If you could reform the “media landscape,” what would it look like?
For Josh Silver, it would mean
an end to corporate ownership of the media diverse and independent media ownership, newspaper owners who live in the city in which they publish, political coverage that focuses on issues, an open Internet, more public and community radio and TV and hundreds — thousands? — of small TV and radio stations springing up from your computer.
It’s not a pie-in-the-sky vision, he insists. “In St. Petersburg, Florida, there’s a community-organization-owned daily newspaper that does a great job, has laid off relatively few reporters in the last decade and turns out some of the best local coverage in the county,” according to Silver, who heads Free Press, an organization that wants to reform the media and is hosting a conference in Minneapolis next month.
(Bob interjects: Last month the St. Petersburg Times eliminated its business section)
Considering “reform” of the media, however, inevitably invites a “what comes first” discussion. Did the media dumb down the people who consume it? Or did the people who consume the media dumb down the media? Nobody will be surprised that two semi-talented singers competing tonight on American Idol will garner more ratings than the coverage of the Kentucky and Oregon primaries, right?
“When you do turn on your cable news and you watch the shows covering the primaries, it’s all horse-race coverage,” Silver says. “You have very little debate and analysis on what the candidates actually stand for … There is such a lack of the kind of hard-hitting questions that shows like Hardball or Fox News pretend to throw at the candidates. The coverage is pretty pathetic. It’s kind of a rational decision to pick American Idol.”
Speakers at the National Conference for Media Reform (June 6-8) include: Bill Moyers, Dan Rather, former anchor of CBS News (question: Does the guy who invented ’48 Hours’ really have the authority to lecture on media reform?); North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan; FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein; Arianna Huffington of HuffingtonPost.com; Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, co-hosts of Democracy Now!; Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine; law professors Lawrence Lessig of Stanford and Tim Wu of Columbia; Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights; Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation; and media scholar Robert W. McChesney, co-founder of Free Press.
A small — and fairly liberal — list of what is actually a pretty substantial lineup.
“I do believe that conservatives are going to catch up with liberals on this notion of making a workable business model online. The debate in this country has swung so far to the right over the last 10, 20 years that even the notion of just a functioning education system or health care for every American has become some sort of radical, left-wing conspiracy — or at least certainly a very liberal idea — when, in fact, it’s not,” he says. “We’re talking about civil society, basic rights of every human being. We’re going to see a redefinition of what is left, and what is right. And what we’re going to find is those on the right, who are reasonable and what I would call real conservatives, they’re going to figure out how to make viable news outlets flourish online, too.”
Of particular interest to conference organizers is the increased use of video on the Web. They’ve come to the right place. Local efforts such as The Uptake, for example, have done some very impressive work (News Cut interview), and are providing stories the “legacy media” are not.
Audio segments of the interview with Josh Silver (mp3 ):
Now it’s your turn to discuss the situation. How would you reform the media?