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Cover Story

Project Censored

Uncovering the most underreported news stories of 2012

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On the cover of the most recent book produced by Project Censored is a photo of protesting college students in California getting pepper-sprayed by a cop. The shot is framed in such a way that much of the focus is on the spectators holding their cell phone cameras up to capture images of the assault.

In a way, the picture captures something essential about Project Censored: the idea that journalism can be pried from the grip of corporate media and democratized.

That philosophy has driven the project since its launch at California's Sonoma State University in 1976. In the years since, the nonprofit effort has grown to include contributors from around the world who submit stories they believe have been, according to the project's website, "underreported, ignored, misrepresented or censored by the U.S. corporate media."

Gone are the days when people clipped stories from publications found outside the mainstream and mailed them in to Project Censored, where students would research their validity and professors would verify the results. Now, the Internet allows information to be shared instantly.

But discerning what's credible and what's not is perhaps more difficult than ever. So is finding important stories that can be lost in the tidal wave of information found on the web.

It is not a foolproof process. As seen in this year's No. 3 story — about the health threat in the United States associated with fallout from the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster in Japan — claims that wither when exposed to greater scrutiny can make it onto the list.

In the end though, says Project Censored associate director Andy Lee Roth, the emphasis remains on promoting wider public awareness of events, issues and actions that would otherwise remain on the margins.

It's up to Project Censored's team of interns and scores of other college students, both at Sonoma State and affiliated campuses across the country, to help narrow the nominations that flood in. The project allows them to develop what Roth calls "media literacy," and in the process, a sharpening of critical thinking skills.

With the publication of the annual Project Censored book each year, the constantly updated website and a weekly show on Pacifica Radio stations, the goal is to move that information from academia to the broader public.

"What we are trying to do is expand the spectrum of legitimate debate," Roth says.

Look at this year's list and then ask yourself when you last saw the mainstream throwing a spotlight on such issues as the expansion of presidential powers and the police state, and the threat that expansion poses to civil liberties. Or the effect global warming is having on the world's oceans, or the macro-economic risks posed by having a relatively small number of multinational corporations controlling much of the world's wealth.

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