Much, much larger than the Journalism That Matters conference reported above, the NCMR had many of the same players, and started as JTM ended (on April 5, and continuing through April 7, 2013).
This National Conference for Media Reform featured more than 1,500 activists of all kinds (united by their passions and by a willingness to communicate with others), a number of musical, comedy and poetry-reading performances, eye-opening debates, a big international delegation, and even a marching band.
The entire ballroom floor of a large downtown Denver hotel was used by this conference. Because of its size, there were several plenary sessions, numerous parties (inside and outside the hotel), dozens of booths staffed by members of a wide range of organizations and a free speech “soapbox.” At most times there was the opportunity to choose among a large number of serious specialized sessions involving speakers, panels and audience participation on the general topics of policy and politics; social justice and the fight for media equality; and journalism and public media; culture, creators and media makers; Internet freedom, technology and innovation; and a number of workshops.
The printed program ran to 72 pages…this was not a fly-by-night affair. Organized by Free Press—freepress.net would be the source for video of the biggest speeches and sessions as well as audio of all the panels in Denver—these conferences are held every year-and-a-half or two years, in a wide range of locations, before Denver, Boston; before Boston, Minneapolis; and other cities back to the first NCMR ten years ago.
Among what Craig Aaron, Free Press’ President and CEO calls “his favorites” there were Hakim Bellamy’s brilliant poem and performance “Open E-mail to the Future”; actress Evangeline Lilly’s keynote appearance and talk about her journey to becoming an activist; and his own speech on why “David Wins Sometimes,” which sets the tone for where Free Press intends to head during the next few years.
Talks by radio personality Amy Goodman (Democracy Now); former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps; Michael Hancock, the mayor of Denver; John Nichols from The Nation magazine; Susan Crawford, former White House technology adviser; Grammy winners, poets, bands, comedians, and activists were featured. Much of “the action,” however, was in the “commons” area of booths.
There, one might run into people who actually were accomplishing things in communities both in this country and abroad. If one wanted to learn about anything from puppet-making to radio engineering, or meet the authors of favorite books, such as David Sirota, Carlotta Walls LaNier, C.W. Anderson, Mickey Huff, Kathy LeMay, Adrienne Russell, Juan Gonzalez, Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan, Gabriella Coleman, Eli Pariser, Jennifer L. Pozner, Eric Deggans, Chris Faraone, Maytha Alhassen & Ahmed Shihab Eldin, John Nichols & Robert M. McChesney—the latter two being founders of Free Press. (McChesney’s new hardcover book, Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet against Democracy was distributed to all registrants.) Although the panels were often outstanding, some of the most memorable moments occurred when participants met and conversed fruitfully with others possessing similar ideas.
To this somewhat detached observer of the past three NCMR conferences, there seems to be a larger and broader-based group of participants than in the past. Several years ago, it appeared as though there were only the very young (i.e., college students) or very old (those whose remaining hair was white). Now, in addition to both of these groups, there seems to be a solid (and growing) cadre of those whose age appeared to be between 30 and 80. And the range of ideas has grown proportionately.
The Denver conference came at a significant juncture in the community communications field. President Obama has nominated a new chair of the FCC, the courts are preparing to rule on Net Neutrality, the new low-powered FM radio stations are about to burst on the scene, and Rupert Murdoch still wants to buy the Los Angeles Times. Free Press is willing to stand up and organize people so that they can “take on the most powerful corporations and entrenched institutions—and win.”
- Note: Some of the language in this report was borrowed from an e-mail from Craig Aaron to all participants titled “Things We Did in Denver.”