1997 Media Heroes
Never before has the public held journalists -- and journalism -- in such low regard. This year's tragedy and subsequent coverage of Princess Diana brought to a head the world's dismay over the cheapening and sensationalism of the practice of journalism. And it certainly isn't reflected in just one single example. Mid-level books, non-blockbuster films and stories that challenge the status quo today are often frozen out of the information business by a sickening avalanche of sex, sensationalism, violence and celebrity gossip masquerading as news.The effect of it all? When the media falls back on murder and mayhem, rather than investigating the roots of crime, it does the public a disservice. When it neglects labor's opinion on issues that affect our work lives, it has silenced a vital part of society. When self-censorship becomes a journalist's reflex because he or she assumes the story "will never get published," the media system is not serving us. But there are journalists who preserver in fighting censorship, who serve as watchdogs in the public interest, and provide news we *can* use. They are writers, producers, performers, activists and organizations that are not deterred by corporate trends. Their work doesn't cave into advertiser pressure or the dumbing-down syndrome that has gripped the mainstream media. They persistently voice underrepresented opinions, resist formulaic coverage, do in-depth investigations and find creative approaches to stories that need to be uncovered, clarified or simply retold.For the last six years, the San Francisco-based Institute for Alternative Journalism has presented Media Hero Awards to the country's most visionary, courageous, tone-setting and tireless journalists and media makers. This year's awards were presented at the second Media & Democracy Congress, a gathering of more than 1,200 media makers and advocates who convened in New York in October. Participants nominated and voted upon the following heroes:Amy Goodman -- As a tireless and energetic reporter and the on-air host of Pacific Radio's Democracy Now, Goodman has been instrumental in bringing the much-needed program recognition and new audiences. Gary Webb -- A longtime investigative reporter, Webb's well-documented, if not controversial, "Dark Alliance" series for the "San Jose Mercury News" brought information about the CIA's alleged involvement in the crack cocaine profusion in American cities to a huge audience."Detroit Sunday Journal" -- For almost two years now, striking and locked-out Detroit newspaper workers have written, edited and distributed a weekly newspaper that challenges the Gannett and Knight-Ridder corporate newspaper chains and serves the community as an alternative to the scab-produced "Detroit News and Free Press."Mumia Abu-Jamal -- Considered "the voice of the voiceless," Abu-Jamal has devoted the majority of his life to investigative journalism that speaks truth to power. Even from the isolation and repression of Pennsylvania's death-row -- where he's been since 1982 for allegedly shooting a police officer (a crime he says he didn't commit) -- Abu-Jamal continues to produce gripping radio and print commentaries that address critical social and economic issues. He also is challenging censorship by National Public Radio and continuing to speak out against the death penalty and to address the plight of all prisoners. As one supporter expressed: "Journalism was his whole career prior to the incident that led to his conviction ... He was a media hero in his exposes of police brutality; his work has acknowledged by his election as president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Black Journalists, and his role as an investigative reporter was undoubtedly a crucial ingredient in the desire of the Philadelphia police ... to 'get him.'"Urvashi Vaid -- Vaid is a columnist and former Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a community-based think tank involved in policy analysis, research, strategizing, and coalition building.She also is the author of "Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation," and has distinguished herself in progressive alternative and queer media as a voice that bridges communities as diverse as gays, people of color and women. Karl Grossman -- Culminating a lifetime of writing about nuclear issues, Grossman's book and stories have succeeded in bringing public attention to the dangers of nuclear proliferation in space. In fact, Grossman's groundbreaking reporting on NASA's plans to launch into space its Cassini probe to Saturn carrying 72 pounds of lethal plutonium-238 (long described by scientists as the most toxic substance known), thereby putting billions of people at risk of radiation exposure, was among the top 10 censored stories of the year, as awarded by Project Censored.Norman Solomon -- Nationally-syndicated columnist and author of eight books, including, "The Trouble With Dilbert," "The Wizards of Media Oz" (co-authored with Jeff Cohen), "Unreliable Sources" (co-authored with Martin A. Lee), and "The Power of Babble." Solomon is one of the few openly progressive voices on media and politics heard and read on a national scale, and is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a new nationwide consortium of public-policy experts challenging media distortions from major think tanks.Jim Ridgeway -- One of the "long-distance runners" of investigative reporting, Ridgeway has exposed corporate greed and fraud since the 1960s and has shone the light on hate groups and right wing militias over the past 14 years.Herb Schiller - Scholar and author of "Information Inequality and Culture, Inc.," Schiller is a pioneer of media criticism, a star of early classic Paper Tiger media shows, and has helped develop many of the critiques of the media system upon which the Media & Democracy Congress is based. Currently, he is Professor Emeritus of Communication at the University of California, San Diego as well as Adjunct professor at New York university. Bob Herbert -- The only African American columnist on the New York Times' op-ed page, Herbert has been a powerful and brave voice for the powerless, writing about police brutality, global sweatshops and media distortions.The Institute for Alternative Journalism also presented a lifetime achievement award to James Weinstein, founding publisher and editor of "In These Times." Weinstein has kept the journal focused on issues that matter for 21 years and helped to create an intellectual core for leftist thought since the 1950s.