Monday, July 20, 2009

AMC 2009: Not Your Daddy's J-School

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Walter Cronkite died over the weekend. A titan in the world of journalism, in the end he personally outlived the relevancy of the corporate media establishment from whence he made his mark.

I spent the weekend in the ‘D’ at the Allied Media Conference 2009 (AMC09). You could say that what we learned there was not your daddy’s or granddaddy’s journalism – i.e., Walter’s journalism. The conference center at Wayne State University was filled with knowledge, shared knowledge, specifically by, for, and about scores of citizen-journalists from across the U.S. We learned and shared the techniques being used to replace and displace the corporate media that is collapsing after having failed for so long in meeting its public service, truth-telling, and ethical obligations. Corporate newspapers and TV news have slowly realized their readership/viewership has tiptoed out of the room. The targeted audience has taken up community news coverage in its own grassroots manner. You may have read about the trend in the newspaper – if you have one still published in your town and that newspaper covered the story.

Walter would have appreciated the AMC09 citizen-journalists. After all, most of them are starting from the standpoint of opposing U.S. wars and aggression around the globe. The lessons of Vietnam and the failures of U.S. foreign policy – so famously called out by Walter on national TV in his CBS news anchor heyday – are not lost on the AMC09 writers, videographers, artists, and others, most of whom were probably born after the retirement of the “most trusted man in America.”

On Friday I sat next to the young Latina activists from Chicago’s Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and I wonder if most of them would know the name and history of Walter Cronkite. That history, however, doesn’t directly matter in their lives, as the LVEJO activists are too busy tracking and mapping the environmental danger spots buried in and around their neighborhood. If needed later, they can tap into Wikipedia for a quick lesson on Cronkite. In Detroit at AMC09, they brought with them the techniques and strategies used to map and visually depict the environmental injustice in Little Village. After 90 minutes, a room full of activists exited the room with the shared knowledge, ready to map their own local injustices. There’s plenty of injustice to go around.


That’s what the how-to, can-do part of the conference was like: Want to learn how to start an Internet radio station? Head to the basement, the Prometheus Radio Project will show you how (photo, below right). Next door, you can learn silk screen techniques for advocacy posters or t-shirts from the Beehive Design Collective. Want to jump into the video remix wave? Have a discussion with the Open Youth Networks. Want to build your own radio tower? Grab those pliers. There was no shortage of experienced people – even people sitting right next to you in the room and not necessarily the instructors – willing to teach you a thing or two, or rattle off helpful web site addresses as you scramble to get it all down on paper. What was the web address again? was heard often.

In addition to the learning, there were exchanges of ideas and analysis. The scheduled breakout sessions were supplemented with media-focused caucuses structured to highlight specific interests or groups: Documentary photographers, professional writers, sex workers, the women’s movement and others. There were documentary films shown each day. There were amazing live video conferences scheduled with activists in Palestine, Mexico, and South Africa.

Early Friday evening, the campus auditorium in Detroit was filled with AMC09 activists. In Johannesburg, South Africa, artist/activist Ra Ra spoke with the audience in real time via Internet, as his image was projected on the large theater screen. At the same time, another image was projected showing a scrolling conversation from people posting their own live comments via chat and Twitter. It was an amazing sight and true community conversation. Below is a short video of the live stream action with South Africa. (See various photos here.)


Organizers from the U.S. Social Forum – which is booked in Detroit for June 22 -26, 2010 – were in attendance at AMC09. I’m sure they wanted to get a feel for the way Detroit can host events and, yes, throw a party. Based on my experience, I would guess the USSF folks walked away pleased with the experience. The AMC09 was well-organized, welcoming to a diverse group of visitors from around the country, and flat out fun. Next year the Allied Media Conference is scheduled for June 17 -20, 2010 in Detroit and will immediately precede the USSF. June 2010 will be “A Detroit Summer,” as I heard some activists already calling it.

I predict next summer will unforgettable, just like the AMC09.
-- Rico Thomas Rico

Real Time Talk With Activists in South Africa

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