Free Press' Craig Aaron on teaser for National Conference on Media Reform

Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, an organization devoted to changing media and technology policies, is among the headliners for "The Perfect Storm: Democracy in the Age of Big Money and Big Media," taking place tomorrow at the Tivoli Center. But while the event can certainly stand on its own, it also serves as a teaser for an even bigger extravaganza: the National Conference for Media Reform, which will bring many of progressive media's biggest names (and some other notable celebrities) to Denver in early April. Details and more about both events below.

"This is the sixth time we've done the conference, and we've done it all across the country," says Aaron, whose organization is headquartered in Massachusetts. "The aim is to bring together a lot of different people working on issues related to media, technology and democracy. We're hoping to build connections between activists, advocates and policy makers who care about better media and want to see a media system that reflects the needs of local communities, benefits and protects consumers, and nurtures and informs the citizenry. We believe that's a cornerstone of a functioning democracy."

Amy Goodman.
Amy Goodman.

Why was Denver chosen as the location for this year's conference? One reason was purely logistic: "It doesn't hurt that Colorado is in the middle of the country," and easily accessible to people on either coast, Aaron concedes.

In addition, "There are a lot of interesting things, and some problematic things happening in Denver media. It's a community where we've seen the shuttering of a daily newspaper" -- the Rocky Mountain News, which closed four years ago, just shy of its 150th anniversary -- "but also a flowering of independent and alternative media. The combination of the corporate media experience, good and bad, and all these other elements makes it a very interesting place. And politically, it's an incredibly important state. It's become something of a bellwether for the country in many ways. And for Free Press as an organization, we have a lot of dedicated activists in Colorado. So this is a chance to reach out to them as well."

The list of presenters for the conference is a virtual progressive-journo who's who, with participants including Amy Goodman and Juan González, co-hosts of Democracy Now, writer and cultural critic Jeff Chang, media expert Jeff Cohen and more, more, more.

Michael Copps.
Michael Copps.

In addition, the conference has attracted a number of once and future policymakers, including former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who will also take part in tomorrow's "Perfect Storm" discussion along with host/syndicated columnist David Sirota and three other notable locals: onetime Denver Post columnist Susan Greene, who's now a reporter with the American Independent News Network, plus Colorado Common Cause Executive Director Elena Nunez and Sunlight Foundation consultant (and past Westword contributor) Nancy Watzman.

Tomorrow's gathering is "definitely designed to be a preview, a taste of the kind of issues we'll be talking about at the conference, but with even more of a local focus," Aaron acknowledges. "There will be sessions at the conference that will focus specifically on Colorado, but this event is intended to bring together these two worlds."

Evangeline Lilly.
Evangeline Lilly.

Also taking part in the conference are a number of people from the world of entertainment, including Evangeline Lilly, a TV icon for her key role on the series Lost, and West Wing regular Melissa Fitzgerald. What parts will they play at the conference? Continue for more about tomorrow's "Perfect Storm" event and the National Conference on Media Reform.  

Melissa Fitzgerald.
Melissa Fitzgerald.

Lilly and Fitzgerald will be "talking about why they have become passionate media activists," Aaron says. "They've been supportive of organizations and issues, and they have a platform because of their celebrity to talk about, and bring attention to, these very important issues."

Thematically, the conference will feature "tracks on politics and policy, and a lot of sessions around the future of the Internet, and intelligent activism around Internet freedom," notes Aaron. "There's also a track on journalism and media, tackling some of the ongoing debates about how we sustain quality local journalism, in addition to issues more tied to news coverage. There'll be a panel looking at news coverage in the time of Obama from a diversity frame, and another one looking at international news and foreign policy. And there'll be a culture-and-creators track, where we'll be talking to musicians trying to make a living in this new environment."

Participating in the latter will be Hank Shocklee, the producer and sonic architect behind Public Enemy.

Aaron adds that "we'll also have a bunch of things related to pop-culture critiques, looking at how these things intersect with racial justice and feminism."

The conference won't take place in a vacuum. Affiliated events will include film screenings, a dance party and a comedy showcase, among other things. "Some of these sessions are very serious, and maybe a few of them are a little wonky," he admits. "But we're going to have fun at this event as well."

Here's a Free Press release with details about tomorrow's event:

The Perfect Storm: Democracy in the Age of Big Money and Big Media

The Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling has led to unprecedented political ad spending -- fattening broadcasters' wallets and undermining electoral coverage. And media consolidation has weakened news organizations -- the very institutions that are supposed to question those in power and keep the public informed.

Colorado is on the front lines of this phenomenon. How is democracy faring in this critical swing state, which has suffered the loss of a major daily newspaper and experienced covert consolidation in the television broadcast market? How can media outlets better hold government and corporate leaders accountable? How can Colorado's history of campaign finance reform position the state as a leader in the movement to take back our democracy? And what can the average person do to make a difference?

Event details: Date: March 7, 2013 Time: 6­-8 p.m. Location: LoRaine Good Room, fourth floor, Tivoli Center (900 Auraria Parkway) Parking: Ninth and Auraria across from the Pepsi Center

Columnist, bestselling author and TV commentator David Sirota will moderate a discussion featuring:

Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps American Independent News Network reporter Susan Greene Colorado Common Cause Executive Director Elena Nunez Sunlight Foundation Consultant Nancy Watzman

In the lead-up to the National Conference for Media Reform, which will be held in Denver on April 5-7, we are pleased to invite you to join us for a conversation about how to fight back in the age of big money and big media.

This event is co-presented by Free Press, Colorado Common Cause and the Metropolitan State University Department of Journalism and Technical Communication.

Continue for more information about the National Conference on Media Reform.  

Here's the release about the National Conference on Media Reform:

Free Press to Host 2013 National Conference for Media Reform in Denver on April 5-7

Thousands will join headliners Evangeline Lilly, Staceyann Chin, Michael Copps, Juan González, Amy Goodman, Eli Pariser and others to be announced

DENVER -- On April 5-7, 2013, thousands of policymakers, technologists, journalists, artists, scholars, media makers and activists will gather in Denver for the National Conference for Media Reform. This is the nation's biggest conference devoted to media, technology and democracy.

"There's no event quite like the National Conference for Media Reform. It's three inspiring, energizing and thought-provoking days devoted to issues at the intersection of media, technology and democracy," said Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron. "It's a chance to talk to policymakers, question leading thinkers and meet thousands of amazing activists from all across the country. The 2013 conference in Denver promises to be the biggest and best one yet. Don't miss it."

Featured speakers include: Albuquerque poet laureate Hakim Bellamy, award-winning artist Staceyann Chin, former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, former Obama technology adviser Susan Crawford, visionary media justice leader Malkia Cyril, West Wing actress Melissa Fitzgerald, Democracy Now! co-hosts Juan González and Amy Goodman, TV and film star Evangeline Lilly, Free Press co-founders Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, social media artist An Xiao Mina, National Hispanic Media Coalition President and CEO Alex Nogales, Upworthy co-founder Eli Pariser, and Media Literacy Project Executive Director Andrea Quijada, as well as dozens of other luminaries who will be announced in the weeks ahead.

The conference will include live musical performances, film screenings, hands-on workshops, how-to trainings and more than 50 interactive sessions about journalism and public media; Internet freedom, technology and innovation; policy and politics; arts and culture; and social justice and movement building. Conference presenters will be on hand for book signings, strategy sessions, networking opportunities, speeches and much more.

A preliminary list of presenters, registration information and highlights from previous conferences can be found at

Press credentials for the National Conference for Media Reform are available to members of the media who will be covering the event. Request press credentials by filling out the online application:

More from our Media archive: "David Sirota asks: Is Denver a police state?"

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