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Academics and grassroots media-makers talk shop in Orillia

Inaugural Media Activism Research Conference (MARG) tries to bridge silos, build collaboration and strengthen activist media

by David Gray-Donald

Academics and grassroots media-makers talk shop in Orillia

"We're here doing research and we wanted to bring people together who do research for activist and social change purposes, and people who do activism and think a lot about it," said Sandra Jeppesen at the opening of the Media Activism Research Conference (MARC) on May 12, 2016. Jeppesen is a lead figure in the Media Action Research Group (MARG) that organized the conference, which was held at Lakehead University in Orillia, ON, where Jeppesen is a faculty member in interdisciplinary studies.

The conference aimed to have academics to be in relation with activists and activist media-makers without it being an extractive relationship. To this end, the conference was subsidized, conference fees were as low as $25, three meals a day were included, and those speaking on panels or leading workshops were paid an honorarium. The funding help was in large part from a SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada) grant of nearly $500 000 over five years for research.

Media makers came to the conference from around Canada, including the Maritimes and west coast, though many hailed from southern Ontario (several attendees had until recently been involved in CHRY 105.5 FM, broadcasting from York University).  

The academics in attendance, by contrast, came in large part from abroad, including South Africa, England, India, and the south of the USA. 

There were some Indigenous folks and people of colour in attendance, and quite a few white people (the author of this article included). 

Themes of discussion included having Indigenous people leading, controlling, and producing more of the media, tensions around corporate-owned social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc) in activism, resource sharing and institutional memory in activism media, and more. (See the conference program here)

"We're hoping to create some long-lasting document [about the conference proceedings]," said Sharmeen Khan, a member of MARG and a conference organizer, at the closing session. Exactly what will be made (book, video, a paper, etc) is not yet decided, and is open to input and involvement from conference attendees. At the moment, full video of many panels and workshops is currently available on the MARG website.

There was talk of another MARG or MARG-like conference next year, but nothing has been decided. Similar but different gatherings happening this summer were mentioned, first in Detroit with the grassroots Allied Media Conference June 16-19, then in Montreal at the World Forum on Free Media August 7-14, which is connected to but separate from the World Social Forum happening in the same city, August 9-14. .


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