The American media is horribly dysfunctional but you have the power to change it.

June 22, 2008 | By | Reply More

This was the third year I attended the National Conference for Media Reform sponsored by Free Press. This year’s conference was held in Minneapolis. As in previous media reform conferences, I was reminded about many of the hurdles faced by those American citizens who are attempting to get serious and coherent coverage of the news. By “news,” I mean the type of information that is critically important in order to prepare us to make good decisions as citizens (i.e., voting). One of the most distressing things one learns from attending the conference is that very little news is available to those watch local TV “news” and read their local “news”papers.

One of the fundamental principles of Free Press is that there cannot be a healthy democracy without a vigorous news media. The problem is that our news media is sickly, poisoned by rampant commercialism. The modern corporate media is over-consolidated to such an extent that it reflexively kowtows to political power and repeatedly refuses to challenge abuses of that power.

McChesney/Nichols – Part I

Topics covered in Part I:

  • Is the media reform movement paying too much attention to Bill O’Reilly and FOX?
  • The basic aims of the media reform movement.
  • More on Free Press and the reason for the media reform movement.
  • The problem with over-consolidation of the media.

Free Press stands for the proposition that there is no stark divide between journalists and citizens. Rather, there are also citizen-journalists, those of us who take media issues seriously and want to contribute important information as well as being consumers of information. This outlook dovetails nicely with the basic premise of Web 2.0. Free Press offers bloggers like me the opportunity to register at the convention as “Press.” I took advantage of that option this year (as I did last year). This allowed me several opportunities to attend sessions specifically geared to “The Press.”

This year, one of those special sessions consisted of a presentation of many of the concerns and principles of the media reform movement by two of the primary founders of the movement, Robert McChesney and John Nichols of Free Press.  Robert McChesney, a professor of Communications at the University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana, is widely regarded as one of the foremost media historians in the United States. Author John Nichols is a founding board member of Free Press.

I brought a cheap camcorder and a tripod to that session and I recorded the entire interview. I have now finished editing the session by summarizing the questions with title screens and breaking the session into four 10-minute segments (YouTube limits video submissions to 10 minutes or fewer).

McChesney/Nichols – Part II

Topics covered in Part II:

  • Citizens versus consumers.
  • Concerns regarding pharmaceutical advertising.
  • Media reform and campaign finance reform.
  • The kind of political candidates Big Media takes seriously.

The first half of this presentation by McChesney and Nichols occurred in a conference room; the session then spilled out into the convention center hallway for more questions. I needed to set up in a hurry for this impromptu session on the hallway. You can see that the video is not always of the highest quality (I struggled to get a clear straight line position to McChesney and Nichols), although the audio is fine and Nichols and McChesney were happy to take numerous additional questions out in the hall.

McChesney/Nichols – Part III

  • Who attends media reform conferences?
  • The anticipated role of big media according to the media reform movement
  • The closing of foreign news bureaus.
  • Candidates and media reform.
  • Media and wars

This informal presentation of important media issues will be especially accessible to anyone who is new to the media reform movement. As you can see from these videos, McChesney and Nichols speak in plain yet thoughtful language (they are also terrific writers, co-authoring several recent books on the media reform movement, such as The Political Economy of Media: Enduring Issues, Emerging Dilemmas.

If you’d like to get a good intuitive grasp of the media reform movement, I would recommend that you watch all four of the these segments (this will take approximately 40 minutes). For those who wish to zero in on particular issues, I have indicated the topics addressed by each of the four segments.

McChesney/Nichols – Part IV

  • The lack of media coverage regarding the National Conference for Media Reform.
  • The lack of media coverage regarding media reform in general.
  • The need for public broadcasting networks.
  • The desperate need for noncommercial programming for children.

If you find that these issues ignite your interest in the media reform movement, you can learn much more about each of these issues by visiting Free Press or visiting any of the other media reform websites listed on the homepage of Dangerous Intersection. You’ll also find numerous posts about media reform a dangerous intersection under the category “media.”

Many of the videotaped presentations from the 2008 conference are available at Free Press. Insightful articles have resulted from the 2008 conference.

I have already posted on several of the other sessions from the 2008 conference. One of those sessions concerns Phil Donahue’s new movie, “Body of War.” Another post concerns another superb documentary regarding media and the war, “War Made Easy” (this post includes an extended interview with the co-director of “war made easy,” Loretta Alper. Last but not least, the topic of the rampant commercialization of children’s programming is addressed in this post, which includes a two-part interview with Josh Golin of Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

The topics addressed at the 2007 conference also remain relevant. I’ve filed about a dozen posts on the 2007 conference. Each of these DI posts is listed and described in this single DI post.

If, after watching these four videos by Bob McChesney and John Nichols, you feel distressed by what has been going on regarding Big Media, this is your opportunity to know that you are not alone and that we can truly change the entire media industry, acting together. The problem with Big Media has gotten so out of control that interest in media reform has become bi-partisan, as John Nichols comments in Part I.

Reforming the media is not a pipe dream. It is becoming more of a reality with every passing month because of the concern and oftentimes modest contributions of people like you. In fact, the theme for the 2008 conference was “Media Reform Begins with Me.” That applies to you and me and everyone else we know.


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Category: Media, Noteworthy, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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