A Channel of Our Own

In sketching out a new map for taking power, via a state-by-state effort to rally the D/democratic troops, we face an important challenge. Just how can we sound the call to arms -- when we know it won't be on Fox News? Or NBC, or anywhere else?

While it may be tempting, we won't change much by moaning about Rush Limbaugh and the ever-annoying shortfalls of the "mainstream media." Nor will our dreams for a progressive media network be realized anytime soon.

Sorry, but it's tough love time, folks. We have to understand there are no miracles on the horizon. The fact is, even if we had a spare $500 million to start a liberal cable channel tomorrow, it's highly doubtful we could fill it 24/7 with compelling programming. Frankly, we'd be lucky to deliver a few hours each day of liberal talk that was provocative rather than preachy. That's the bad news.

The good news is we can create our own liberal "echo chamber" using the media platforms, opinion soapboxes and marketing channels we already control. However, the model will be driven less by "broadcast" media (e.g. Rupert Murdoch's Direct TV), and rely more on "narrowcasting" mechanisms such as face-to-face outreach and peer-to-peer contact. Imagine, for instance, an army of progressive Avon ladies (and gentlemen!) fanning out to preach to our "choir" -- and to win over potential new converts.

So what are the pieces we can cobble together to create a liberal, Avon "media platform" of our own? It's really not such a bad line up:

  • Soup cans and string: very affordable and popular with the small fry. Or better yet, add a salad and hold house party for ProgressiveMajority.org, MoveOn.org or another effective group you support. Voila, you've created a marketing channel that's more fun than Fox.

  • The color of money: Sorry, Ann Coulter, but liberal authors like Jim Hightower, Arianna Huffington, and Michael Moore are top-10 best sellers. Publishers are getting the clear message that our politics actually sells books. Watch what happens when organic consumers get seriously empowered to act through new media channels like Organic Valley's Farm Friends Network. These and other efforts will, I bet, change quickly our thinking about what an "action figure" really looks like.

  • (Not) The alternative press: Hey, pardon me, but I hate this term -- it marginalizes so-called "alternative" newspapers. Why do their editorial opinions count less than other papers? Because we help that happen by calling the others papers "mainstream." Let's stop.

  • Pop & politics: It used to be we'd spend tens of thousands of dollars on a rock concert to get thousands of folks excited about an issue -- and then we'd leave the scene with six e-mails. Not good. Fortunately there's a new generation of organizers who can stage cultural conversations, teach-ins and concerts that bottle the positive energy that artists create at events effectively -- before it dissipates. There's even a manual for this new form of channeling. E-mail info@rollingthundertour.org to get yours.

Yes, in the long run we will want to re-capture mass media outlets on TV and radio from the media giants who own them now. (Al Gore, in fact, is actively developing a progressive news channel targeting a young, MTV-style audience and a liberal talk radio network is reportedly in the works).
That said, we're not going to reverse the right's hold on traditional media overnight -- or by traditional means. We shouldn't copy their business model either. In fact, in a new age of 500 cable channels and TIVO technology that allows viewers to fast-forward through commercials, the old advertising-based model which supports Fox, Clear Channel and other conservative conglomerates is in serious jeopardy.

What's back in season? A fresh approach to an old idea is that membership-based revenue model of public television offers the most sustainable pathway for growing liberal media. That plus content that engages and entertains.

[Having trouble tuning in to all this media jargon? I'll bet. Check out the Media Reform website for the clearest thinking in this area. Their national conference coming up this weekend will be a great well-spring to tap.]

Dan Carol is a Democratic political strategist and a founding partner of CTSG (www.ctsg.com), a progressive consulting firm based in Eugene and Washington, D.C.

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