Media Reform in the Digital Age: What PR Professionals Need to Know

By Laura Christo (@LauraChristo)

This past weekend, I attended the National Conference for Media Reform put on by the Free Press. The conference brought together activists, educators, journalists and policymakers to discuss the current state of media in the United States and where it is heading. Working in PR, I was looking to gain insight into what pressures the media feel that we may forget about – politics, FCC regulations, threats of defunding, advertising pressures and more.


Media transparency and supporting public broadcasting are passions of mine, so I was thrilled when I stumbled upon this conference and was  floored by the number of smart, active and successful people in attendance. These are the people that knock on the FCC’s door and help enact policy change. I attended many different sessions  but the  most noteworthy two were “Privacy in the Age of Google” and “Public Media Under Attack: Fighting Back and Finding a New Vision.”

The “Privacy in the Age of Google” session included panelists  Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy and Angela Campbell from the Institute for Public Representation. Jeff and Angela worked together to introduce and ultimately pass the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, so I was excited to hear their thoughts on cyber privacy. During the session, I was shocked to learn about the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) initiative. According to Whitehouse.gov, the NSTIC “calls for the creation of an online environment…where individuals and organizations can complete online transactions with confidence, trusting the identities of each other and the identities of the infrastructure that the transaction runs on.” Simply put: instead of having ten different usernames for different email accounts, Amazon.com, online banking, etc., you’d have one online identity for all of your online activity.  Needless to say, this proved to be quite controversial and sparked some privacy fears and conversations during the session. The panel also touched on advertisers’ ability to track information about visitors to editorial sites, which I found quite interesting and frightening at the same time.

The biggest treat of the conference for me was the “Public Media Under Attack” panel. Included were Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University and a known advocate for public media; Paula Kerger, president of PBS; and Laura Walker, president and CEO of WNYC, New York Public Radio. This panel happened to coincide with the  defunding public broadcasting conversations being held in Washington, so I was all ears. The panel discussion  put the state of U.S. media in a global perspective, giving credit to foreign public broadcasters that are setting new standards such as the BBC World Service, France24 and Al Jazeera. The panelists urged citizens to write to their congressmen and women to support public broadcasting and explained that the lack of high caliber public media in the U.S. creates a major void. The panel was also able to shed some light on the process behind corporate underwriting for public media.

After attending this conference, I am now hyperaware of what advertisements appear alongside the articles I read during my daily news scans and what information advertisers are able to learn about me. I’m paying more attention to the DHS and the FCC and how their policies affect my day-to-day life and am motivated to become part of the conversation. And – I didn’t think this was possible – but I have an even greater appreciation of NPR accompanying me on my morning commute!

What do you think?

  • Are you a public media advocate?
  • How much of an affect do you think corporate underwriting has on content?
  • Are you worried about “Big Brother” tracking your online identity wherever you go if the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace passes?

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