At the 2nd National Conference on Media Reform, the argument was simple: Every progressive organization should make national media reform its “second issue,” because the success of other liberal and leftist efforts depends on democratizing an increasingly corporatized and commercialized media.
This argument was a powerful one, and it helped energize the thousands of people who participated in the St. Louis conference. Yet there are many progressive groups who shouldn’t make federal media reform their first issue or their second issue – or maybe not even their third or fourth issue. Ironically, those groups include grass-roots media activists and local social-justice organizations.
This isn’t to say that this burgeoning “independent, grass-roots media movement” should oppose national media-reform efforts. Indeed, they should support them as best they can. But should they devote a lot of organizational time and energy to them? No.
Grass-roots media groups are, more often than not, extraordinarily fragile creatures – short on time and money, running largely on the fumes produced by political passion. To argue that these groups must do more on a federal-policy level is to misunderstand both their ideals and the areas where they can be most effective.
Instead of worrying too much about the ins and outs of federal regulatory bodies, grass-roots media groups should spend more time reaching out to their own constituencies. Local community organizations, especially those addressing issues of race and poverty, are woefully underrepresented in the independent media universe. The way to win these groups over to the cause is not to turn our eyes to Capitol Hill; it is to go where the people are, to facilitate the narratives of the dispossessed. This kind of work isn’t easy, but it is vitally important.
Media reformers and groups focusing on issues of “media justice” should work together when they can, and should always remember that they are allies in a long struggle. But they should also remember that they are in many ways quite different animals. This isn’t reason for despair; it’s reason for hope.
An earlier version of this article appeared in the St. Louis Confluence.