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Facebook, Justice, and Badass Deanna: Free Press Summit

May 20, 2010

The conversations at last week's Free Press Summit were charged with the energy and innovation that are the hallmarks of folks on the cutting edge of media. Journalists, policy makers, activists, and philanthropists discussed everything from Net Neutrality to Facebook to the transforming demographics of our country. Tracy Van Slyke, Progressive Women's Voices alumna and Project Director at The Media Consortium, was featured in Free Press's "What's Next?" video, discussing how independent media outlets can grow their audiences and diversify their leadership. Combining the two concepts, Tracy added, "If we're not diversifying our audiences, we're not going to be relevant in the future." Author, journalist, and WMC Communications Consultant Farai Chideya moderated the afternoon panel about public media, featuring the BBC's John Tate and PBS' David Fanning. Farai's vision has helped generate the new and lively #sheparty Twitter gatherings and dynamized our social media presence. Deanna Zandt, a Progressive Women's Voices alumna, spoke on the morning panel. When the issue of female majorities on social media sites was raised, Deanna immediately stepped in to point out that this ratio allows women’s stories to be fully told and heard. She cited the aftermath of Dr. George Tiller's murder, during which women came out of the woodwork to advocate for late-term abortions by telling their personal stories. "It humanized this terrible topic that nobody wants to talk about," Deanna said. "Women are more willing to share those stories, and it's infusing the culture with their values." And in the defining moment of the opening panel, Deanna raised the increasingly controversial issue of Facebook privacy settings. She wasn't preaching to the choir; Andrew Noyes, Facebook's spokesperson, was sitting inches from her onstage. His feathers were clearly ruffled, and said that describing Facebook's exploitation of users' personal information is "fearmongering." But as Deanna puts it, and as the New York Times quoted her last week, "It's getting harder and harder for me to say, yes it’s worth it, you giving up your privacy to get these services, and I have to put my money where my mouth is." Following these insights and visions, WMC President Jehmu Greene gave the Summit's closing keynote, and drove home the issue of equal media representation. All day there was a clear and shared frustration about the state of mainstream media in this country, which so often privileges the interests of the privileged over those of the country as a whole. She pointed particularly to progressive outlets, which provide essential commentary but maintain extreme gender disparity in their journalists. At Huffington Post, which was named for its female founder, just 19% of bloggers are women. The numbers at Slate are even worse, and Salon is only slightly better. If our best progressive sites aren't hosting women, who will? As Jehmu said last week, we've got no choice but to do better. With folks like Deanna, Tracy, Farai, and the other innovative minds at the Summit, it's clear that we can.