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A Dialogue about a Y2K Media conference?

Dear Y2K colleagues,

[A California state senator] commented on the need to deal with the Y2K panic-promoting potential of the media. I suggested a conference (preferably with lots of attendee-generated "open space" breakout sessions) involving government, media and community groups to explore the question "How can government and media best deal with Y2K on behalf of the general welfare?" His chief of staff replied that the biggest problem was the broadcast media -- and that no media take kindly to efforts by politicians to push them.

This suggests that such a conference should be convened not by the government, but by community groups or non-profits of some kind. The more I think about this question ("How can government and media best deal with Y2K on behalf of the general welfare?"), the more important it seems to me to have a public exploration of the topic by major players. The value of WISE, OPEN government-media collaboration on behalf of the public cannot be overestimated. But what would that look like? Clarifying that would be the aim of such a conference.

Does anyone here know of any organizations that might be willing to sponsor such a conference? Can you contact them? (I don't have resources to follow up on this at this time, but I thought I'd seed it out into the networks, on the off chance that someone would want to cultivate it or at least toss a little fertilizer on it...)




Date: Wed, 20 Jan 1999 21:40:55 -0700
From: "Paul Andrews" <>

Dear Tom,

What about a journalism school -- or a consortium of schools? or some
journalism students as a project? I'd see if a journalism school has a web
site where you could drop this idea...

Paul Andrews

12:00 PM 1/12/99
From: Tom Callanan

On first blush I think this is both a potentially very brilliant and also a very risky idea. I'd be interested in hearing about the responses you get to this one. And I'm sending it around my networks to see what folks think.

Last July Fetzer sponsored a very successful contemplative retreat for members of the mainstream media here at our conference center. One of the questions raised at that retreat was how might the media act as a kind of witnessing capacity for society. I think that this kind of capacity is what's being called for now. I just don't know if this is realistic or not.

Tom Atlee replies:

Actually we want more than witnessing capacity, I think. I urge you to read Larry Shook's piece on my site. In an earlier conversation I referred Senator Vasconcellos to:

1) Frances Moore Lappe's American News Service (Brattleboro, VT), a wire service which reports on grassroots democratic efforts and has just established a Y2K bureau. Contact the Managing Editor Peter Seares at 800-654-NEWS or 802-254-6167 (if they ask for an extension, it's 125), FAX 802-254-1227, email, website:

2) Larry Shook (Spokane, WA), investigative reporter and Y2K community activist who has thought a lot about the media's role in Y2K. He was a co-editor of AWAKENING: THE UPSIDE OF Y2K. Phone (509) 747-8776, email See "Media, The Millennium Bug & The Stories We Tell" at

In my own research with groups, I note two conflicting energies, one descriptive and one evocative. The power of the descriptive is that it aligns people's efforts with actual conditions: "Here's what's going on." The power of the evocative is that it elicits potentials that otherwise might not materialize: "We can DO this! You are amazing!" The danger of the evocative energy taking over is that it will forbid any descriptive observations of negative conditions "Don't hang out our dirty laundry. Don't bring negative energy into the group. Etc." The danger of the descriptive energy is that the wrong sort of negative descriptions CAN evoke negative phenomena: "We're not getting anything done at our meetings. The obstacles we face are unbelievably large. Etc."

Media pride themselves in objectivity and digging out the dirt. These often combine into a deadend cynicism. What they evoke in readers/viewers is a pessimistic spectatorism, a nihilistic passivity that is the death of citizenship.

We need a reconceptualization of the role of media as an agent of societal/community health. The mission of "digging out the dirt" was originally conceived as an antidote to the abuses of power and the social parasitism of powerholders and extremists; it was a socially protective mission. We still need that mission, but we need it to re-ground in its service to the general welfare. Once the media is grounded in the general welfare, a dialogue can be held about other missions that would serve that end, such as:
a) observer - providing a birds-eye-view of what's happening in a socially significant area
b) mirror - letting us view our collective minds and hearts
c) inspirer - calling forth the best in us (you don't have to ignore the worst, to do this) and publicizing positive models that could be replicated elsewhere
d) facilitator - providing forums specifically designed to evoke the community wisdom that emerges from high-quality dialogue among diverse stakeholders
e) educator - provider of perspective, information and knowhow needed to lead people out of bad conditions into better conditions (e-ducare = to lead out)
f) etc.

Some of these the media could do directly and on their own. Some they could also do in alliance with citizen groups, government agencies, etc. If these pro-social purposes are being served, they can work with anyone. (I won't ask why it is so easy for the media to serve governments in times of war, and business in times of peace. Let's just say it is possible for media to serve the general welfare in times of crisis, and that it's a good habit to get into, regardless of how they do it.)

Date: Tue, 12 Jan 1999 08:37:13 +0000
From: kali <>

Hi Tom -

Extremely important. I've thought this and mentioned it at several
meetings over the past 2 months. If the media gets behind this in a
positive way, they could start presenting the kind of prep programs and
stories needed to get us through. It seems to me that Ted Turner is an
important person to cultivate...find someone who knows someone, etc. who
can get his ear.

From: Valerie Quigley <>
Date: Tue, 12 Jan 1999 08:44:25 -0800

Marin County Board of Supes just authorized a Y2K taskforce that is going
to be composed of government, business, non profit and citizens. Would
that be an acceptable group to call for this kind of forum?? It hasn't met
yet, but will in early February as soon as all the members are appointed by
their various groups.

From: "mayap" <>
Date: Tue, 12 Jan 1999 10:08:45 -0500

Dear Tom;

Thought you might like to know that in Asheville, NC, near where I live, a
meeting on y2k has been scheduled for Jan 21 at the Civic Center as an
educational forum for the public. Representatives from the utility
companies, the American Red Cross, city and county governments, the media,
local banks, and other agencies are scheduled to update the public on
preparedness for the y2k bug. The forum is sponsored by the Community
Resource Network and the Coalition of Asheville Neighborhoods.

It may be hogwash or it may be useful. Will let you know what happens. An
article about the meeting was printed on the front page of the newspaper
with a banner headline at the top.

I'm hoping that this meeting will prod the local county where I live to do
the same...

Maya Porter

At 8:50 PM 1/11/99, David La Chapelle wrote:
>Re media and the government...
>I began my Y2k work here in Juneau by organizing a couple of meetings in
>which I invited the media and people from government to sit down
>together. Only two meetings and the direct result was a y2k task force
>being created by the mayor to prepare Juneau for whatever might be
>coming our way in Jan 1, 2000.
>The meetings "worked" because I, an unknown quantity, initiated them and
>the subject matter was timely and clearly necessary.The unkown quantity
>factor allowed me to negotiate the usual power and competition issues
>with some fresh "legs". Based on my experience I strongly support the
>concept of the impulse for this conference coming from outside either
>the media or government.
> The usual balance of power and competition was suspended because the
>perceived problem was greater any one's ability to contain it.
>We here in Juneau have a dialy newspaper which has a Y2k section with
>its own logo which runs Y2k stories on a regular basis. Good stories
>from across the board. Our main AM radio station has a monthly call in
>program devoted to Y2k and this will probably increase in frequency. Our
>TV station has sponsored several Y2k forums this fall. Our public radio
>station has done a series of ongoing Y2k shows through the fall and this
>will continue.
>I will be designing a Media education day which will be an opporturnity
>for the media to gather together and increase their awareness. The
>impulse for this came from our collective discussions and not from any
>one source.
>I feel that what we have achieved here in Juneau is an elegant example
>of chaordic organization. There has been a synergy of effect which led
>an audience member of our last task force meeting to say,
>(from my information overloaded memory, may not be her exact words)
>"I just want to tell you that I consider Juneau one of the best prepared
>communities in America. You all are doing more, at more levels, than
>anywhere else I know."
>Whether that is true or not doesn't really matter, what is important is
>that the public is feeling that issue is being responded to and that
>something is being "done". This will do more to forstall panic than any
>other element I know of.