UPDATED 10:56 p.m., Jan. 29, 2008
By Bill Densmore
The Media Giraffe Project
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. -- More than 250 activists meeting at a conference hotel here over three days resolved to create a new "non-corporate" news aggregation website that would serve as a distribution system for progressive political and policy news, according to a key organizer contacted on Tuesday. "We don't want blogging, really, as much as we want hard news and analysis," said W. David Kubiak, of Half Moon Bay, Calif.
A mix of mostly-middle-aged and retired activists and concerned citizens, along with some youth and ethnic representatives, gathered for the summit, huddling in small discussion groups and crafting a list of more than 100 tentative goals which are now being boiled down to a series of next-step actions. The group took inspiration from talks by congressional candidate and anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, from former president candidate Dennis Kucinich and from current presidential candidate and former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. Many of the participants spoke about their belief that the 9/11 World Trade Towers disaster was the result of a conspiracy involving the U.S. government.
Kubiak was the prime organizer of the Santa Cruz Independent Media Summit, whose organizers opened the Friday-through-Sunday gatehring saying they wanted to come up with a strategy for end-running the so-called "corporate media." By Sunday, at least 40 participants from among as many as 360 who came and went during the three days had agreed to be part of a steering committee to put the idea into action. One coordinator of the effort, Kubiak said, is Peter Phillips, director of Project Censored at Sonoma State University. Kubiak is a former executive director of 911truth.org, which calls itself "a leading portal of the September 11th research community and truth movement."
CONFERENCE WEBSITE / VIEW PHOTOS / VIEW LIST OF 100 GOALS / LINK TO ACTION-STEPS VIDEO
"This is more of a participatory summit and brainstorming session," Phillips, director of Project Censored, (http://www.projectcensored.org) told attendees on Friday. "We are building action steps toward a strategy of media transformation in the United States." He said the goal was to build a system "that anybody can watch, engage in and not have to go anywhere else -- not have to go to MSNBC, not go to ABC. That's entertainment news."
In a session-opening talk on Saturday, Phillips compared the U.S. media system to the marketplace for commercially brewed beer a generation ago. He said it was concentrated among a small number of manfacturers. Now, said Phillips, there are microbrewers all over the nation.
"If we can do it with beer we can do it with news," Phillips told the assembled activists. "Can we build an independent news, non-corporate news source in the United States that is open to everybody . . . [d]o we have adequate, truthful resources, do we have the will? And that's the big question for this weekend."
In recent months, a group called The Media Consortium lead by a former publisher of In These Times Magazine has been talking about an alliance of at least 36 progressive media organizations such as AlterNet, Grist, Mother Jones, Ms. Magazine, The Nation, The Progressive, Salon.com, Talking Points Memo, the Washington Monthly and Yes! Magazine have been talking about a consortium website, according to Kubiak. The group's website is http://www.themediaconsortium.org and Tracy Van Slyke is listed as executive director. The website lists The Foundation for National Progress -- publisher of San Francisco-based Mother Jones magazine -- as its office location.
Sheehan received applause from most of the crowd on Saturday morning when she spoke about her challenge to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pilosi in the California district which includes San Francisco. In her 10-minute talk, Sheehan focused on what she described as the failure of "corporate media" to cover important stories. Using humor, she described her stakeout of the Texas ranch of George bush as a process of earning what motivated news organizations to cover or not cover events.
"The MSM -- we know that they are super rediculous," she said. "The issues are so important. The corpoate media has crowned our nominees for president. We don't get to choose them, the corporate media chooses them." She said the media supports a duopology of power between the two major parties. "Even with this dirty mouth, I am going to win," she said.
On Friday evening, fresh from his decision in Cleveland to withdraw from the Democratic primary, Kucinich address the summit by telephone.
Retired Canadian diplomat , poet and University of California, Berkley, English Prof. Peter Dale Scott joined Sheehan on a Saturday morning panel. He urged summit participants not to engage in a hyperbolic description of the nation's current political climate as "a facist state." He said under true facism it would be impossible to have a meeting of the sort the group was attending.
"OK, so we've got some facist in the White House," said Scott. "Hey, they can't even control the Republican Party. . . . . [w]e still have the power to respond and it is shocking if facing this type of crisis we don't respond. And the worse it gets, more people will join us in responding." He endorsed the idea of organized system for conveying news outside of the current media system. But he said, "'let's not not get it too centralized. Let's not set it up so that we have a leader who can be co-opted or imprisoned."
Journalist David Lindoff a two-time Fulbright scholar and author of a book assessing the case for impeachment of President Bush, urged summit participants to focus on building communities via direct relationships, drawing together diverse alternate media outlets and reaching out to "good people within the corporate media who want to do the right thing." He suggested that organized labor establish a national news service -- probably web based.
"I think it is eminently doable, but I don't see anybody doing it," said Lindoff. "It could even end up being financially self sustaining becuase once you have that many people being blitzed with the news, advertisers will want to be there."
Lindoff also predicted a "new progressive movement" would emerge as the baby-boomer generate transitions into traditional retirement age. "I don't know anybody around who has a decent retirement left," he said. "They've taken away the defined benefit plans." He said boomers would organize around socialized health care and ending the military budget.
Other ideas suggested during morning panels on Saturday:
- Documental filmmaker Barbara Trend suggested forming a distribution entity to manage getting independent films out to movie theaters around the country. She also suggested filmmakers should put video trailers for other's people films on their DVD. And she suggested an organization which would reguarly recomment good films.
- Former Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb, who is part of Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, in Eureka, Calif., (http://www.dhuc.org), urged participants to join efforts to overturn the historic treatment under U.S. law of a corporation having rights identical to that of an individual person.
- Documentary-maker Daniel Schechter said progressive/left activists and media workers should do a better job of collaborating.
Documentary producer and author Kristine Borjesson suggested establishing a "standards and practices cookbook" that could be followed by progressive media-makers and would raise their credibility with the public. "We have to be organized," she said. "we have to be brutally organized. we have to be more bottomline." Bojesson said media activists also need to cover important stories relentlessly, not just episodically, and form a think tank or coordinating group to study how to counter tactics of the right. Finally, she said, "we need public faces, we have to lift our profile."
Opening the Friday afternoon session was Elizabeth Vega, a former federal prosecutor who authored a book styled as an indictment of President Bush on allegedly impeachable offenses. She said the Internet is making it possible for stories on progressive topics to reach the public.
"This is absolutely a time when people can be the media," said Vega. "The mainstream media is getting more and more afraid. It is the bloggers and the websites on the Internet that are running these stories. And the mainstream media is going to be running to catch up. And so the power is right here in this room."
Former Reuters PLC journalist and technologist David Mathison, of Tiburon Calif., founder of Be The Media, talked about a "renaissance rather than a revolution" taking place in media because of the Internet and he outlined steps for creating a new web-based news system. Many observers say the mainstream media system is in decline, but worry that nothing has really replaced its watchdog and public-service journalism, said Mathieson, who as a dot-com entrepreneur founded and build Kinecta.com before the company was sold.
People say the old system is crumbling but there a new one has yet to replace it. "But we are already here," said Mathieson. "Don't try to point to something in the future . . . so let's not wait for some future date for this to take place. It's happening now."
Mathieson said he dislikes the term "citizen journalist" because it implies something less than a full journalist. Rather, he likes "community correspondent." He thinks this new journalists need to learn something about journalism principles. He suggested looking at the http://www.journalism.org website, and cited several pioneering efforts at training newly enfranchised reporters.
One challenge about creating a new news-dissemination tool is figuring out how to let people know it is available, said Janice Matthews, executive director of 911TruthOut.org, another organizer of the Santa Cruz summit. ""Part of that is [also] helping learn how to digest and assess and make sense of the news they are
given," she said.
Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Trent urged summit participants to consider the power of theatrical-released films to influence public policy. She desribed how her film, "1992: The Panama Deception," changed the nature of the U.S.-Panama relationship.
"After every screening, we had people in the theater to answer questions," she said. "And every person who left that theter left with a sheet of paper with a list of things to do . . . when you come through town with a film, you can just turn that town around."
Kubiak was cited by conference participants on Sunday afternoon for his efforts to organize the event. Kubiak, who grew up in Kent, Ohio, (which his grandfather was a political-science professor) and Kunnebunkport, Maine, where his father owned a carpet store, abandoned an early intention to become a doctor and instead ended up spending much of his adult life as a college professor in Kyoto, Japan. In 1999 he returned to Maine, and ended up working for Ralph Nader's presidential campaign. After a personal financial bankruptcy, Kubiak said he moved to California and took a job in environmental advocacy while becoming interested in the state of the U.S. media system.
"It just seemed like the only mandate was to go hassle your congressman about congolomerates and lobbying for change at the FCC," said Kubiak. "That just seemed like a huge waste of time when we really don't have much time." Kubiak decided it was important to set up a alternative media infrastructure alongside the existing one.