Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Online Progressive Media

This is a short statement of how I think online progressive media should orient themselves. I recently prepared it for a specific purpose, now over, and I have modified it slightly to make it appropriate as a blog post. Note that the choice of the very broad political label "progressive" is deliberate and is meant to identify the sorts of media outlets about which I am opining -- if I were intending to communicate the essence of my own politics I would be more specific and nuanced than that.

Any successful media project needs to be reliable, timely, engaging, and built from high quality content. An online progressive media outlet needs to be all of those but it needs to go beyond them. In its relation to information technology and in its content, such an outlet must emphasize balance between comfort and challenge as well as recognize the importance of connection.

Online progressive media have an intimate relationship to change. As online venues, the technological tools at their disposal and the relationship of their audience to those tools are constantly evolving. As progressive venues, their content is organized around change that is happening, change that needs to happen, and acting to create change. Yet even those of us actively engaged in creating change sometimes have a rather complicated relationship to it, so in working with online progressive media I would focus on maintaining a critical balance between creating a sense of comfort in the progressive public that is its readership, and challenging that public. In the realm of new media technologies, I would aim to offer a core product to which the majority of the online progressive public will already know how to relate while never ceasing to experiment with the new tools and the new ways of producing and consuming and relating that they facilitate. When it comes to content, the comfort often provided by progressive media involves covering topics that make the reader feel like she is on the right side of history. This is important – I would want to see lots of stories about the obvious opponents, the right-wing governments, the transnational corporations. Yet I would want to balance that with content that recognizes that the social relations which organize our lives into vastly unjust distributions of pain and privilege do not cease to exist at the boundaries of the "we" of the progressive public. This is content that that foregrounds voices and ideas that are challenging to those of us in the big progressive tent who benefit from the way things are.

The other focus of my vision for online progressive media is connection, in several different senses. The liberatory impact of new information technologies has been more partial than forecast by some early enthusiasts. Nonetheless, I would explore the potential of each new tool, with attention to how it can connect people to each other and how it can connect people to action, whether that action is DIY media production or other sorts of social change work. Content must also foster connection in multiple ways. It must draw people in by connecting issues to the lived experience of the reader, or of the reader's neighbours. This would include deliberately providing openings for people to read themselves in as potential allies in contexts they might normally see as "not about me," such as men in the context of violence against women. I would also emphasize content that, where possible, seeks to explore the connections among issues that are usually treated as distinct. Even when such connection is not the primary focus of the article there is often room in a piece on, say, poverty to recognize that its increasing racialization is integral to how it happens in Canada. Finally, I would seek opportunities to use content to connect readers to action. This can be as simple as providing web site addresses or directly mentioning opportunities to get involved, but it should also include a broader editorial focus on cultivating a sense of possibility – consistent attention to what ordinary people are already doing to change their lives and to change the world can help develop a generalized sense among readers that acting to create change is something that can be effective and is something that they, too, can do.

1 comment:

ansel said...

Solid. Especially like this part: "This is content that that foregrounds voices and ideas that are challenging to those of us in the big progressive tent who benefit from the way things are." The Nation, Huffington Post... I can think of a number of big name 'progressive' media that totally fail to do this.