The Free Press mission focuses on three core areas: Net neutrality; how the decline of the journalism industry has affected both local coverage and overseas reporting; and the advancement of public media beyond the likes of NPR and PBS. Getting people to recognize the role media plays in other matters — and in everyday life — is a key step in energizing people toward media reform.
"It's tough, I admit, taking issues embedded in communications policy, and having to deal with that kind of arcane language and make it resonate with people who are concerned about other issues — or their next paycheck," says Karr. "But there's a common complaint around the quality of local news coverage. A lot of people are upset about the lack of choices on the radio dial, or how much they have to pay for broadband access — if it's even available. Our job is to translate that into a common language, with which we can organize people."
And despite popular accusations of liberal bias in the media and recent GOP attacks on NPR funding, Aaron argues that media policy is something that transcends party politics.
"Our position has always been: it's all about the policies," he says, pointing to Net neutrality, which has drawn support from conservative groups such as the Parents Television Council and the Christian Coalition. "We have to be able to get past some of those initial 'with-us-or-against-us' reactions. The media we need isn't a liberal media or a progressive media. It's a media where journalists are working on what's important in their community."
A SHOT IN THE ARM
Free Press has put together an impressive line-up for this weekend's conference. Presenters include former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Massachusetts congressmen Michael Capuano and Ed Markey, and Boston's own Alex Beam, Carole Simpson, and Gunner Scott, among nearly 300 more. One of the first panel discussions has a decidedly local flavor, as Reporter Newspapers managing editor Bill Forry, El Planeta editor Marcela García, WBUR general manager Charles Kravetz, Boston Globe managing editor Caleb Solomon, WGBH's Callie Crossley, and Boston Phoenix editor Carly Carioli discuss the state of Boston media. Additionally, Phoenix staff writer Chris Faraone will be part of a panel on local media and the music scene, later Friday morning.
Aaron and Karr see the event as a great chance to deliver a shot in the arm to media-reform supporters.
"Maybe you're the only person in your community who's working toward media reform. To see that there are a lot of other people out there doing that, too, to see that they're passionate about the issues you're passionate about, is important," says Aaron. "It never hurts to know that there are people who have your back."
Karr says more than 200 reporters are expected, and Free Press will be using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to give a taste of the conference to a wider audience.
In fact, harnessing social media and mobile technology is becoming more of a necessity for advocacy groups who hope to take full advantage of their constituents, says Cheryl Contee, a partner at the social-media firm Fission Strategy and co-founder of the blog Jack & Jill Politics.