Don’t fight the new media

Pub date March 20, 2007
WriterJosh Wolf
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION When I first found myself incarcerated, there were six other journalists in the United States under the threat of imprisonment for practicing their profession. They have since all been spared the unfortunate fate of incarceration, but at the time it seemed that the press was under a full-scale attack, and it was necessary to develop a united front to defend against the growing tide of corporate and government repression.

As a result, Free the Media was born. In its function as an online and meet-space organization, Free the Media is intended to help organize and agitate whenever and wherever the free-press guarantees under the Constitution are threatened. The forum is also focused on exploring the complex issues and controversies that continue to develop within this changing media landscape. Finally, it is my hope that Free the Media can serve as an open platform to bring people together in order to work on the development of new media solutions that will help ensure a healthy and resilient independent press for years to come.

The face of the media is in flux right now, and it’s still unclear where this current is headed. While some professionals in the field are resistant, I’m inclined to welcome the expanding landscape. Though there has never been a shortage of reporters, market influences have resulted in countless stories being neglected in favor of more popular fodder. With the recent surge of self-published and independent online journalism, the stories that are not economically viable finally have the opportunity to see the light of day.

These new, developing voices are more diverse than perhaps ever before, and the stories they tell are often more intimate and compelling than anything a professional outsider can deliver. At last those voices that are often silent, the disenfranchised, can be heard without the aid of a brave, insightful editor of a major newspaper.

Twenty years ago Peter Sussman of the San Francisco Chronicle began publishing accounts from inside the Lompoc federal penitentiary by Dannie Martin. These firsthand reports allowed the newspaper’s readership an opportunity to vicariously experience life in prison. Today through, 10,000 Dannie Martins could conceivably contribute to the discussion with their own unique perspective on incarceration.

The media is changing. This we know for sure. But what remains to be seen is the role professional journalists will take in developing this new landscape. Will the battle lines be drawn with two classes of warring voices, or will we work together in solidarity to develop a massive chorus as diverse and eclectic as our society itself? As journalists, is our commitment to an economic system, or is it to the pursuit of the free flow of information? The power is in your hands. Choose wisely. *

Josh Wolf

Josh Wolf, a freelance videographer, has been in federal prison for more than 200 days, making him the longest-imprisoned journalist in US history. Last week the Freedom of Information Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists honored him with a special citation; Wolf, for obvious reasons, was unable to accept the award in person, but he sent along this piece.