When the media falls back on murder and mayhem, rather
than investigating the roots of crime, it does the public a disservice
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
- 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.