Last week I mentioned the excellent book Beyond The Echo Chamber in a GreenChange discussion about pushing back against “greenouts” — media blackouts of Greens. Yesterday I interviewed Tracy Van Slyke and Jessica Clark, co-authors of BETC, for my next Equal Time For Freethought show on WBAI. The Green Ferret asked me to post more tips and strategies from the book, so now seems like a good time.
The book contains a number of useful sections:
1. Describes a media ecosystem comprised of newsmakers, independent/alt/public media, social networks, and mass media and how those nodes in the network generate and shuttle around content.
2. A brief history from about 2001-present, when progressive foundations, legacy media outlets, and DNC donors began intentionally investing capital and strategy into a media network to rival the “Republican Noise Machine”.
3. Descriptions of the emerging media networks and networked users and media strategies that movements can pursue.
I like BTEC because it’s disciplined, well-researched and practical while having ambitious aims for networked media. Van Slyke and Clark describe media strategies in a way that reflects organizing — it’s not a utopian “if you build it they will come/teh internets will save everything!” vision. We can have agency in the mediasphere, but it takes intention, work, and time.
Let’s start with a map of a media network:
(Click the map to download a PDF so you can follow along…)
Ok, so you’ll notice that little donkey there on the map. BTEC assumes the party of Progressives is the DNC, and that’s a problem, but it doesn’t invalidate their model. The model is mostly agnostic to ideology. What we need to do is plug our Green institutions, outlets, and allies into this map and see where we have representation and where we are missing links.
1. You got your newsmakers: Think tanks, organizing groups, candidates, state and county organizations and locals producing whitepapers, policies, campaigns, events and actions. They have to distribute media alerts, videos, and content to the public audience and the media.
2. Media facilitators: PR specialists and media liaisons who help format newsmaker messages to make them easier for the media to work with. This support can be technical, editorial, or intermediary. Other media facilitators include media watchdog groups and reform groups who can cry “foul!” when our stories are ignored.
This step, I believe, is where we are the weakest! We need to build media relations skills in the Green community to make sure our press releases go out in a timely manner, that they make sense to editors and producers (using familiar story “hooks” and who/what/when/where/why), and that we connect and build relationships with potential allies in the Mainstream Media (they are out there). We also need to build media watchdog institutions that will stand up for Green candidates and activists. Some existing orgs, like FAIR, will support Greens, but others are Democratic party satellites and we cannot count on them.
3. Independent and Progressive Media: Bloggers and outlets like Democracy Now!, The Indypendent, Mother Jones and Alternet who specialize in progressive news. Often, a Progressive issue will be picked up here first, and then after gaining sufficient attention a Public media outlet or mainstream media will pick it up. Even if an issue emerges in the MSM, we can assume it will be covered in greater depth in this sphere later.
Here, we need to be really smart and strategic. Some outlets admire Green candidates and faithfully give us equal time. Others suffer from Democrat Entitlement Syndrome and pre-emptively stop Greens from “stealing” their votes by freezing us out. We need to discern which organizations are will to give us a fair shake, which we simply need to reach out to and work a bit, and which are not worth a lot of time investment. And keep in mind, it can vary from journalist to journalist within each organization!
4. Public and Niche Media: NPR, PBS, ethnic newspapers, community papers, and newsletters. These outlets really help to keep the ball rolling and build momentum after the first big break in a progressive outlet. The gate here sometimes isn’t so much political as geographic, or targeting a specific interest. This is where Green localism can really shine.
5. Mainstream/Corporate Media: Once sufficient buzz has been generated in different communities the MSM might show up. A more direct route to the MSM is to be selling something — a book, movie or CD. We have to be ready to work in their environment and ready to leverage that coverage to support our organizing. We have to excite our current base and be ready to take in people just finding out about the campaign.
But wait, there’s more! (Much more!)
So far we’ve just been covering the network of institutional media, this is the most basic understanding of our media environment in 2010. We haven’t scratched the surface of the millions of Facebook-status-updaters, Twitterers, and personal bloggers and Diggers and Stumbleuponers who can help spread the word in massive ways. This is where things get interesting.
BTEC specifies four layers of networks, and here I’m going to link up to their descriptions:
1. Networked Users — you know the type…they’re online, on Twitter, maybe even have a blog or maybe they are just avid about tagging and rating cotent.
2. Self-organized Networks — these are spontaneous, often short term networks around an event or issue. They usually occur within one of the “mega-networks” like Twitter (like the Iranian Green Revolution supporters) and Facebook (A million Facebook users for…whatever). These networks are often held together by little more than tagged content.
3. Institutional Networks — GreenChange.org is a perfect example. A network resulting from the investment of a 501(c)3 or party org.
4. Networks Of Institutions — how different institutions work together intentionally. Now is not the time to work in isolation! If the Green Party is to grow, its candidates and activists must show up and be counted in coalition with other entities. This includes cross-type coalitions, like 501(c)3s teaming up with media outlets to cover an issue.
Bonus: Cycles of Engagement — It’s not enough to just ask people to retweet your whitepaper. There are ways to involve people in researching, creating, and promoting campaigns.
Six Strategies For Progressive Media
BTEC lays out six chapters for how to build Progressive media which I will list and briefly describe here:
1. Build Network-Powered Media — that’s what we’ve begun to discuss in this post. There’s a great case study in BTEC about The Young Turks, and their experiments with audience interaction.
2. Fight The Right (for Greens that includes Democrats…) — Picking a fight on hot issues (think Brave New Films’ McCain’s Mansions, Iraq and Outfoxed videos)
3. Embrace Twenty-first Century Muckraking — I think Greens could shine here at the local level, especially those of us living in Democrat machine states and cities. Greens could be valuable allies to muckraking outlets by aggressively spreading and promoting their stories.
4. Take It To The Hill — Get reporters and content producers on Capitol Hill, covering issues from a Green perspective. I personally think this will have limited returns for us at the national level, at this point, but really it applies just as much to your state capitol legislatures and city halls. The key is to be on the ground where laws and policies are being passed. We can’t depend on the traditional press corps.
5. Assemble The Progressive Choir — Greens, especially, cannot afford to feel as if they are working in isolation. GreenChange.org does a great job of corralling Green activists, we need to build that!
6. Move Beyond Pale, Male, and Stale — Read this chapter online here! Any picture of Green success must include representation of women and communities of color. It’s how we reach more people and fulfil our values. As for stale, we have to loosen up! Don’t be afraid to crack a joke or be irreverent. We can be passionate and dedicated and still have a popular touch. Don’t be grumpy!
There is so, so much more in the book. Check it out, and I’ll let you know when my interview with Tracy and Jessica airs.
We need to map our network, using existing Green directories to catalog assets at the national, state and local level. When we know what we have we can plan to utilize it, and we’ll know where we need to grow.