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Creating Better Choices

Joel Bleifuss

We each inhabit our own individualized media landscape: We choose what we read, what we see and what we hear. But these choices are determined by what is available.

Media corporations hold a near monopoly on the information that the vast majority of us rely on to make sense of the world. This dominant media sets the boundaries of permissible thought, defines our mental horizons, and is the bellwether (literally, the lead sheep in a herd) of our time.

The corporate media provide choice, but within limits that the marketplace sets. Yet the marketplace, while immensely powerful, does not rule absolutely.

We devote this special media issue, not to diagnosing the blight that is the mainstream media—been there, done that—but, rather, to examining the promise offered by progressive media. Progressives have a lot of ideas about what a media strategy should be, but little collective agreement. That is our central challenge. It is hard to see how we can take on the dominant media without an ongoing dialogue and collaborative efforts that harness our desire to create a media landscape that nurtures mental and civic life.

To that end, the writers in this issue explore how we can build media that put people before profits.
What is the progressive media strategy?

Susan J. Douglas, our “Back Talk” columnist, calls on progressives to rediscover “our own agenda-setting roots from the ’60s, study which revisions of them by the right have worked, and then forge ahead.”

What do we need?

Studs Terkel eviscerates “brass check” journalism (“What’s that?” you wonder) and he cautions us to be aware of “the national Alzheimer’s disease” that “keeps people from doing what they know they should do for their own good.” Studs tells us that “the key is not simply to dissent, but to turn the country around. … Now is the time to act, and, thus, become what we were born to be––thinking, active citizens of a democratic society.”

Media critic Norman Solomon takes left-leaning foundations to task for being “hesitant and unwilling to fund media work” unlike the right-wing foundations that “sink millions of dollars a week into aggressive media-savvy propaganda outfits like the Heritage Foundation.”

What can we learn?

David Kusnet, Bill Clinton’s chief speechwriter from 1992 through 1994, argues that progressives must learn a new language. “Speaking everyday language, appealing to common values and developing populist parables—that’s how progressives can communicate to our fellow citizens, not just each other.”

What’s next?

Patricia Aufderheide, an In These Times senior editor, looks to the future and the “astounding implications of digital technology and the Internet.” Because so many media consumers are turning to filtering to escape “data smog,” she calls on progressives to do some hard thinking about how their media can become a filter and a choice. Progressives, she writes, also need “to find allies in reform to demand resources and policies that support public media spaces. Those spaces aren’t left-owned or even left-leaning, but because they are public zones, progressivess have a voice in them that they don’t have in commercial media.”

And, mindful that our media landscape must always include art, humor and a love of life, we conclude with some words from Kurt Vonnegut, who introduces us to Gil Berman, a character from his next novel, If God Were Alive Today.

In the wake of the war in Iraq, Americans are beginning to realize that they have been lied to by their political leaders and an acquiescent mainstream media that routinely parrot the Bush administration. People are hungry for integrity, decency and common sense—all things that a vibrant, progressive media can provide.

Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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