Thursday, February 26, 2009

Celine Dion is Stalking You

Ever get the feeling that a terrible Celine Dion song is stalking you via the radio? Every time you scan the dial there it is taunting your heart to "go on and on... forever."

You're not being paranoid.

Commercial radio stations everywhere have been swallowed up by a handful of giant corporations, playlists have shrunk, and local and independent acts have been drowned out, as Big Radio soaks listeners in a mind-numbing concoction of saccharine and aspartame.

The good news is that your rescue is at hand. On Tuesday, Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.) introduced a bipartisan bill that would pry open our radio airwaves for thousands of new stations, bringing independent acts like Animal Collective, Rebel Diaz and Bunny's a Swine to the audiences they deserve.

Unleashing Radio's Potential

The Local Community Radio Act would unleash the potential of new music for millions of listeners across the country. The bill tasks Washington with licensing thousands of Low Power FM radio stations (known in radio geekdom as LPFM).

There are about 800 low-power stations already on the air. They're run out of college campuses, garages, backyard shacks, and local churches, and aimed specifically at listeners in their surrounding neighborhood.

And they're not just airing independent music. Some are providing local news and information that in more extreme cases has kept people alive.

Hoarding Air

Why local radio matters
We made a run at getting up to 3,000 more LPFM station on the air in the last Congress; more than 100 members supported a similar bill in 2008.

But it ran afoul of Big Media's lobbying arm, the National Association of Broadcasters, which makes its living off hoarding the public airwaves for a small corporate clientele - including many of the broadcasters that put Celine Dion on your tail.

The prospects for the new bipartisan bill are better. Groups like Free Press, Prometheus Radio Project and the Future of Music Coalition are ready to fight off the lobbyists and their efforts to quash new radio. Already 1,300 people have joined a Facebook group dedicated to "use new media to save old media."

And a new Twitter hash tag (#lpfm) is now generating updates as the Local Community Radio Act moves through Congress.

A Megaphone for the Many

That's something, but it may not be enough to give radio listeners real choices and new voices at every turn of the dial.

We need every member of Congress to support this bill - yes I want unanimous support when it goes to a vote. It could be Congress's first real display of bipartisanship.

What better way to ring in a new era of participatory media than by injecting new blood into a radio system that's been a megaphone for the few, for far too long.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Netroots Nation Panels

I spoke on/moderated these from last July:

This one on big, bad telcos with Cindy Cohn of EFF, Michael Kieschnick of Credo Active, Nancy Keenan of NARAL Pro-Choice America and Matt Stoller of

This one on "inside-outside" organizing with Adam Green of, Liz Rose of the ACLU, Andre Banks of ColorofChange, Joan McCarter of DailyKos and my colleague Craig Aaron (moderator):

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama's Blogger Moment Recalls Darker Episode

News Flash. Huffington Post wasn't the first new media blog to be formally called upon at a presidential news conference.

President George W. Bush and his press secretaries often looked for right-wing blogger Jeff Gannon (aka James D. Guckert) as safe quarter in the White House press room.

Gannon prided himself as "a conservative journalist embedded with the liberal Washington press corps" and would routinely toss the president a lifeline when questions from other correspondents strayed from the official line.

This alliance worked well for a White House press office seeking always to keep the media on message; Gannon was called upon up to a dozen times between 2003, when he secured daily White House credentials, and February 2005.

GannonWhite House Gannon
But Gannon's run ended after a particularly partisan question about Bush's opinion of congressional Democrats who were, in his words, "divorced from reality."

A blogger investigation of his "reporting" at Talon News found that Gannon often lifted large portions from RNC and White House press releases -- verbatim and without attribution.

But that's not all. We also uncovered Gannon's apparent double life involving gay pornography Web sites that promoted male prostitution -- his own.

GuckertMoonlighting Guckert
Gannon soon departed but his residency in the East Wing was one in a history of media low points for an administration that put staged propaganda before real reporting.

So while Monday night's question was a buzz-worthy moment for bloggers -- and a proud accomplishment for the Huffington Post -- its precedent reveals the darker side of a new media world where the line between reporter and propagandist can get blurry.

Friday, February 06, 2009

McCain and Limbaugh's Murky Crystal Ball

Should it be a surprise that a guy who doesn't know how to send e-mail can't grasp why the Internet is important?

Sen. John McCain -- known to have never gone online -- led the charge on Capitol Hill this week to strip the Internet from President Obama's economic stimulus package.

McCain joins media blowhards Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs, who in their latest crusade against reality think that connecting Americans to the information superhighway has nothing to do with getting our economy back on track.

Before anyone else jumps on board to trash the Internet, let's set the record straight.

Getting more people connected to broadband is the kind of stimulus that expands education and opportunity, promotes innovation and makes the United States more globally competitive. Among other things expanding broadband could reduce health care costs, help our kids in school, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and make it easier for citizens take part in our democracy.

Why connecting matters
Building broadband means putting immediately back to work engineers, technicians, equipment manufactures, vendors and construction workers to lay fiber optic cables, raise wireless towers and connect American homes.

And that's just the start. Those who initially developed the Internet never imagined it would become such a tremendous engine for growth across every sector of the economy. The challenge Americans face in the 21st century is to extend this new prosperity to the tens of millions of Americans who can't get connected.

Real Progress

That's why Candidate Obama made promoting open and affordable high-speed Internet a part of his 2008 campaign. It's why President Obama has made it a cornerstone of his recovery plan.

It's the sort of vision for change that got him elected. And it's vital to our long-term survival that we continue to embrace this idea of real American progress.

Obama's stimulus bill has had a bumpy ride through Senate. While it's on track to be signed by the president next week, the Internet piece of the stimulus has come under assault by a series of broadband bozos.

McCain told Fox News Channel that broadband "had nothing to do" with stimulating the economy. Rush Limbaugh told his listeners he hoped Obama's recovery plan would fail calling such infrastructure spending "far-left collectivism."

And CNN's Lou Dobbs said there was not a lot of "real exacting thinking" about the plan. That's certainly true in regard to Dobbs reporting but not in regard to Obama's vision of a better Internet.

Leaving the Dinosaurs Behind

The Stimulus bill is just a first step - a piece of a much larger puzzle to bring the benefits of broadband to everyone -- which is why we need to work overtime to make sure that this attack on reality doesn't go unanswered.

At Free Press, we're fighting to ensure affordable Internet access is a basic right of every American, and that the Internet fosters free speech and openness at a time when information gatekeepers seek total control.

High-speed Internet is the infrastructure of our time. Passing the stimulus bill is only the beginning of the effort to make the Internet as ubiquitous as electricity, water and highways.

But don't tell that to the old guard of Washington politics and media. Outliers like McCain, Dobbs and Limbaugh can only see their own reflections when they peer into their crystal balls.

We have a choice to make. We can remain stuck in the past while these dinosaurs stand in the way of real progress. Or we can put good ideas ahead of old ideologies and get started on building a new era of American opportunity.