Somewhere during the run-up to the 2000 election, I remember legendary Washington Post columnist David Broder writing about the increasing split within the country along the Blue (liberal) – Red (conservative) divide. I guess what I saw this weekend at the National Conference on Media Reform is a reaffirmation that the divide is alive.
This was a conference for the like-minded where bashing the media was second only to booing conservatives.
There was no denying the political undercurrent that was present throughout most of the conference. Which I guess was to be expected. But the underlying message — at both panels and on the conference Twitter feed — was that big media was failing and that somehow that failure allows the conservative message to gain more traction. The irony is, conservatives say the same thing.
So, when we talk about “media reform,” what exactly are we talking about? In the end, it really comes down to two things: What the media is covering and how they are covering it.
Yet, for all the talk about reform this weekend, I’m not sure many attendees at this weekend’s conference understand the power that they have. The focus seemed to be more on the failure of major print and television news organizations rather than the possibilities available to all through online journalism (or new media if you prefer.)
At several sessions Saturday attendees heard some optimism — and some key phrases. Here’s a key-word rundown and what they could mean for true media reform:
* No barriers to entry. ASU’s Dan Gillmor started the day talking about how the barriers to entry into journalism are gone. David Cohn ended the day at his panel talking about how the barriers to entry into journalism are gone. In simplest terms, that means if you think there is not enough coverage on a particular issue, then you can provide it. Pick your issue, start your blog, shoot video to put on the blog and start engaging with your audience about the issue. There was much passion at this conference. Take all that passion and apply in to a blog. Make the passion work for you! It’s better and more productive than whining endlessly about the state of the media.
* Collaboration. The old models are disappearing. It’s no longer a one-way conversation. If you approach a news organization and say you want to write a blog for them, or provide photos or other content, chances are they will say yes. The same goes for journalism schools — more and more journalism schools are searching for issues to have their students report on.
* Curation. For me, the best session today was listening to NPR’s Andy Carvin and others talk about the power of Twitter. If you aren’t following @acarvin on Twitter, you should. Since the uprising in Egypt, Carvin, along with Nick Kristoff of the New York Times have been transforming real-time reporting before our very eyes. Carvin sees himself as a real-time Twitter news anchor, sifting through eyewitness report to determine what is accurate and what is rumor. The future lies with online journalism and revolutionaries like Carvin. If you’re looking for media reform, watch what Carvin is doing.
* The Next Generation. Finally, the last panel of the day Saturday featured David Cohn and Jackie Hai in a panel titled “Journalism Next” focusing on what these young entrepreneurs are doing. Jackie is a UMass Journalism alumnae who took my first Multimedia Journalism class at UMass and I’ve known David for more than four years, since we worked together on newassignment.net. They are each involved in exciting projects and see nothing but hope for the future. Follow their work. Both are deeply immersed in the online journalism space and are part of the group of great innovators reforming media.