Earlier this month, more than 3,000 concerned citizens — community organizers, working journalists, educators and policy analysts — met in Memphis for the National Media Reform Conference. The third meeting of its kind in as many years, this year's conference signaled the movement's coming of age.

As veteran journalist Bill Moyers noted during his keynote address, media reform was considered "a fool's errand" not long ago. No more. Frustrated by a media system that is neither responsible nor accountable to the public, a diverse cross-section of Americans has mobilized to create a democratic media system.

Over the course of three days, conference participants addressed a host of issues, from media consolidation and the attendant decline in localism, to rampant commercialization and the deterioration of journalistic standards. More than this, attendees put Big Media on notice. The ranks of the media reform movement are swelling and change is in the air.

If you want to be part of that change, get informed and get involved. Here are five steps you can take toward building a better media system.

Learn about the issues.

Several excellent books detail the threat Big Media poses to American democracy. Ben Bagdikian's Media Monopoly charts the consolidation of media ownership over the past thirty years, Bob McChesney's The Problem of the Media examines the relationship between communication policy and media behaviors and performance, and Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture makes a compelling case for copyright reform in a digital era.

In addition, the following organizations host Web sites that cover communication policy from a public interest perspective: The Free Press, Media Tank, Consumer's Union, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, The Center for Public Integrity and Reclaim the Media. In addition to following current policy debates, these online resources include useful background information, policy primers, organizing tools and updates on media activism.

Ask local media to cover communication policy debates.

The media isn't shy about talking about itself -- think Katie Couric, Oscar buzz and a seemingly endless supply of celebrity gossip that passes for news. And yet, the American people are woefully uninformed about policy decisions that have a direct influence on media form and content. This media blackout is part of a deliberate strategy to keep the public out of policy deliberations.

Put an end to the media blackout. Approach your local media outlets and ask them to cover federal, state and local communication policy issues. Meet with your local newspaper editor or write to the news director at a nearby broadcast outlet and tell them to provide ongoing, comprehensive and substantive coverage of media policy.

Don't be content with press coverage that treats media mergers, regulatory initiatives and policy debates as a business story. Public communication --news, opinion, entertainment and public affairs programming -- is much more than a commodity; it is a public good and a requirement for deliberative democracy.

Tell federal regulators and your elected representatives to support media reform.

2007 is shaping up to be a decisive moment for communication policy. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is currently reviewing media ownership rules. The U.S. Congress is poised to rewrite the nation's communication policy for the first time since the 1996 Telecommunication Act. And on the state and local level, municipal broadband, video franchising agreements and the future of Public, Educational, and Government (PEG) access television are up for grabs.

Call, write and, whenever possible, meet with your elected officials. Let them know that media reform is important to you. Support legislation that promotes a lively, inclusive and vibrant media system -- one that serves the public interest with news, information and opinion worthy of a self-governing people.

Finally, make media reform a campaign issue, just like health care, military spending, Social Security, immigration and the environment. When evaluating candidates for elected office, consider their positions on media-related issues, such as net-neutrality, minority ownership and funding for public broadcasting.

Support independent media.

Corporate interests and the profit motive determine much of what we read, see and hear in the media, all with predictable results. Journalistic standards decline, culture is homogenized, and the public interest is little more than an afterthought. Not surprisingly, then, Big Media's failure has been a boon to independent media.

Hungry for a more dynamic, inclusive and vibrant media culture, Americans have embraced independent media like never before. Whatever guise it may take -- public access television, weblogs, community radio or alternative weeklies -- independent media amplifies voices, opinions and perspectives that are routinely marginalized or excluded from public discourse.

What's more, independent media have been at the vanguard of the media reform movement. Indeed, despite shoestring budgets, volunteer labor and a hostile regulatory regime, independent media has championed the principles of freedom of expression and watchdog journalism that are the cornerstones of our democracy. Independent media deserve your support, now more than ever.

Organize for a more democratic media system.

Like earlier struggles for social and economic justice, the media reform movement relies on the efforts of so-called "ordinary people" to make some noise, challenge the status quo and not back down. And while new technologies have made national organizing easier and more effective, it's at the local level where concerned citizens can have the greatest impact.

Talk to your neighbors about media issues. Advocate for school curricula that include critical media literacy as part of their general education requirements. Organize media watchdog groups to monitor the performance of local media outlets. And finally, work with media professionals -- public relations experts, policy analysts, educators, journalists and others to develop media education campaigns.

The message coming out of Memphis is clear: media reform is a civil rights issue. Our current media system denies equal access to public information and precludes whole segments of the American people from meaningful participation in public discourse. Such a media system is unworthy of a democratic society. We must endeavor to re-create a media system that puts people before profits.

Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He can be reached at khowley@depauw.edu.