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Alternative/Independent Media Conference a Success

On February 12, 2005 there was an alternative/independent media conference in Fresno. Here is what happened.

Alternative/Independent Media Conference a Success
By Mike Rhodes
February 13, 2005

An alternative/independent media conference, held in Fresno yesterday, attracted grassroots journalists from throughout the state. About 100 participants from low power FM radio stations, alternative newspapers, newsletters serving the homeless, public access cable TV activists, representatives from Indybay Indymedia, and more networked and learned new skills at the first conference of its kind in Central California. Participants came from Davis, Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Merced, Fresno, Visalia, Bakersfield, and as far South as Manhattan Beach in Southern California.

The conference, organized by the Community Alliance newspaper in Fresno, began with an analysis of corporate media and the need for alternative/independent journalism by Conn Hallinan. Hallinan is a writer and a journalism professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Hallinan told participants that "in 1983 Ben Bagdikian wrote a book called The Media Monopoly which detailed how 50 companies controlled the industry. By the 4th edition in 1992 the number had shrunk to 20. Today, it is 9."

The consolidation of media into fewer and fewer hands has resulted in large corporations controlling the news. In a survey by the Pointer Institute, Hallinan says "33% of the editors of newspapers said they would not run a story that was harmful of their parent company." One has to wonder if the other 67% were being entirely honest. Hallinan says "the largest media chain in the country is Gannet." Sitting on their board of directors are representatives from Merrill Lynch, Standard Oil, Ker McGee (Oil, gas, atomic energy, and aerospace), 20th Century Fox, Lockeed Martin (the largest arms manufacturer in the world), MGraw Hill, Phillips Petroleum, the Kellog Company and others. Hallinan says "after you list those off, what do you write about? You write about Brittany Spears."

Because of big businesses lock on the media, most journalists are unable to tell many important stories. Corporate media journalists are unable to write investigative reports that would put their parent company in a bad light, they do not tell us the truth about why the US went to war in Iraq, and they are not telling the story about groups and individuals working for peace, social and economic justice. The distortion and bias of the corporate media has opened up an opportunity for grassroots and community journalists. The alternative/independent media conference provided a space for the emerging movement of grassroots journalists to network and learn new skills.

In addition to the keynote address, Hallinan participated in several workshops. The first workshop was a discussion about corporate media and how to hold them accountable. Pam Whalen, who is a Community Alliance newspaper editorial board member, led the discussion about one way to hold corporate media accountable. Whalen said "all the radio stations in California are having their licences renewed this year. Radio stations are supposed to operate in the public interest, because the air waves are public space. If a radio station is not operating in the public interest they could lose their licence and a community group could take over and run that station." Conference participants expressed an interest in following up on this information. The group will invite the Media Alliance in San Francisco to come to Fresno for a workshop on this issue.

George Elfie Ballis taught a popular workshop on photo journalism. Elfie has been a movement photographer for many years, taking some of the best pictures of Cesar Chavez and other members of the United Farm Workers union. Elfie described how he becomes a part of the group he is taking pictures of. "I’m invisible," he said describing his presence in a march or at other events. Elfie described spending weeks with a Native American group before taking any pictures. It was not until after he was accepted by the tribe that the camera was brought out. Elfie says that passion is the most important ingredient for making a movement photographer.

Participants also learned about Indymedia, the struggle for public access TV on cable, and about low power, pirate, and free speech radio. During the evaluation at the end of the conference, a number of participants said that they wanted more hands on and in-depth training in specific areas of grassroots journalism. The idea of an alternative/independent media association gained some traction as participants felt a need to link with others doing this important work.

There is no date for a second alternative/independent media conference in Fresno. But, discussions are under way to hold workshops on specific topics - such as advanced grassroots journalism, challenging radio and TV licenses, how to build and operate a pirate radio station, and more classes on photo journalism.

If you are interested in participating in future Central Valley alternative/independent media workshops or conferences, send an email to and you will be contacted when future events are planned.

Related articles:

Article in The Fresno Bee about the Fresno alternative/independent media conference:

Article about the Global struggle for media democracy:


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