netizen,” a term he created to identify himself as an African-American citizen who uses the Internet and who has a voice. That voice, Harris said, came “after realizing that white, ivy-league educated males were dominating the blogging world and that the content in their blogs did not relate to people of color, particularly in the Black community…[H]e decided to create a place for commentary about social and political issues that are pertinent to the Black community.” He created a Web site (Afro-Netizen) which, in his own words, is “dedicated to informing, inspiring, and engaging Afro-netizens and the community they touch.”

Another panelist Harris met during a networking event was Lisa Fager. “Fager has a great deal of media experience from working in both music and television industries. Because of her wealth of knowledge and yearning for media justice -- particularly for children who are unlawfully exposed to hip-hop music -- she has began a Web site called Industry Ears,” said Harris. According to its mission statement on the Web site, Industry Ears is a “new-generation, non-partisan think tank aimed at addressing and finding solutions to disparities in media that negatively impact individuals and communities.”

According to Harris, the “most interesting [aspect of] Fager’s work is a project she created for college level students.” The students in two of her classes were to listen to the radio for one hour a day during the hours of 6am-10pm and document the songs and lyrics that played within the hour. “The reason for this,” explains Harris, “was because the FCC states ‘it is illegal to broadcast sexually explicit content between the hours of 6am-10pm’” Harris noted that throughout the study, students documented numerous songs on the radio that violated this law and after each student complained to the FCC using the four methods of communication (e-mail, phone call, snail mail and fax), they were given no feedback.

“I believe conferences such as the National Media Reform Conference are imperative, especially for people underrepresented in media ownership and with unbalanced images in the media, because they give ignored voices a chance to speak on issues that are typically ignored by mainstream media outlets,” said Harris. “These conferences serve as a place for one to not only become educated about the latest issues that plague our freedom of speech -- such as corporations that are working against net neutrality [access for all to the internet] -- but also serve as a place for voices to be heard and groups from across the country to come together, have a support system and become encouraged in the fight against media injustice.”

--Irene Rose De Lilly
Spelman College '09
English major
Features editor,
Maroon Tiger newspaper

--Alexa Harris
Spelman College '07
Comparative Women's Studies Through Digital Media
Managing editor, 2005-2006,
Spelman Spotlight newspaper

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Farewell, Memphis!

photo © 2007 W. Hassan Marsh

Sunday, January 14, 2007

07 convention wrap-up

Overall, this experience was excellent! I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with all the different types of people -- educators, activists, and everybody. I think this was (is) an excellent opportunity to network with people who are otherwise, because of demanding schedules, unavailable for personal contact. The sessions were well timed, very informative, and also very motivating.

Of course, there are some things that can be improved. It seemed as if some of the vendors here were more concerned with exercising their right to assemble than advancing the message, because some things were sold that were contradictory to the cause. But that’s the great thing about America -- free will.

And, also, for those with a high level of education who may be reading this, one word of advice: Always remember that in order to effect change, you have to be able to communicate effectively with the targeted audience. At times, it seemed as if people were more interested in flexing their own intellectual muscles than really reaching-teaching-educating the people. It seemed that everyone wants to reach the masses, but one thing that is forgotten is that the majority of the affected masses only understand basic things, and it is our job to interpret into everyday language what may sometimes be complex issues. So, just always remember to keep in mind the audience when deciding which language to use.

But, like I said, this experience was great. I learned a lot. I was informed on a lot of issues that are very important, and I can’t wait to do my part in spreading the word on some of the more pressing issues.

--Donzell T. Floyd

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Beeping and Blogging: The Beginnings of Reforming the Media

The most annoying beeping sound is coming from somewhere in this overcrowded lobby of Memphis’s Cook Convention Center. You’re probably wondering what that has to do with anything, but I promise you I have a point. I was peacefully sleeping, hidden behind the America Forum’s booth, when Vanessa pointed out the beep. At the moment, it doesn’t seem like the activists, students, journalists, independent media personnel, and free-lance writers notice the noise. However, that little noise is probably the only reason I’m writing right now. Honestly, I didn’t get much sleep last night and if it wasn’t for that “beep, beep, beep” in the background of all the media reforming happening all around me, I would be knocked out on this table.

So since I’m going to be “blogging,” like the rest of my generation, I might as well talk about my experiences thus far at The National Conference for Media Reform. I’m starting to realize that I’m not only here because of someone’s generosity and my own curiosity, but here because I have a responsibility to “make the connection.”

Christopher Rabb from Afro-Netizen said, in a panel discussion this morning about citizen journalism, that his privilege -- as an educated person with access to gadgets and credit -- does not burden him with guilt, but motivates him to inform and aid those who do not have the same access and resources. I feel like this conference and all the knowledge I am gaining from it is a privilege, one I didn’t have to have. So many young people have the ambition and desire to pursue careers they are passionate about, but they do not have the support, guidance, and resources they need to move forward. They many not have people or mentors in their lives who are pushing them, informing them, and helping them see the opportunities in their lives. I do not feel burdened; I feel liberated.

Liberation -- freedom -- is something Danny Glover also covered in his speech yesterday morning. I listened intently and strained to see over people’s tripods as he explained the logic behind Dr. Martin Luther King’s definition of freedom. “[Freedom] is, first, the capacity to deliberate alternatives,” Glover said. “Freedom expresses itself in decision making…if we do not choose we sink into thinghood.” Glover then went on to say that it is our responsibility to make change and make decisions that will promote positive change in the world. And as I make my rounds around the lobby, filled to the brim with enthusiastic writers, thinkers, and activists, I’m quickly learning it’s time for me to play a role in actually making things happen.

--Irene Rose De Lilly
Spelman College ‘09

Friday, January 12, 2007

Whose responsibility?

I just came from one of the conference workshops and some very interesting points were raised. One that I whole heartedly agree with is that minority media ownership does not mean good content. Although we need to have minorities own more radio stations or TV networks, with ownership comes responsibility.

One of the main reasons for pursuing media ownership is to tell stories about your community, or just from your point of view that is not being addressed by mainstreem media. Also, remember that media ownership does not have to be on a grand scale. There are many students who have graduated from Clark Atlanta University (CAU) who have started their own magazines and online publications; this is media ownership, and I have seen them handle their roles as owners responsibly.

We have to take ownership of how we are represented in the media and, in turn, how people perceive us. I applaud black networks, such as The Black Family Channel, that put out positive, informative and entertaining programming. But can everyone get this channel? No. Let's take charge.

I have to go now; they're rushing me off so others can put their thoughts down on paper -- well, I guess it's more like "on screen."

--Sharon Ochoa

Expecting the unexpected...

Or can the unexpected happen when you have no expectations?

I came to this media conference to learn and absorb information, but I really had no concept of what type of weekend I was about to have.

So far I am staying in a youth hostel for the first time and I wasn't the only one who didn't know that there even were hostels in America. I thought it was strictly a backpacking-across-Europe-in-Birkenstocks type of thing.

The house is true communal living -- without communal bathing, thankfully. They have a water-conservation bathroom. Really. If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down -- but only one for those who are into that kinda thing. Shared chores, labeled food, kinda expect everyone to be sitting around on floor cushions singing with a guitar.

We arrived well after midnight and had to be ready to roll with only a few hours of good sleep. I am rooming with four other females, including the editor-in-chief of "Atlanta's most widely read magazine," and the youngest in our group is a well-known blogger who has traveled around the world on a mission to help protect the environment. And this morning, right after breakfast, I shook hands with Jesse Jackson! There is so much more I want to say, but I think I will save that for later...My weekend has just begun.

--Vanessa Bartley
Clark Atlanta University

Reforming media

The sight of so many people from different personal and professional backgrounds seeking social change through media is, in a word, inspiring.

--Danielle Jackson

Gulf Coast Mainline

Traveling with the young people of the Youth Media Justice Project is the Rev. Marjani Dele, an activist who also works with young people in the City of New Orleans. Rev. Marjani asked YMJP to post the following message:

Live from the National Conference for Media Reform

Help us to launch...

...a national communications channel connecting displaced persons from the 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We are working to provide them with vital information and soulful inspiration for rebuilding lives...

Check out our previous live broadcasts through the Pacifica radio Network or log on to

MISSION launch an internet radio station which broadcasts survivor information weekly while providing a venue for spoken word artists and healing circles. We want to train young adults from New Orleans in the production and hosting of radio shows.

... Prometheus Project is willing to produce a training workshop in New Orleans for the youth slated to initiate the effort

...The New Orleas Boys and Girls Club, Treme Center, Ashe Center and high school activists have expressed an interest in pursuing this effort...

....Later this year, Into Afrika Inc. will host retreats for participants at Into Afrika's new site in southern Virginia


To participate, click here to e-mail Rev. Marjani
Or call 202.276.7634