Reinvent The Media!
A Brief Guide for the Citizen
DRAFT: Please don't cite or distribute without permission
Seattle Community Network Association
Everybody talks about the media, to paraphrase Mark
Twain, but nobody ever does anything about it. Like the
weather, the average person thinks that the media is something out
there, something that people enjoy or suffer through, but don't
influence. While the attendees at the recent "Quality Journalism in
the 21st Century" conference at the University of Washington did do
their share of talking about the media, the ultimate aim was to
identify what could actually be done about it. Many of us in
the "Citizen's Voices" session had serious doubts about the ability --
or the desire -- of the media to assist citizens in dealing with the
problems that we will be facing in the 21st century. While the
journalists at the conference were confident that their craft would
persist no matter which directions new technologies and new
economic circumstances might take them, our group worried that
those forces might easily propel the media even further into the
depths of sleazy infotainment.
Since one of the strongest themes to emerge from our discussion
was the importance of citizen leadership and engagement with the
media I developed a list of suggestions for promoting more
responsive and useful media.
What can citizens and activists do?
- Provide feedback to the media. Tired of sensationalism,
stereotypes, mayhem, and commercialism? Call up the newspaper or
radio station. Send them e-mail. Let them know that it's not
acceptable. On the other hand, if the media produces stories that
promote social justice (even when they're in conflict with the
powers-that-be) let them know then too!
- Support independent media. Buy it! Use it! Create it! Without
Tom Paine and his brand of alternative journalism in the 1700s there
would be no United States today.
- Apply pressure and cooperate with government. We need public
and publicly financed access to media. People need the information
that the government uses and creates. Not just the Starr Report!
- Experiment with democratic communication technology. Without
strong involvement the web is likely to become entirely commercial
to the detriment of civil society. (Within a few short years
commercial web sites comprise more than 90% of all web sites.)
- Organize across borders Q expand global consciousness. Issues
such as the environment, women's opportunities, and racism don't
stop at national boundaries.
Educators have important roles as well --
- Teach media literacy in schools. With all the virulent media
around, students need intellectual vaccines that can help them
understand and use the information that they receive.
- Demystify media and communication technology. Today's
students can play a vital role in the evolution of tomorrow's
communication technology and policy but only if they believe that
The government also has important -- though often neglected --
- Support the first amendment. Although the temptation is great
to restrict unpopular speech in print and electronically, the
experiences in the former Soviet Union, Iran, and numerous other
oppressive states around the world should remind us of the wisdom
of our forefathers.
- Oppose media monopolies. When the flow of information is
restricted by a small number of players, the ability of our society to
make wise decisions is likewise restricted. Unfortunately the
government has been a key player in exacerbating this problem!
- Promote citizen-led media and research. Citizens in many cases
are best able to identify and address important issues. There are
scores of new approaches which put citizens back in the driver's seat.
The Loka Institute, for example, in Amherst, Massachusetts
issued a comprehensive report on these ideas. They've sponsored
citizen's panels to help identify concerns that are being neglected.
For journalists in the field --
- Tell and listen to authentic stories. Life is richer and more
deeply textured than the cartoonish stories that the media often
- Develop, circulate, and archive understandable facts and figures.
Today's issues are more complex than yesterday's. Journalists need
to spend that extra time to ensure that the information is accurate
The new media world opened up by the Internet and the World
Wide Web offers new opportunities as well as new threats.
Therefore citizens must --
- Organize around universal access and public spaces in
cyberspace. As access to electronic resources becomes more
important those who can't afford to connect will be left further
- Provide on-line forums and outlets for alternative and
And, finally, some advice for all of us --
- It's sometimes necessary to TUNE OUT the media. Turn it off and
take the time to reflect! Our society today offers a non-stop stream
of information. Unfortunately it's hard to sip from a fire hose.
We all live in a complex "ecosystem" of communication flows. If
citizens aren't active in this ecosystem the media may continue its
free-fall into the dark hole of the lowest common denominator. Don't
ignore the media. Reinvent the media.