Last Saturday's first flash of dry weather in a week didn't stop dozens of Boston activists from holing up in a Chinatown loft, and plotting to protect citizens from Clear Channel, FCC oppressors, and other threats to an open, fair, and honest media.
Canvas-tote carriers across the commonwealth began toasting the idea of a fourth-estate federation last month, during the semi-annual National Conference for Media Reform (NCMR) in Boston. Since then, there's been much anticipation in press circles for the first official meeting of what's been dubbed the Boston Media Reform Network — a loose association of progressive interests ranging from print and broadcast journalists to filmmakers, attorneys, and children's advocates.
After introductions by nearly 40 participants, lead facilitator Jason Pramas prompted the group to think of potential action items. The network might be an alliance of diverse individuals, but its goal is to establish more than just a social club. As the force behind the Web site Open Media Boston — which covers news related to fringe arts, activism, and other beats that are often overlooked — Pramas is familiar with the tendency of goodwill efforts to pass quietly.
"My main goal with this is to get some of the work done now," says Pramas, a seasoned social-justice organizer who in the past worked with the Democratic Socialists of America, among other groups. "I don't want people to get all caught up in structure discussions — I don't want to put a lid on what people can do. Right now it's about using the people we have and fitting them into effective groups."
At the suggestion of attendees, working factions were divided into categories that addressed public-access television, media-related legislation, low-power FM-radio stations, public broadband, children's media issues, and Boston Media Reform Network outreach. The larger group also discussed more general issues, like the lack of meaningful community-themed programming on local network affiliates.
Bottom line: this posse isn't pushing for more Idol coverage on Fox 25 News.
Pramas says the turnout was a promising start, and he credits NCMR with helping boost interest in the group. The conference featured workshops and panels related to all the topics touched on Saturday, and encouraged Pramas to unify allies behind issues like community cable access, which is currently at risk in the State Senate.
Free Press, the nonpartisan media-reform organization that hosts NCMR, sent a delegate from its Western Mass headquarters to help guide the effort. Other participating leaders included WGBH social-media editor Annie Shreffler and progressive icon Mel King. Even at 83 years old, King is a major advocate of viral mediums — in one breakout group, he used the example of how news of last year's Boston Police Department beat-down of a teenager in Roxbury spread like fire through unconventional means.
"A lot of us are making and producing good, important media," says Shreffler. "Having this kind of collective voice will be a way for us to amplify each other in ways that we're not currently doing."
Moving forward, Pramas hopes to build with other press-minded groups like Hacks/Hackers, Boston Media Makers, and the National Writers Union, for which he once served as the Boston director. The next meeting of the Boston Media Reform Network will take place on July 16, at which point breakout groups will have already mapped out their desired goals.
"We're trying to take this slow, but deliberately," says Pramas. "There are a number of other forward-thinking media groups that we want to get involved. But at the same time we don't want this to be just another one of them — this should be a project that actually has the power to change the media landscape."