I Got Kicked Out Of An “Independent Media Convention” Today

2013-03-23 12.09.05

I was in Jamestown today to attend an “independent media convention” put on by the North Dakota Free Press, among other groups, which was described on the registration page promoting “fair, impartial, and independent news media.”

I’m passionate about independent media. I’ve been publishing SAB for ten years now. I knew this was being put on by a bunch of people who, ideologically, I really don’t line up with. But I thought, politics aside, I could pick up a few things. And maybe share some thoughts of my own. So I registered…

ndfreepress

…and made the trip.

I shouldn’t have wasted my time.

I arrived in Jamestown last night and met about a dozen of you readers at the SAB meet-up (thanks to everyone who came out!), then got up this morning to attend the convention at the Jamestown Civic Center. I walked into the room and sat down, and right after striking up a conversation with the gentleman next to me who seemed bewildered by the idea that I want the Keystone XL pipeline built, I was approached by Bill Patrie one of the event’s organizers (described as a “specialist in cooperatives and economic development” on the event website).

Bill asked me what I was doing at the event. I told him that I’m interested in independent media and hoped to learn a few things and participate in the discussion. At which point Mr. Patrie told me that the event wasn’t for me. He was visibly angry – he was holding a cup of coffee and shaking so badly I wondered how long the liquid would stay in it – and I asked if he wanted me to leave. He said yes.

I didn’t protest much. I wasn’t there to cause a scene, so I left miffed that the six hours I spent driving to and from the event was wasted.

As he was explaining to me why I shouldn’t be in the room, Patrie said that the intent of the event was to create a “cooperative” to support “independent media” and that they didn’t want any “criticism.” It’s worth noting that four members of the North Dakota Newspaper Association were in the room, as well as a member of the Democrat National Committee. Maybe they were right to think that a conservative media skeptic might have some criticisms of an event billed as promoting “independent media” with that cast of characters on hand and the one conservative in the room sent packing.

But then, they’re the ones who opened the event to the public. They’re the ones who used words like “unbiased” and “impartial.” I guess those words only apply if you happen to agree with them.

The other group sponsoring the event, other than NDFreePress.org, was the People’s Press Project (a media justice organization!) founded by Cindy and Duke Gomez-Schempp and the intent of the proceedings was pretty obvious. They are establishing a sort of left-wing media operation in the state.

Which I’m fine with. Heck, I’m downright supportive of it, and I think conservatives ought to do the same thing. The more voices in the digital publishing world he better, I think. But they’re being more than a little cloak-and-dagger about the whole thing. Under the guise “independent” and “unbiased” media, these people want to create ideologically-driven content.

That’s what I do. But I’m honest and transparent about it. I’m not pretending to be something I’m not. I wear my ideology on my sleeve.

John Jorgensen of NDFreePress.org has since called and apologized to me and has said that he’ll be publishing an apology too. I should mention that Jorgensen has been running my columns on his website for a couple of months now (I offered them, liking the idea of putting my words in front of a liberal audience). He said he’s sorry it happened and had actually been looking forward to meeting me (the feeling was mutual). He said he wasn’t aware until after the event that I had been asked to leave – though someone who stayed told me later that my removal was discussed during the opening remarks – and that wasn’t something he would have supported.

Fair enough, I guess.

I’m going to pull my columns from NDFreePress.org as I really don’t want to be associated with an organization that would advertise themselves as unbiased, and then discriminate against someone because of their political ideology. Or associate themselves with people who do that sort of thing. It’s dishonest and, frankly, I have plenty of followers as is.

I also think that citizens in North Dakota should be wary of these groups. They are clearly marketing their ideologically-driven content to mainstream media publications in the state, or intend to, and passing it off as objective. Which it almost certainly won’t be.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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