Letter to the Future

Posted Nov 19, 2015 @ 12:10 pm by
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From the dystopian to the optimistic, from college students to Pulitzer Prize winners, LETTERS TO THE FUTURE went live at 12:01 am, Thursday, November 19, 2015. LettersFuture_logo_square

A national effort to encourage people from all walks of life to write six generations into the future about climate change, LETTERS TO THE FUTURE has so far exceeded the expectations of the project’s organizers and generated original reflections on what has been called the greatest challenge facing the planet.

The campaign (with hundreds of letters from the public continuing to be posted at letterstothefuture.org) puts a spotlight on the importance of world leaders agreeing to a global climate treaty in Paris. Dozens of celebrated public figures joined in drafting letters to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks.

In an unusual coordinated effort, LETTERS TO THE FUTURE is a media project involving alternative weeklies and other media across the United States that will publish in print select letters over the next three weeks, potentially speaking to more than four million readers in print and 15 million unique viewers online. The national rollout of the project began today. The project was orchestrated out of the offices of the Sacramento News & Review and sponsored by the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and The Media Consortium.

The precedent for LETTERS TO THE FUTURE was the occasion of The Kyoto Project with the Association of Alternative Newspapers (AAN). Fifty alternative weeklies across the country published the shared climate crisis articles around the 10-year anniversary of the Kyoto Accord. Readership for The Kyoto Project numbered in the millions.

To date, LETTERS TO THE FUTURE has attracted letters from all over.

…From writers across North America
Jane Smiley, Author, Pulitzer Prize Winner
“West America was once a beautiful place—not the parched desert landscape that it is now. Where you see abandoned, flooded cities, we saw smooth beaches and easy waves.”

T.C. Boyle, Author, Winner of PEN/Faulkner Award, Finalist for the National Book Award
“At least you don’t have to worry about abattoirs, piggeries, feed lots, bovine intestinal gases and the like—or, for that matter, the ozone layer, which would have been long gone by the time you started walking on two legs.” (T.C. Boyle wrote his LETTER TO THE FUTURE to… rats.)

Kim Stanley Robinson, Author, Nebula and Hugo Award Winner
“Dear Great-Great-Grandchildren, I’ve been worried about you for a long time. But recently I’ve seen signs that we might give you a better result. At this moment the issue is still in doubt. But a good path leading from me to you can be discerned. ”

…as well as performing artists
Nitanju Bolade Casel, Member of the Grammy Award-Winning
Troupe Sweet Honey in the Rock “Please know that there were also visionaries who worked endlessly for positive changes in this world—changes to benefit the many, not just the few; you may have to do the same.”

David Harrington, Violinist, Artistic Director, Kronos Quartet
“All those who object to the unsurvivable situation humanity faces must mobilize every available resource to circumvent dire shortsightedness.”

…To those active in the world of politics
Annie Leonard, Story of Stuff and Exec Director, Greenpeace USA
“Paris … paved the way for an era of unprecedented innovation, as entrepreneurs and academics fine-tuned the best ways to harness the unlimited power of our wind, waves and sun.”

Jim Hightower, Author, Public Speaker
“Even a dead fish can go with the flow, and if the delegates don’t dare to swim against the corporate current, we’re all dead.”

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, United States Senator from Nevada
“You deserve a chance to experience the beautiful world that I grew up in. … The idea that our actions could jeopardize your future was simply unbearable.”

Bill McKibben, Author, Educator and Environmentalist
“By the time the great Paris climate conference of 2015 rolled around, many of us were inclined to cynicism.”

Sen. Kevin de León, President Pro Tempore, CA State Senate
“This fight is larger than me, larger than any industry, state or nation. It’s about you and the future of your family.”

…from young and old
Julia Brabenec, Retired Orchardist and Gardener
I want to tell you a story: It began in 1926 when I was born, and is near to being finished in 2015. The world that I was born in was not a perfect world. Not everyone had all they needed for a good life, to raise their children and enjoy the bounty of this earth. But it was a grand world, beautiful and filled with resources for its people. . . . . .

Natasha von Kaenel, Writer, recent college graduate
“It was easy to drive, fun to travel and the joy that comes from a steaming shower is so delicious, even in a state plagued by drought.” From an astronaut, who has seen Earth from far, far away….

Stephen Robinson, Astronaut (Retired), Research Scientist and Engineering Professor
“If you look at Earth’s atmosphere from orbit, you can see it “on edge” … And what you see is the most exquisite, luminous, delicate glow of a layered azure haze holding the Earth like an ethereal eggshell. “That’s it?!” I thought.”

Why the 2015 Paris Climate Conference is so important
Scientists have warned for decades that current greenhouse gas emission trends have put the Earth on track for calamitous storms, floods, droughts and rising oceans. But the world’s governments have yet to sign a legally binding agreement to do what it takes to avert climate disaster. The UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015 is humanity’s last best chance to finally get this done. Environmentalist and former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore has said, literally, that “the future of the world” depends on the outcome of the Paris talks.

Here’s the complete list of letters released on 11/18:

–Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley;
–Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Geraldine Brooks;
–Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jack Miles;
–T.C. Boyle, winner of the Penn/Faulkner Award;
–Bill McKibben, 350.org;
–MacArthur “Genius” Award winner Rebecca Newberger Goldstein;
–Senator Harry Reid;
–Artistic Director, Kronos Quartet, David Harrington –Kim Stanley Robinson, winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards; –Michael Pollan, author, journalist, activist;
–Aisha Kahlil, Carol Maillard, Nitanju Bolade Casel and Louise Robinson, from the Grammy Award-Winning Troupe Sweet Honey in the Rock –Dr. Stephen Robinson, former NASA astronaut;
–Annie Leonard (The Story of Stuff);
–Anti-coal activist Alexis Bonogofsky;
–Award-winning writer and filmmaker Donnell Alexander;
–Political activist and radio commentator Jim Hightower;
–Kevin de Leon, President pro tempore of the California State Senate;
–Author Pam Houston;
–Rhea Suh, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council;
–Roxana Robinson, Winner, James Webb Award for Distinguished Fiction; and activist and former legislator Tom Hayden.

LETTERS TO THE FUTURE will provide the letters to American delegates and accredited observers attending the conference to read, absorb and share them with COP21 Climate Talks in Paris. Letters continue to be written and posted online and, given the wide enthusiasm for the project, organizers for LETTERS TO THE FUTURE are discussing how to extend the effort beyond the Paris Climate Talks.

Media contact: Dave Webb

What is the Media Consortium’s Impact Project?

Posted Aug 26, 2015 @ 3:11 pm by
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The Media Consortium launched our Metrics Impact Project in 2012 with generous support from the Voqal Fund. The goal of the project is to learn if we can quantify the impact that progressive news stories have on audiences by measuring changes in sentiment.

In the metrics world, “sentiment” means “how someone thinks about a topic.” In short, if you publish a story about charter schools, does that change how the public thinks about charter schools?

The research is being carried out by Gary King, the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor and Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard, and by his two incredibly capable graduate students, Ariel White and Benjamin Schneer.

The project is guided by three core assumptions:

1) Change in sentiment is the right metric for measuring the impact of news. Specifically, the researchers are measuring changes in the sentiment of what they call “activated public opinion,” which are the views of people actively trying to change public policy or the views of others (vs. surveys, which measure the sentiment of the average American)

2) Measuring changes in sentiment on Twitter will closely match changes in the sentiment of “activated public opinion” more generally.

3) Editorial collaborations are more likely to produce changes in activated public opinion on a regular basis than individual stories by individual outlets.

How the Project Works

The way the project actually works is this:

  • Back in 2013, the researchers asked us to choose a few evergreen topic areas for this project. We chose: immigration, education, reproductive health, and recently added climate change.
  • The researchers have access to the full Twitter “firehose.” They looked back over the past several years of tweets on these four topic areas and established a baseline for different frames in which people were tweeting about them. Their analysis goes beyond keywords, using an algorithm that is modified by human beings in order to pull apart the nuances of positions like pro-charter schools or anti-charter schools.
  • TMC staff (Manolia and Jo Ellen) organize collaborations around the project topic areas. Each collaboration ideally includes at least two original pieces, and at least 3-5 outlets posting the pieces.
  • The researchers need to randomize the experiment to ensure that changes in sentiment come from your stories and not from world events. So we pick two possible publishing dates, and the researchers randomly choose one date.
  • Participants actively try to not publish on the same topic on the week not chosen.
  • The stories all publish on the designated date. Participants in the collaboration retweet each other’s stories, using a common hashtag (which lets researchers track the reach of the specific story). TMC also promotes.
  • The researchers measure sentiment on the topic, and compare the sentiment in the week after a story runs to the baseline measurement of sentiment to see if the collaboration had an effect.

What is the Benefit of this Project?

The Metrics Impact Project has short-term and we hope, long-term benefits for TMC outlets.In the short-term, participants have told us they have realized two benefits:

1) Marketing. Publishing pieces collaboratively has helped outlets extend their reach to new audiences, both in terms of social media and in terms of readers.

2) Editorial. Journalists involved in collaborations have told us that they have gotten more and better story ideas; when journalists from different outlets have worked together on stories, they tell us it has provided them with professional development and strengthened their skill set as journalists.

In the long-term, our aim is two-fold:

1) Provide quantitative proof to funders that news stories change sentiment. Being able to provide such proof has become increasingly important in the funding environment: for more, see this article by Ethan Zuckerman in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

2) Develop a tool so that news outlets can continue to measure this change in sentiment.

Where Are We Now?

What follows is a brief chronology of the project and next steps.

Year One, 2013. This year was spent mainly behind the scenes, gathering information and designing the experiment.

Year Two, 2014 We began the project in earnest, focused on testing the theory that collaborations change sentiment. With funding from Voqal Fund, we ran 9 collaborations. Each of these collaborations involved 5 or more outlets, and required reporters and editors to coordinate with each other. Researchers found a strong correlation between these collaborations and sentiment changes, but they realized that they would need up to 40 collaborative instances to get statistically clear data. At the same time, participants told us that these collaborations took a lot of staff time. They also took a great deal of TMC staff time.

Year Three, 2015. In the spring of this year, we went through another design phase in response to what we learned in 2014. As a result, we changed the nature of the collaborations so that they are now more like co-publishing instances. Instead of asking outlets to work together from scratch on a set of stories, we are now asking outlets to co-publish stories they planned to run anyway. We also hired Manolia Charlotin to direct the project. Since May 2015, we have published 18 of these collaborations.

We are very excited that so far, the researchers are again seeing a correlation between each collaborative instance and sentiment change. In short, it looks like the theory works, and that we will be able to provide quantitative proof that your stories, at least when produced collaboratively, have a measurable impact.

However, we cannot publish this data until we have enough instances to ensure that the initial perception of the data is correct. Our next step is to run 20 more copublishing instances in 2015.

We expect to conclude the project by December 31, 2015. The researchers will present their preliminary findings at our annual conference in Philly in February 2016.


Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, joellen@themediaconsortium.com



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How We Support Reporting on #BlackLivesMatter

Posted Jul 22, 2015 @ 1:49 pm by
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Recognizing the need for better, deeper reporting on violence against people of color, the Media Consortium has created a program to strengthen and amplify the reporting of our member organizations.

At http://www.blackspringindymedia.org, a rebelmouse site we launched in May 2015 with the help of Kwan Booth at Making Contact, we are aggregating reporting on police violence and structural racism from all Media Consortium outlets. Our aim is to make this site a one-stop location for activists, policymakers, and journalists seeking the best reporting on this ongoing story.

To further amplify your impact, TMC staff are spending this summer traveling to BlackLivesMatter meetups around the country. Executive Director Jo Ellen Kaiser has attended the Allied Media Conference in Detroit; TMC project director Manolia Charlotin has attended events in Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans and Cleveland. At these events we are connecting with citizen journalists on Black Twitter, introducing journalists and activists to the work of Media Consortium members, and seeking partnerships between the two groups.

Media Consortium outlets have a long and proud history of reporting on police violence and on racial equity and justice. Yet even the most seasoned reporter can use more education in the structural causes of violence against people of color, and training on how to identify personal and cultural bias that may impact reporting. To that end, the Media Consortium has begun a series of trainings, “How to report on police violence.”

The first training was held June 16 and featured Rinku Sen, Executive Director of Race Forward and a nationally known organizer, speaker, and training on racial equity and justice. Rinku provided an audience of 20 reporters an overview of the factors that can impact reporting, drawn from their important new Race Reporting Guide. We will follow up in subsequent trainings with case studies highlighting each of these factors.

All of this work is currently unsupported—outside of our regular budget. If you would like to donate to support these important trainings, or know someone who would, please contact joellen@themediaconsortium.com




Posted Jan 7, 2015 @ 12:33 pm by
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January 7, 2015

The Media Consortium strongly condemns the attack on Charlie Hebdo, an independent magazine based in Paris.

Free speech is a human right. The ability to speak freely allows us to name ourselves and tell our own story. It allows us to say who we are—and who we are not.

Free speech can hurt—certainly, the brave cartoonists and writers of Charlie Hebdo intended their speech to be its own weapon. We dishonor their memory if we don’t understand that they used speech to fight a proxy war against Islamic fundamentalism. A number of us disagreed with Charlie Hebdo’s methods and objectives. Their murderers, however, chose the coward’s way out; they chose to end that argument by silencing the voices of Charlie Hebdo with guns.

What’s even sadder is that the writers of Charlie Hebdo are not alone. In 2014 alone, over 100 journalists were killed around the world for speaking freely about what they saw. Many more have been killed—both journalists and civilians alike—for voicing their opinions.

The shooting at Charlie Hebdo will only cause us to redouble our efforts as independent journalists to tell the stories we see; to speak our truths, no matter how controversial; and to refuse to be bullied.

We believe, with Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, that speech will always eventually prevail over violence. The deaths of Stephane Charbonnier, Bernard Maris, Jean Cabu, Georges Wolinski, Bernard Verlhac and their colleagues will not have been in vain.


[Note: this op-ed was changed on 1/8/2015 to more accurately reflect Media Consortium members views]

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2015 Annual Conference

Posted Jan 7, 2015 @ 12:31 pm by
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2015 Annual Conference
February 5-7, 2015
San Francisco, CA

The Media Consortium’s 2015 Conference will bring together over 250 leaders of independent news. Join us to network with your peers, learn about new business and digital strategies, and find out how your outlet can make more impact in the coming year.

All of the conference information can be found on our convenient mobile app at http://tmc2015.org

Register: Be sure to use code TMC2015 when you register to get the TMC member special price! Early bird registration ends January 12! Go here to register.

Hotel: The conference hotel is the Argonaut. We’ve arranged a discounted rate of $195/night (note that their double bedded rooms are exceptionally large)–use this link to book your room. We’ve also set up a google sheet for folks looking for roommates or local couches to crash on.

Program: Find the updated program at http://tmc2015.org

Sponsors: There are still some opportunities left to sponsor or exhibit at this conference. Get in touch with Jo Ellen at joellen [at] themediaconsortium [dot] org

TMC Outlets on #FergusonDecision

Posted Nov 25, 2014 @ 1:07 pm by
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Media has been criticized for its coverage of the Ferguson– criticized for inciting violence by focusing on violent protests; criticized for only giving the police point of view; criticized for lack of context and for a focus on what’s wrong instead of next steps.

To find alternatives to these critiques, we invite you to spend time with the independent news outlets listed here. Gain context on blackness in America and the role of police in shootings; find out what really happened at protests and what solutions we can implement. We will update this post over the next week, then save it as an archive of what was published.

Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, Executive Director, The Media Consortium

Blackness in America

The American Prospect


The Nation

Washington Monthly

the Police
Chicago Reporter

Mother Jones

In These Times

Democracy Now!

Political Research Associates

The Real News
Should the Community Control the Police?

the Media
Chicago Reporter


Colorlines (storify)

American Prospect

Democracy Now!

RH Reality Check

RH Reality Check

Oakland Local
Next Steps

The Progressive

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2014 Impact Awards Announced

Posted Mar 4, 2014 @ 2:00 pm by
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Second Annual Media Consortium Impact Awards Announced!

The Media Consortium has announced the Second Annual Impact Award Winners at its annual conference in Chicago. The winners are:

The Life and Death of Crystal Wilson” (Monica Potts, American Prospect)
The Horror Every Day” (Emily DePrang, Texas Observer)
Fed Up” (Michelle Chen, Ms. Magazine)
The Wage Theft Epidemic” (Spencer Woodman, In These Times)
The Science of Citizenship” (Belle Boggs, Orion Magazine)

Judges for the contest were the staff at The New Press. Twenty outlets submitted stories for these awards, which are given out to the stories that had the greatest impact on public conversation in the previous year.

Julie McCarroll of The New Press summarized the entire group of submissions as focused “very powerfully [on] the problem of inequality. …[W]hether it’s income inequality, lack of equitable education or simply powerful institutions that go unchecked, the scope of inequality [is] exposed here … without flinching, or minimizing, or shutting down.

The impact of these stories was significant. Monica Pott’s piece in the American Prospect spurred a Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging to hold a hearing on differences in life expectancy due to income inequality, education level, and race. As a result of the Emily DePrang’s story for The Texas Observer, the Houston Police Department announced a pilot program to outfit 100 officers with body cameras to help resolve citizen complaints. Michelle Chen’s piece for Ms. became a rallying point for Los Angeles’ fast food workers, while Spencer Woodman’s piece for In These Times helped convince the Virginia General Assembly to vote to restore funding to the state’s wage-and-hour enforcement unit. The Orion story will have a longer tail, raising questions about testing, citizenship and democracy that will resonate over years.

The Media Consortium is a national network of independent progressive news organizations. A non-profit, its mission is to support and grow the impact of the independent news media sector.

Here is what the New Press said about each award winner:

1- The Life and Death of Crystal Wilson, by Monica Potts for the American Prospect
We loved the way this piece showed the power of narrative to bring a statistical anomaly to life. The piece was empathetic and deeply moving, and especially haunting for the glimpse it gave of the millions of women who have died in circumstances similar to crystal Wilson. The piece spurred a Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging to hold a hearing on differences in life expectancy due to income inequality, education level, and race.

2- The Horror Every Day by Emily DePrang for the Texas Observer
This piece serves as a reminder that despite the progress people THINK we’ve made since Rodney King, police departments still operate with impunity. DePrang’s story showed patterns and describes a really shocking lack of accountability in the Houston PD, and holds it up to public accountability. In response to the piece, HPD announced a pilot program to outfit 100 officers with body cameras to help resolve citizen complaints.

3- Fed Up by Michelle Chen for MS magazine
We loved the way Chen’s piece integrated a number of social issues (education, poverty, access to work, access to healthcare, access to opportunity). And the revelation that, because so many of the workers must rely on social services to make ends meet, taxpayers are actually shouldering costs that fast-food companies should be paying. In terms of impact, Chen’s piece became a rallying point for protests by fast-food workers in Los Angeles in December 2013.

4- The Wage Theft Epidemic by Spencer Woodman for In These Times
As a stand alone piece, this does an amazing job of putting a name and a face on the phenomenon of wage theft – something that most salaried individuals are not aware of. It delves into the personal impact of this corporate policy and also hints what the practice means on a national level. A little over a week after the story was published—and after copies had been sent to Virginia legislators—the Virginia General Assembly voted to restore funding to the state’s wage-and-hour enforcement unit, ensuring that these workers now have advocates once again.

5- The Science of Citizenship by Belle Boggs for Orion magazine
This piece is a substantial contribution to the conversations on standardized testing and inequality in education. But it goes farther than that, to examine science education’s role in democracy and citizenship.

Join us in Chicago February 27-March 1!

Posted Oct 28, 2013 @ 10:24 am by
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The Media Consortium is pleased to announce that registration is open for our annual conference. Join us in Chicago, February 27-March 1!

Now in its 7th year, the Media Consortium’s annual conference draws decision makers from the leading independent news organizations. Join publishers, editors, and executive directors from Mother Jones, Orion, Truthout, In These Times, Raw Story, AlterNet, the New Press, KCETLINK TV, Rabble, Dissent, and many others to discuss the issues facing the independent news sector.

The first day of the conference, February 27, will focus on in-depth fee-based workshops. In an innovation, you not only choose your workshop–you choose the price you are willing to pay!

A reception then kicks off a 36 hour networking event like none other. No need to try to nab people in the hallways–at the Media Consortium conference, an entire afternoon is given over to working groups and open discussions. Drop into a group or set up your own! And, with all this, get ready for selected speakers who offer rich content and panels that speak to you as a peer.

We know price matters, so this conference is low-cost. For Media Consortium members, Friday and Saturday are free–and you pay what you want for workshops on Thursday. If you aren’t a Media Consortium member, you can attend just a workshop, or get workshop and conference access for one very low price!

Our hotel for this conference is the well-appointed Wyndham Blake in the heart of the Loop. Rooms with the Media Consortium discount are just $99/night!

So don’t delay:

See you in Chicago!

Jo Ellen

Collaborative Project Shines Light on Plan B Availability

Posted Oct 7, 2013 @ 12:47 pm by
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By Jason Zaragoza

As part of the Reproductive Justice Reporting Project announced this summer, the Media Consortium and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN)  have launched the website, Where is Your Plan B?, an investigation into the availability of Plan B emergency contraceptive.

In June, the FDA approved Plan B as an over-the-counter drug, making it available to all women of childbearing age without a prescription or point-of-sale restrictions. With a grant from the Quixote Foundation, ten news outlets from TMC and AAN went out to see how pharmacies were putting this into practice.

Are stores making the product available on the shelf or forcing customers to ask a pharmacist? Are stores putting it behind a locked cabinet, requiring assistance from a store employee? Are clerks asking for ID, even though the FDA does not require it? In other words, are stores turning what should be a personal, private health decision into an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience for women during what is already a stressful time?

Participating in this project to find answers are: Austin Chronicle, Bitch magazine, In These Times, Jackson Free Press, LEO Weekly, Making Contact/ National Radio Project, Ms. magazine, People*Power*Media, Portland Mercury, Public News Service, and Santa Fe Reporter.

“Independent news organizations care about impacting people’s lives,” says TMC Director Jo Ellen Green Kaiser. “With collaborations like the Reproductive Reporting Project, we can leverage our different skill sets, platforms and geographies in order to create a story that has reach and impact beyond the sum of its parts.”

The website features a mix of articles, audio and video content from the participating outlets, as well as a resource section and form for users to report their individual experiences. The user-submitted data will be used to create a map showing the availability of Plan B across the country.

“This project is a perfect example of what alts do best — use their reporting muscle to shine light on an important topic that affects the lives of real people everyday,” said AAN executive director Tiffany Shackelford. “At a time when women’s reproductive rights are under attack in so many states, I’m proud that AAN members are part of this effort with the Media Consortium to inform the public and make an impact on the ground-level.”

Where is Your Plan B? from altweeklies on Vimeo.


2013 Media Consortium Impact Awards

Posted Mar 19, 2013 @ 9:12 am by
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The Media Consortium is pleased to announce the winners of our first annual Impact Awards. The winners for 2013 are:
American Prospect
Berrett-Koehler Books
Mother Jones
Washington Monthly
The awards were announced at the Media Consortium’s annual meeting in Baltimore. Our judges were the editorial team from New Press. For more on each winner, check out our video

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