The Media Reform Conference

Last weekend’s Media Reform Conference in St. Louis has already been amply blogged (as someone at the Conference pointed out, the natural result of gathering 2500 media activists in one place is about 5000 opinions). My experience was perhaps a bit different than most in that I went primarily as a writer interested in the under-representation of women’s voices in the mediaand in point of fact, one of the Conference’s glaring omissions was that it included a panel on racial justice but not one on gender justice.

The only place where this was addressed in a significant way was the Women’s Caucus where it was one of the primary topics. The Caucus, ably facilitated by Jennifer Pozner of Women in Media and News and Aliza Dichter of the Center for International Media Action, was an outstanding opportunity for women, ranging from college students to Rita Henley Jones of Women’s Enews and Alicia Daly from Ms Magazine to share their concerns and brainstorm on what needs to be done. Unfortunately, very little time was alloted for the Caucus and it came too late in the Conference to allow for substantive action to be taken.

In some senses this was problematic of the conference as a whole. It quickly became obvious that most of the Conference was devoted to defining the problem to the point of overkill. It would have been perhaps more productive to devote the time to implementing/planning/strategizing solutions and actions.
The line up of speakers and panelists was a leftist activist dream come true, but I think many of us realized by the end of the first day that it might be a bit too much of a good thing; there is just so much time that people who describe themselves as activists wish to sit and be talked at. There was a short period of time alloted for participant initiated conversation such as one organized by Medea Benjamin about how to end the war that gave all participants a chance to contribute their thoughts. Additional sessions of this sort would have been valuable.

Having said all that, it was a terrific evente and the organizers at Free Press deserve a major round of applause for their incredible work in putting it together. It was truly an historic weekend. By now, most of you have probably seen Bill Moyers closing speech, if not I urge you to do so. But despite the treasure trove of big names, the speech of the weekend was in the opening plenary session, given by Malkia Cyril of the Youth Media Council. I’m trying to get a copy of that now and hopefully it will be online soon. But to give credit where due, I did jot down some wonderful quotes:

Jim Hightower: An agitator is the center post in a washing machine.

Rep. Diane Watson: No Child Left Behind kicks every child in the behind.

Bill Moyers: It’s okay to state a conclusion that you’re meant to come to based on the evidence.

More Moyers: Ardor for war is disproportionate to the distance from the fighting.

And then there was Patti Smith, making more sense in a few songs than the rest of us will likely make in a lifetime, she was brilliant (and the last song backed up by an FCC Commissioner on harmonica was quite the performance).

The conference also proved a great chance to meet many folks that I’ve only known by email, including the editors of several publications that have printed my work, Matt Rothchild of The Progressive and especially Karla Mantilla of Off Our Backs. Karla and Martha Allen, Director of the Women’s Institute for Freedom of the Press, and I had a wonderful discussion of feminist perspectives on media.

Also had a chance to visit with fellow ZNet bloggers Brian Dominick and Jessica Azulay of The New Standard (the only folks with the presence of mind to project their website in real time as a display in the media showcase). Robert Jensen was also there and he and I stole a few minutes in between panels to share thoughts about the issues involved in talking about pornography from a feminist perspective.

What comes out of all this? Too early to say but hopefully wider, stronger alliances and circles dedicated to reclaiming the media.

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