U.Va. Media Policy and Ethics Conference Promises Big Names, Breadth of Voices and Topics

September 29, 2010

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story by Brevy Cannon:

September 29, 2010 — With newsrooms from the New York Times to NBC laying off scores of journalists and struggling to find a profitable business model, will the crisis in journalism mean a less-informed citizenry and weaker democracy?

Does the ongoing wave of major media mergers, concentrating control of the news in the hands of ever fewer and larger corporations, threaten to curtail the independence and diversity of ideas reaching the average American?

Does the "Google model" of targeted advertising – dependent on aggregating information from tracking cookies, cell phone location, social networking and many more sources – mean the end of privacy? And do younger generations care?

Those questions have each been the subject of countless news articles and conversations in recent history. But rarely have all three been considered together, or understood to be interrelated.

That's one goal of the Verklin Media Policy and Ethics Conference, happening Oct. 6 and 7 at the University of Virginia — founded by Thomas Jefferson, whose views on the importance of a free press in a democracy remain among the most influential in history.

The conference, free and open to the public, will consider how the rapidly evolving media landscape is disrupting and transforming journalism, privacy and the business models of media corporations.

"Those are three central issues that get talked about a lot, in different places, but the three are interrelated and need to be considered together, with an understanding of how each is connected to the broader changes in the media," said conference organizer Bruce Williams, a professor of media studies in U.Va.s College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and co-author of "After the News: The Legacy of Professional Journalism and the Future of Political Information."

The conference will also break new ground by bringing together veterans of the media world with experience across industry, policymaking and academic spheres.

"To my knowledge, nothing like this has ever been done in the United States. We've never had a gathering of these three orbits," said U.Va. alumnus David Verklin, chief executive officer of Canoe Ventures, an advanced television company created by the country's leading cable companies. "My wife, Veronica, and I are pleased to play a role in bringing them together." He has more than 32 years of experience leading media and advertising companies.

By bringing together leading media studies scholars, Washington policymakers and media industry veterans, "We can learn a lot from each other," said conference organizer Andrea Press, chair of the College's Media Studies Department and co-author (with Williams) of "The New Media Environment: An Introduction."

Conference panelists include:

•    Mike Allen, chief political correspondent for Politico, and Wyatt Andrews, Emmy Award-winning correspondent for the "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric";
•    Current and former White House media policymakers Andrew McLaughlin, Donna Gregg and Ben Scott;
•    Leading media scholars from U.Va., the University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California and New York University, among others;
•    Industry leaders with wide-ranging experience like Donald A. Baer, worldwide vice chairman of Burson-Marsteller, formerly a senior adviser to President Clinton and a top editor at U.S. News & World Report. 

Panel discussions will wrestle with questions such as:

•    How can we re-invigorate journalism and protect the public interest in the changing world of advertising and media corporations?
•    Without a common agenda and agreements on matters of fact, which the mass media produces, is there hope for deliberation and democracy?
•    Is privacy, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg asserts, a quaint and outdated notion in the digital age?
•    Should we stop worrying and celebrate a new era of creativity and the emergence of new small firms and media models?

"The digital media revolution that began more than a decade ago has created a policymaking quandary for our legislators and policymakers in Washington," Verklin said. "The media is changing so fast that how we handle media policy and media ethics going forward is going to be a central issue for public policy."

Conference participants will discuss looming media policy challenges, both short- and long-term, and suggest ways to improve both the public dialogue and academia's contributions to these challenges.

Complete conference schedule and details are available here.

— By Brevy Cannon