Watchdogs on Guard at the National Conference for Media Reform

The 10-year anniversary of the Iraq war has brought renewed attention to the media’s role in the run-up to the American invasion. By most accounts, nearly all major media outlets failed to do their job in the face of the Bush administration’s falsehood-filled campaign to lead the country into war.

As we look back, it’s worth noting not just all those who got it wrong, but those who got it right. In a recent piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Vincent Stehle says “the nonprofit press wasn’t taken in by the Bush administration’s marketing and manipulations.” Stehle argues that the Iraq war helped move the nonprofit press from the margins of American media to a central force in uncompromising accountability journalism.

This April at the National Conference for Media Reform, we’ll take a fresh look at the role of nonprofit journalism in covering everything from statehouses to the security state, from American occupations abroad to Occupy Wall Street at home.

The conference is kicking off with the U.S. premiere of Shadows of Liberty, a documentary described as a “journey through the darker corridors of the commercial U.S. media system.”

The film features a number of leading journalists who will be at the conference, including Jeff Cohen, director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College. Cohen is moderating a panel called Independent Journalism on War, Conflict and Human Rights, which explores how “journalists operating far from the pinnacles of power” have produced some of the most important stories on the United States’ long and evolving war on terror.

Another journalist featured in Shadows of Liberty is Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman (pictured), who will broadcast her show live from the conference with her co-host Juan González. Many considered Goodman’s coverage of the recent presidential election as a much-needed counter to the mainstream media’s horse-race coverage. And when commercial TV stations raked in billions from political ads but offered only superficial political coverage, nonprofit news outlets led the way.

A range of conference sessions will examine media coverage of pressing domestic issues that are in the headlines right now, like race, immigrant rights, gay marriage, the labor movement and more. Jason Barnett, founder of, is moderating a panel on The New Watchdogs who are rebuilding accountability journalism at statehouses as local media outlets cut back on this coverage. In a blog post previewing the panel, he writes:

The ability to watch our elected leaders at work is a crucial requirement for a healthy democracy. But as legacy media have cut back sharply, both on the quantity of capital coverage and its emphasis on accountability, our state and local governments have become less transparent, our leaders less accountable, and citizens less aware of what their representatives do in office.

Barnett will be joined by a great group of panelists who will explore the rise of fact-checking organizations like Politifact and the state of watchdog journalism in Denver.

The new watchdogs aren’t just journalists. At the conference we’ll explore how geeks are guarding our civil liberties and how people can take the media into their own hands to hold government accountable. And we’ll hear from organizations like the Awesome Foundation and the Freedom of the Press Foundation about how we can come together to fund community-driven media makers.

In the decade since the Iraq war began, the news industry has changed in dramatic ways — ways that have underscored the important role of independent and nonprofit media. The National Conference for Media Reform is the place where we can come together to strategize about how we will create and support the news we need.

Click here to learn more and to register.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good