At a forum I attended this weekend, everyone generally agreed that the internet is the most effective mass-communication tool in the history of mankind. Now it’s up to journalists (including citizen journalists) to figure out how to use it. The event, called “Life After Newspapers,” was organized the Twin Cities Media Alliance and attended by the media reform organization Free Press and was held in the Minneapolis downtown public library.*
Most of the people agreed that it’s currently possible to bring more worthwhile stories and voices to more people than ever before. Janis Lane-Ewart, executive director of the excellent community radio station KFAI, talked about bringing women and minorities into the media landscape. Her work seems like an uphill battle, but she spoke of a coming generation of media savvy voices, poised to change the face of news.
Not everyone was as optimistic about the power of young people to save the media. Nora Paul, director of the Institute for New Media Studies at the University of Minnesota, spoke about the lack of skepticism displayed by many of her students. She said she was struck by how many people passively swallow the information they find on the internet without asking the important questions: Who is writing this, what are they telling me, and why do they know what they know? Great journalism isn’t going to stop well-funded spin experts from sending out lies and half-truths over the internet, and without a healthy dose of skepticism, that information can be dangerous.
With everyone talking about where great journalism will to come from, Steve Perry of the blog the Daily Mole, posed a hypothetical: Maybe it won’t come at all. With a heaping mound of cynicism, Perry suggested that good journalism might simply cease to be.
Robert McChesney, the keynote speaker and one of the nation’s premier media experts, struck a middle ground between the optimism and the pessimism surrounding the state of the media. McChesney walked a fine line between realizing the threats to the media and telling people that the threats can be overcome. Local blogger Paul Schmeltzer has posted an interview with McChesney over at the Minnesota Monitor.
McChesney’s point is basically this: There are huge threats to free speech, independent media, and information in general. But that doesn’t mean people should give up. The organization he founded, Free Press, has won significant battles for independent media lately. McChesney said he sincerely believes that independent media is winning and will win the fight for net neutrality. Concerned citizens simply need to step up and make their voices heard.