A few months ago, the blogosphere saw what could be called its first diversity tempest. Spurred on by this post from Rebecca MacKinnon, a number of thoughtful bloggers spent about a month furiously debating why the blogosphere is so male and white.
Global Voices is an international effort to diversify the conversation taking place online by involving speakers from around the world, and developing tools, institutions and relationships to help make these voices heard.
Reading the debate, which quickly and unfortunately descended into a somewhat defensive back-and-forth about "affirmative action" and "political correctness" online, I started thinking once again about how far the whole blog concept has fallen from Subcommandante Marcos' and Indymedia's original hopes about what the internet would do to to communications:
In this sense, the world of contemporary news is a world that exists for the VIP's-- the very important people. Their everyday lives are what is important: if they get married, if they divorce, if they eat, what clothes they wear, or what if they clothes they take off-- these major movie stars and big politicians. But common people only appear for a moment-- when they kill someone, or when they die. For the communication giants and the neoliberal powers, the others, the excluded, only exist when they are dead, or when they are in jail or court.
Does anyone actually think that the blogosphere has done very much to change this? Most of the time, what I seem to find on blogs are just as bad as what it was that Marcos was railing against in 1998. Blogs may be open to a theoretical diversity of voices, but the vast majority of them are not only written by white men, but they're still concerned with the VIP's-- insidce the Hollywood / Washington beltway, still drawing on the mainstream media for their cues about whats important and whats not.
Of course, this problem-- and attempts to remedy it are as old as the hills. Just remember the Kerner Report, which back in 1967 wrote:
"By and large, news organizations have failed to communicate to both their black and white audiences a sense of the problems America faces and the sources of potential solutions. The media report and write from the standpoint of a white man’s world. The ills of the ghetto, the difficulties of life there, the Negro’s burning sense of grievance, are seldom conveyed. Slights and indignities are part of the Negro’s daily life, and many of them come from what he now calls “the white press”—a press that repeatedly, if unconsciously, reflects the biases, the paternalism, the indifference of white America."
The report made a pretty big impression, on the media if not America as a whole. Every year, RTNDA and ASNE release reports documenting diversity in the newsroom. But are we paradoxically moving backwards in the blogosphere, under the guise of complete diversity, access, and freedom?
I wonder if there's a way to somehow "operationalize Marcos"-- turn his critique into a set of measurements through which to analyze the content of the blogosphere, or at least the top 100 blogs in the blogosphere?
There has been a group blog set up for the National Conference on Media Reform 2005, in St. Louis, which I'll be attending along with dozens of other of my compadres from the NYC Indy-media scene. Not sure yet if I'll be participating in the group blog yet, as I am currently sans laptop and may have trouble actually contributing anything. But it looks like it will be a hot spot for people to rant and rave about the conference. So check it out.
Also, the St. Louis Confluence, which is affiliated with the St Louis IMC, is putting out a special collaborative issue for the conference, with a special spread in which independent media makers sound off on their relatonship with the media reform movement. Here's my entry:
Every progressive organization in the country, so the argument goes, should make national media reform its “second issue.” The success of other liberal reform efforts, it is argued, largely depend on re-democratizing an increasingly corporatized and commercialized media.
This argument is good one, and its resonance has led to the genesis of a nationwide movement for media democracy. That said, though, I would argue that there are other progressive groups who shouldn’t make Federal media reform their first issue, or there second issue …. or maybe not even their third or fourth issue. Ironically enough, those “other groups” include grassroots media activists and local community producers.
This isn’t to say that this burgeoning “independent media movement” should oppose federal efforts. Indeed, they should support them as best they can. But should they devote an excessive amount of organizational time and energy to national media reform efforts? No.
Grassroots 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 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, grassroots media groups should spend more time reaching out to their own constituencies—that is, downward, to the grassroots. Local community organizations, especially those addressing issues of race and poverty, are still woefully underrepresented in the independent media universe. The way to win these groups over to the cause of independent media production is not to turn our eyes to Capitol Hill; it is, instead, to go where the people are, to facilitate the narratives of the dispossessed. This kind of work isn’t easy. Indeed, it is often a grinding and depressing business. But it is vitally important.
Media reformers and independent media groups 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. And that’s ok