Sunday, June 29, 2008

National Media Reform Conference Distilled

The intensity of the National Media Reform Conference held recently in Minneapolis was overwhelming. It’s taken me days to unravel and process the themes of the conference and its countless pre- and post- sessions. The one mainstream media report on the conference, buried in the back pages of the Star Tribune, did the conference a disservice. I can only conclude that Neil Justin and I just attended different sessions, or maybe different conferences.

The sessions in which I participated and the excellent exhibitor representatives, provided context and content to a real movement. This is a surge of energy that has been simmering for decades.

Bill Moyers’ keynote absorbed - and deserved - much of the media attention and garnered scores of ovations. And then there was the terrific exhibit of books sponsored by BirchBark Books, a local independent. The exhibit, offering an impressive selection of related titles, was doing a brisk business every time I ventured past.

One particular observation I have is that participants ranged from teens to people who have been fighting the good right even longer than I have. The session with George Stoney, the “father of public access”, and visionary FCC Commissioner Nicolas Johnson, both from the past century, well documented that fact.

In spite of the information overload I’m proud to have been a participant at this juncture of the media reform movement. Most of all, I’m proud that once again Minnesota played host to a conference devoted to openness, freedom of information, and an informed public.

Same time next year, Minnesota hosts the annual conference of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

Peter S. Popovich Award

We want to say congrats to the Peter S. Popovich Award winners this year - especially to our own Robbie LaFleur.

Mary Flister, who has been recording Maplewood city meetings and making them available to the community, despite rebukes from to stop, and Robbie LaFleur, director of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, who has been an unyielding advocate of information accessibility for the general public, both received the Peter S. Popovich Award.

Peter S. Popovich Award is awarded by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Missing Harlan Cleveland

It’s a sad and sobering irony to reflect on the recent death of Harlan Cleveland mist the energy and hope that reign at the Media Reform Conference going full steam this weekend at the Minneapolis Convention Center. For decades Harlan Cleveland has been my guiding star in a turbulent information era.

Twenty-five years ago I was involved with a conference bearing the irresistible title “A Question of Balance: Public Sector, Private Sector Interaction in the Delivery of Information Services. The conference was a typically Minnesotan response to a report from the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science -- from whence we derived the catchy subtle. With prescient naiveté we gathered journalists, media moguls, access advocates and gangs of librarians for two days of weighing the issues raised in the report, a report that one speaker accurately described as “pernicious.”

[The gathering was not without its lively moments - most notably the spectacle of Paul Zurkowski, head of the Information Industry Association, storming down the aisle, pointing his cane as he snarled “Poppycock! at the elegant visionary Anita Schiller.]

The keynote speaker at that event - and my all-time Information Hero - was Harlan Cleveland. He spoke, as he frequently wrote, about the characteristics of information “as a resource, “the basic, yet abstract information.” Cleveland lamented that “we have carried over into our thinking about information (which is to say symbols) concepts development for the management of things - concepts such as property, depletion, depreciation, monopoly, market economics, the class struggle, and top-down leadership.” It might help, he opined, “if we stop treating information as just another thing, and look hard at what makes it so special.”

In Cleveland’s 21st Century construct, information as a resource possesses these unique characteristics:

Information is expandable - “The facts are never all in - and facts are available in such profusion that uncertainty becomes the most important planning factor.” Thus, “the further a society moves toward making its living from the manipulation of information, the more its citizens will be caught up in a continual struggle to reduce the information overload on their desks and in the lives in order to reduce the uncertainty about what to do.”

Information is compressible -- “Though it’s infinitely expandable, information can be concentrated, integrated, summarized... for easy handling.”

Information is substitutable -- It can replace capital, labor or physical materials.

Information is transportable -- “In less than a century, we have been witness to a major dimensional change in both the speed and volume of human activity.”

Information is diffusive -- It tends to leak - and the more it leaks the more we have.

Information is shareable -- Information by nature cannot give rise to exchange transactions, only to sharing transactions. Things are exchanged. “If I give you a fact or tell you a story, it’s like a good kiss: in sharing the thrill, you enhance it.”

Cleveland would relish the exuberant exchanges echoing through the Minneapolis Convention Center this weekend -- snippets of conversations involving 3000 reform advocates talking about knowledge, wisdom, informed citizens and their role in a democracy, transparency in government, media ownership, network neutrality. Many of these attendees may not know the name Harland Cleveland, but they understand - intuitively and empirically -- that information is a resource that is expandable, compressible, substitutable, transportable, diffusive and, most important, shareable -- like a kiss!

Note: One of the earliest iterations of Cleveland’s thoughts on information as a resource is found in the December 1982 issue of The Futurist. Check the site for much more about Harlan Cleveland’s life as well as numerous articles written by Cleveland through the years.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Live From Main Street

Whether or not folks are immediately involved with the Media Reform conference, this is a not-to-be-missed opportunity. This interactive town hall event will be distributed by an unprecedented collaboration of independent media including LinkTV, Free Speech TV, The National Radio Project and many more.

The first 150 guests to arrive will receive a free copy of Amy Goodman’s Standing Up To the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times courtesy of Progressive Book Club!
Free and Open! Doors open at 1 p.m.

Women’s Club of Minneapolis 410 Oak Grove Street, near Loring Park
Details including RSVP.

Monday, June 2, 2008

MnCOGI hosts the National Freedom of Information Coalition 2009!

The Board of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information is pleased to announce that we have been invited to play host to the 2009 national conference of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. This coalition of coalitions brings together a unique network of advocates committed to transparency in government and freedom of expression.

Each state projects a unique profile of membership, priorities and services, ranging from major organizations with large staffs and massive budgets to fledgling coalitions such as MnCOGI. Many are supported by mainstream media organizations, others by media attorneys, still others by foundations and individual/organizational memberships. All sponsor websites, most post blogs and each employs unique and creative strategies to address the common purpose of open government. Headquarters of the national coalition of coalitions is at the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

We look forward to this opportunity to define and articulate the mission of MnCOGI, to learn from other coalitions and to involve Minnesotans as speakers, panelists and attendees.

NFOIC members will be meeting in Minneapolis at the end of May or early June 2009. Any individual or organization interested in open government and First Amendment issues can get involved NOW. Specifics about the conference program and logistics will appear on this blog as they unfold.

For details of past NFOIC conferences check here. Good stuff!