Jessica and I had a terrific time at the National Conference for Media Reform this weekend. We spent almost the entire time glued to The NewStandard table in the well-hidden back row of the well-hidden "Showcase" room. Traffic was sparse, but that gave us the opportunity to have longer conversations with the scores of people who came by to check out what we were showing off.
One thing that we realized after we packed up on Saturday evening is nearly every single person who recognized The NewStandard -- which we projected onto a movie screen behind our exhibit -- said they read it regularly and liked if not loved it. Now, no more than about one out of every eight people who stopped by said they had seen TNS. But that only means that even among progressives broadly interested in media issues, we have lots of room to grow our audience -- and among those who are exposed to our work, the rate of approval is extremely high.
As poor as the placement of our table turned out to be in the grand scheme of things (though no fault of our own), we were thrilled to be sandwiched in between other great noncommercial news projects. On one side were the awesome folks at Currents of Awareness. They have been supporting TNS and other alternative media for a while now, fulfilling a very crucial role promoting independent media outlets through various forums. Please check them out when you get a chance.
Also worth a good look is Newsdesk.org, who hosted an exhibit to our left. Their project is similar to ours in some ways, as they produce noncommercial hard news and share a lot of our attitudes and approaches to journalism. We were mostly unfamiliar with their work before meeting them, but we were very impressed (and aren't afraid to tell our readers as much).
The table behind us was hosted by Independent World Television, a very interesting project in its early stages of development. They seem to be largely funded by massive foundations, which leads one to wonder what they mean when they call themselves "independent," but it would certainly be great to see more noncommercial television with an orientation toward real news reporting and public interest journalism.
We met a number of long-time readers and supporters face-to-face, which was very rewarding. Attaching faces and voices to names, and names to otherwise anonymous browsers, helps to keep us grounded and reminds us of our audience.
Another of the terrific aspects of our time at the conference involved the dozens and dozens of times we each described The NewStandard to folks who were unfamiliar with our work. Not only were people's reactions overwhelmingly positive ("I've been WAITING for someone to do THAT!" was a common refrain), but we also learned a lot about how to present an encapsulized version of just what it is that we do. This should come in very handy for future promotional efforts.
There were some potentially very disappointing aspects of the conference which we intend to pursue over the next week. We really did not have the capacity to do reporting from St. Louis (though we did a considerable amount of editing while on the road, and we're editing again tonight from a hotel in Ohio). But some of the criticisms we heard of the conference were very disturbing and deserve a deeper look.
All in all, however, there's nothing like a working vacation to rejuvenate the spirits (except a real vacation, which will continue to be a mirage for the foreseeable future...), and we did a lot of laughing and hand-shaking, so we should be fueled up for a good deal more hard work in the coming weeks.
We should take a minute to thank all of our Premium Members and other donors for sponsoring this fruitful networking opportunity. We were not able to afford to attend the last conference in 2003, and as anyone will tell you, hitting a certain number of these kinds of events in a year is crucial to obtaining and maintaining relevance in the alternative media. Without the committed support of our readership, we would surely be adrift instead of increasing our relevance and popularity week after week.