National Progressive Media: Who's Left?

| February 12, 2001

National Progressive Media: Who's Left?

Should progressive media outlets try to reach larger audiences if it means watering down their political missions? A wide spectrum of media makers and activists can't seem to decide, writes Andrea Buffa in the January issue of MEDIAFile, published by the progressive Media Alliance.

'Nowhere has this conflict been sharper than in free speech activists' struggle against the right-wing assault on the Pacifica Radio Network,' Buffa points out. 'For the past several years, the Pacifica board of directors and national management have been forcing structural and programming changes in the network that they claim will increase audience size and diversity.'

But what is it about progressive media, Buffa asks, that makes it so hard to reach larger audiences, and forces such conflicts to arise in the first place? '[C]hange doesn't happen because of progressive media,' says Don Hazen, a former publisher of Mother Jones and director of the AlterNet alternative news service. '[W]e progressives need to go beyond progressive media, using a combination of grassroots organizing, demonstrations, the Internet, paid ads, effective PR, and on and on, and be campaign oriented.'

And Laura Flanders, host of what is perhaps the only progressive talk show on AM radio, broadcast on Working Assets RadioForChange, says that too often progressive media outlets talk down to their audiences and don't collaborate effectively. 'When some of Flanders' colleagues interviewed some regular listeners of RadioForChange--employees at a Toyota body shop--they were shocked to learn that these people would never consider calling in to the show because they didn't think they were smart enough,' writes Buffa.

There are, however, some positive signs, particularly on the Internet. Don Rojas, editor of the webzine The Black World Today, tells Buffa: 'We should not overlook the fact that usage of progressive websites and progressive new media in general is on the increase.' He points to the growth of the Independent Media Centers (IMC), which has given media activists a direct link to the world. The first IMC, set up to chronicle the protests against the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization in 1999, received 1.5 million hits in that week alone. Since then, every major protest around that world, from D.C. to Melbourne to Davos, has had it's own IMC.

But '[p]rogressive messages... are not going to create social change on their own,' Buffa concludes. 'This means that audience members must go beyond just reading and listening; they must also take action.'
--Leif Utne
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Media Alliance
Pacifica Radio Network
The Black World Today
Independent Media Center