Media Blog


Searching for change in times of crises


TORONTO - Academics, alternative media makers and representatives of media unions came together in a time of great flux for the Making Media Public conference, held at York University from May 6 to 8.

The conference provided an important space for discussion and sharing among people with an interest in news media, but it also highlighted diverging interpretations of what taking back the media really means.

Among the multitude of crises explored over the weekend are the crisis in funding journalism, the crisis in ownership, and the crisis in the quality of journalism. But these sweeping descriptions are only the tip of the iceberg, and over the course of the conference participants explored the range and complexity of issues facing media production in North America.

Simon Fraser University Professor Robert Hackett said the crisis in the media includes the broader issues of militarization in society, corporate control over the internet, and the oft forgotten negative externalities of internet culture. Lise Lareau, president of Canadian Media Guild, focused on impacts to media workers, as studies indicate 1000 media workers have been laid off every month in the US over past two years. Noaman Ali who works with BASICS Free Community Newsletter, explored the crisis of racism in the media. “The media is racist, straight up… It doesn’t matter if it is the CBC or a privately owned broadcaster,” he said.

Some of these crises are indicative of emerging or new trends, while others are entrenched in mainstream media practices. But instead of spending the weekend dwelling on the negative aspects of the media, participants took the time to explore alternatives that are emerging in the media today.

Perhaps the most common reoccurring theme of the weekend was the lack of a proper revenue model for community media in Canada. “The elephant in the room at this time is the fact that there is not a business model for the media,” said Alice Klein, the publisher of Toronto’s Now Magazine.

“We’ve fallen of a cliff in terms of content for local people,” said John Harris from the National Campus and Community Radio Association. “There is no commercial model for local media for many communities in Canada,” he said.

According to conference organizers, many of these crises stem from making media private. On the other hand, new opportunities will come from making media public. Several speakers called for more attention to the public interest in the making of media policy.

There were perhaps as many possible ways forward discussed over the weekend as there were conference participants.

Some, like Steve Anderson from, encouraged attendees to continue to do advocacy, referencing campaigns around net neutrality and bringing Al Jazeera to Canadian airwaves. “It does feel like we’re facing a brick wall sometimes,” he said. “But I think that brick wall has a crack in it, and I think that crack is they have to be responsive when there is widespread public participation.”

Volunteers with BASICS Free Community Newsletter talked about how the publication is rooted in poor and working class communities in Toronto. Steve da Silva explained how Basics works not only to provide a voice for the communities it serves, but to increase engagement and participation in the project.

Others, like Dominion Editor Dru Oja Jay, talked about creating new organizational models for alternative media, as is being done with the Media Cooperative, a national and grassroots media project that is primarily funded by readers.

It seemed that among larger alternative media organizations, like and This Magazine, the difficulties associated with attaining and benefiting from charitable status pose a serious challenge to raising funds. But unlike the revival happening in the alternative media, for union representatives trying to figure out how to advocate for their members, there was less of a feeling of opportunity.

“Don’t tell me about the opportunities… this is a struggle,” said Arnold Amber, a representative of the Communications Workers of America.

Nicole Cohen, a graduate student at York and one of the conference organizers, said that the conference brought people together who are normally in disparate worlds.

“It was apparent to me that there are two planes of addressing media issues, and both of them were present at the conference: on the one hand, abandoning the mainstream, corporate media model to create entirely activist, autonomist media projects, and on the other to engage with established avenues, such as the CBC and the CRTC,” wrote Cohen.

Dr. David Skinner, assistant professor of communication at York University and one of the hosts of the conference, explained that most of the conferences that he has attended have been intended primarily for either alternative media practitioners or academics, and that Making Media Public was a rare opportunity for people to meet their peers working in other areas.

“We had a number of media publics, including media producers, academics, people teaching in universities, students, policy makers, people working in the legal dimensions of policy, the union people… and a whole range of people working as media activists as well,” he said.

While to some extent there was a diversity of viewpoints present at Making Media Public, in other ways the conference failed to capture the real diversity that exists in media making and media criticisms in Canada. Most of the conference attendees were academics or established journalists, mixed in with a handful of grassroots media practitioners. There was little representation from non-English media outlets, no input from Indigenous journalists or critics, and few undergraduate students and youth. All but one of the keynote speakers were white professionals.

In some ways Making Media Public did manage to connect people across networks, but at the same time the end result was largely to connect already networked people with each other, instead of bringing in and emphasizing innovative and marginalized projects that are being realized outside of the established media sphere.

Moving forward, some conference participants proposed making the meeting an annual event, casting the net wider and creating a larger and more accessible conference.

Regardless of the conference’s shortcomings, there were undoubtedly some positive outcomes, which organizers hope they can continue to build on.

“I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of people coming together to talk and share ideas and experiences,” writes Cohen. “Having that space of support and collaboration, even if it’s for one weekend, can provide the inspiration you need to keep working in the face of serious challenges.”

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