Free Press Not So Free: Journalists Must Pay to Cover Media Reform Conference

This disheartening link hit the inbox recently: it takes you to a page on the press credentialing process for the Free Press National Conference on Media Reform, which takes place next month here in Madison.
This conference promises to be quite a newsmaker, with a star-studded lineup of left-leaning notables, FCC Commissioners and a gaggle of Congressfolk gathered all in one place talking national strategy on media reform. Symbolically, it’s a big step forward for the fledgling movement around media democracy which has been growing steadily over the last five years or so. It will be a Big Deal, and something you’d think Free Press would want coverage on.
The entry fee – for journalists – is $175. A “student/low income” rate of $75 is also available. These are the same rates all attendees must pay. This is for the privilege of covering a conference on media reform, involving the core of America’s progressive populace.
This is actually the most deflating development of several since conference planning began earlier this year. Madison has quite an activist contingent, and a vibrant alternative media scene, and at one point there were local folks here actively involved in the conference organizing process.
From what I can piece together, sometime over the summer Free Press hired a couple of “professional” non-governmental organizing types, who apparently know squat about media issues. From that point forward, most of the local help (both paid and volunteer) were cut out of the process. I have no idea whether or not Free Press co-founders Bob McChesney and John Nichols know this is happening; I have the utmost respect for both of them and have a hard time believing they would approve of the hired help’s latest move.
On balance, while the conference had always been planned to be a more wonkish than activist affair (and a fundraiser for Free Press, natch), the way it’s coming together is disappointing, at least for those of us here in Madison who were excited about having this happen in our own backyard. At one point, the site advertised a conference panel on “Indymedia as a policy issue,” which would probably be even more interesting if there were some Indymedia folks there (beyond the couple of IMCstas who regularly navigate these circles already).
I know of at least one IMC-Madison reporter who had planned to attend but now cannot, as the $75 cover charge is a bit steep for a few interviews, and he lives mere blocks from the conference center. This same person tried repeatedly to volunteer for conference tasks and was first stonewalled, then rejected for “not having compatible interests” with the conference organizers.
I’m holding out hope that all of this is a big misunderstanding, and when the Free Press conference actually happens it will be quite enlightening and energizing. That is, if I can somehow finagle free admission.