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Originally published Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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A clear, bubbling passion for watchdog journalism

Big corporations have been mistrusted since the heyday of steel and rails. The wariness of large companies continued through the oil and...

Big corporations have been mistrusted since the heyday of steel and rails. The wariness of large companies continued through the oil and telephone industries. Media companies are the modern-day standard.

The National Conference for Media Reform has become the place to channel efforts to break the media giants down to a human scale. Since the first conference was held in Madison, Wis., in 2003, the attendance has nearly doubled from 1,700 to the 3,500 attendees last week in Memphis, Tenn. The conference has grown with the public's awareness and unease over who and what control American media. Currently, about five corporations control the majority of the shows we watch, the movies we watch, the radio stations we listen to and the newspapers we read.

The conference brought together fringe elements that see conspiracy behind every suit and tie, to more-traditional organizations such as the Consumers Union and the Media Access Project.

Free Press, a national organization that works on media policy and is pushing the public to become informed and active in media debates, has done a good job growing the conference. Free Press should try to include more mainstream journalists, scholars and a Republican or two for the 2008 meeting.

What is encouraging about the conference is the clear and bubbling passion held for watchdog journalism, creativity in music and movies.

On display in Memphis was a desire — a need — for the media to be on the side of the public and democracy, not of Wall Street.

The many interesting panels were stacked with media activists, politicians, a sprinkling of working journalists and academics. The discussions were pointed, informative and sometimes agitated — all essential ingredients for a healthy democracy.

Hopefully, the Free Press will be able to build off such momentum.

It will be needed as the Federal Communications Commission considers whether to loosen ownership restrictions on the press and Congress weighs a much-needed network-neutrality law.

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