The Foxification of Our Public Sphere

These days when I send one of my columns to Common Dreams, I do so with an inward cringe.  I know that CD has become infested with slavering rightwing drones, who lie in wait just waiting to do their best Bill O’Reilly imitation from the comment balcony.

In recent months, CD has tried to address the issue of attack-dog commenters, instituting a comment policy that is now posted at the bottom of every published article.

It doesn’t seem to have had much effect, and I am beginning to wonder:

a) Is it worth my time and effort to open myself up to this kind of harsh, superficial debate?  When I write, I write from the heart, and while I certainly welcome spirited discussion of my ideas, including intelligent disagreement, the vicious savaging of my ideas, usually taken out of the context of the column’s overall message, feels unproductive at best.

b) If I bow out of CD, am I allowing myself to be “silenced”?  Shouldn’t I stand up for freedom of speech and stand my ground, even if it means opening myself up to the snipers?  Public speakers have to have a thick skin, after all, right?

c) Are there other fora I might join where the level of commentary is more elevated, more thoughtful?  Am I being an elitist snob for even wishing for such a space?

d) If I can’t beat’em, should I join’em?  In other words, should I be jumping in and giving as good as I get?  Or would that be stooping to their level and just encouraging their attack-dog mentality all the more?

As I ready myself to teach my media studies class this fall, these certainly seem like important questions to be pondering.

For years now I have been celebrating and advocating “citizen journalism” in my classes, encouraging students to start their own blogs and get their voices into the public sphere.

But if even Common Dreams has been overrun by the Bill O’Reilly wannabes of the world, then our public sphere has become a skewed and dangerous place.

However, if people like me and my students opt out of it, that only leaves a greater vacuum for the rightwing ideologues to fill.

Anyone have any advice on how to grow a thicker skin?

Governor Deval Patrick of MA Gives Exclusive Interview on WBCR-LP

How cool is it to have the Governor of Massachusetts stop by the small offices of WBCR-LP, Berkshire Community Radio in Great Barrington to give a one-on-two interview with local amateur radio show hosts Graham and Barbara Dean?

Governor Deval Patrick takes questions from Graham and Barbara Dean in the studio of WBCR-LP FM on July 3, 2012

It was citizen journalism at its finest.  Barbara, having met Governor Deval Patrick at another event, simply asked him if he would be a guest on her radio show.

He said sure, she followed up with his staff, and the rest is history!

The half-hour interview will be rebroadcast and streamed on July 11 on the Deans’ show, Common Sense Songs, between 8 and 10 p.m.

The Governor had a lot to say about the hot topics of health care affordability, education, and labor relations.

Calling himself a “labor man,” because of his childhood experience of how his mother’s life improved dramatically when she got a job at the U.S. Postal Service and joined the union, the Governor was also positive about teachers and their union, saying that the secret to an effective partnership with teachers is “respect.”

Lots of politicians talk about respecting teachers, but their actions say otherwise.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick at WBCR-LP, Great Barrington

Governor Patrick seems to be different.

Under his leadership, new emphasis has been put on “bringing a culture of innovation into every school” by empowering and supporting teachers who have new ideas about how best to meet the needs of their students.

“The question is, how do we tailor education to meet kids where they are,” the Governor said, recalling his own “great public education on the South Side of Chicago.  I had inspiring teachers, who loved me and loved teaching and were thinking about educating the whole child.”

He also talked about the importance of focusing on the “whole person” when it comes to health care, and he was justifiably proud of his record in making Massachusetts one of the most progressive states in the country in terms of health care reform.

“Rather than limiting ourselves to the usual choice between doing nothing and going all the way to a single payer system, we made a decision here in Massachusetts to pick a third option, a hybrid, private, market-focused solution in which we require everyone to buy insurance, but we subsidize them if they can’t afford it,” he said.

Under the Governor’s leadership, premium growth in the state has gone from 16% per year to less than 1% increase in the past year.

It made me proud to be a citizen of Massachusetts to watch Governor Deval Patrick taking the time to give a serious, thoughtful interview on our hometown low-power radio station.

As Barbara Dean reminded the Governor at the outset of the interview, he is only the fourth African American to be elected Governor of an American state.

I am glad to be among the many who gave him my vote, and I rest easier knowing he is on the job in Boston, working for ordinary people like me.

Deval Patrick just published a memoir, Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life, and an e-book, Faith in the Dream: A Call to the Nation to Reclaim American Values.  Youthful politicians who publish memoirs often have their eye on moving up the political ladder.

I hope that Patrick has the stamina and courage to keep moving on and up in American politics.  We need more strong men like him to come forward and stand for integrity and social justice in American politics.


Let a million local media outlets and citizen journalists bloom

As we head into the 10-day countdown to May Day, once again the mainstream media is snoozing its way into irrelevance.

Check out today’s New York Times and you will find nary a mention of the busy preparations going on now for the day of action in New York and around the country on May 1.

This seems to just prove the point of media pundit Dr. Alan Chartock, founding president and CEO of the 20-station, seven-state Northeast Public Radio Network here in my neck of the woods.

Speaking last Sunday at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Dr. Chartock depicted a coming media landscape dominated by a few big national and international players, reaching audiences principally through the World Wide Web.

Progressive media analysts have long been concerned about the homogenization of the news that comes as a result of corporate conglomerates controlling vast swaths of the airwaves, as well as almost all print news outlets.

The good news is that at least so far, it has been impossible to impose corporate control over the internet.  Witness the huge outcry over the proposed PIPA and SOPA legislation last winter, which critics said would have limited free speech on the Web.  Millions of signatures were collected on petitions against the legislation, and the proponents backed down—at least for now.

Dr. Alan Chartock

Dr. Chartock is worried about the wholesale media move to the internet for two good reasons.

One, accuracy: it is often impossible to know for sure that the information on a given blog or even larger online media outlet has been carefully and objectively reported.

Two, money: Where is the business model that will support the reporters and editors needed to continue to perform the traditional watchdog role of the press?

It seems to me that his own Northeast Public Radio Network provides a good answer to these issues.  It is supported by local listeners and underwriters who put their dollars behind the station because they recognize a good thing when they see one.  They would start to withdraw their support if the quality of the programming went down.

To counter the drift to a globalized corporate media desert, let’s let a million local radio stations, blogs, vlogs, livestreams, tweets and You-Tube videos bloom!

Let’s not only support our locally owned, locally produced media, let’s start producing it too!

Here in the Berkshires, we not only have WAMC and other Northeast Public Radio affiliate stations, we also have WBCR-LP, which is not only 100% listener-supported but also all-volunteer and open to any citizen journalist who takes the trouble to get trained as a programmer.

We have the Berkshire Record, our hometown print newspaper in Great Barrington, and we also have iBerkshires and various locally produced blogs and small websites.

And let’s not forget the countless Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and You-Tube channels devoted to getting us localized news we can use.

The truth is that the Occupy movement doesn’t need the New York Times to reach its target audience.  The fact that the mainstream media is ignoring the upcoming May Day protests is just one more example of how dominated by the 1% these big media corporations are.

Whose media?  Our media!  Mainstream media?  Who needs’em?

Coming to you live from the studios of WBCR-LP, 97.7 FM, Great Barrington….

This spring, students from Bard College at Simon’s Rock and Monument Mountain Regional High School are getting ready to go on the air with a series of Citizen Journalism Project news shows, broadcasting stories of local, national and even international interest from the intimate studios of WBCR-LP in Great Barrington MA.

Bard College at Simon's Rock students in radio board training

In preparation, students in my digital media studies class have been listening to great radio from NPR affiliates, Pacifica and other serious news radio outlets, as well as to homegrown shows on 97.7 FM, WBCR-LP.

We’re not sure yet how polished our programs are going to sound this spring, but in this first go-round, it’s really all about learning the process, from conceptualizing and pitching interesting stories, to interviewing and structuring the script, to recording, editing and putting it all together live on the air.

What could be more fun?

But also, what could be more important for young people than to hone their civic engagement skills through becoming not just consumers, but also producers of informational media on topics that really matter?

In keeping with the state of the profession of journalism, my class will also be working on student-produced video and online print stories, recognizing that in today’s media environment, it’s essential to be able to move fluidly across a variety of platforms.

When I came up with the Citizen Journalism Project initiative, combining my service on the WBCR-LP Board with my media studies teaching and my interest in getting Simon’s Rock students out into the local community and collaborating productively with their peers, it was one of those moments when you get into the flow and know the universe is with you.

Everyone I talked to about the idea loved it, from students to school administrators and the WBCR-LP programming committee staff, all volunteer, who are contributing their time and talents to getting the students trained and on the air in just a few short weeks.

When internet radio burst on to the media scene a few years back, some predicted the end of old-fashioned broadcast radio.

But there’s still something very special about being part of a community radio station grounded in the heart of a particular dot on the planet, where the people who live there are the ones running the board, conceiving and hosting the shows, and pumping out the music–not for money, but for the sheer joy of it.

When you drive through Great Barrington and tune in to 97.7 FM, it’s your friends and neighbors you’ll be hearing on the radio. And now, some cheerful, intelligent and very media-savvy students, too!

If you miss the live broadcasts, or you live far away, we’ll be archiving our shows at WBCR-LP later this spring.  Come by and check us out!


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