What should leftist media look like?
I regret not doing this earlier. That will always be in the back of my mind: what could’ve been? What if I began last year? Two years ago? Three? How many minds could’ve been changed? How many people could’ve been inspired?
Alas, the best time to start was yesterday, but the second best time is now. That’s the message you should get from reading this.
Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, the authors of “Manufacturing Consent,” made clear how flawed our media is. Chomsky and Herman indict U.S. media as systematic propaganda: the current media regime serves an ultra-rich ownership class that stifles meaningful dissent and promotes only status-quo voices.
Fortunately for us, because of the internet and the democratization of information, a few revolutionary voices and projects reached many people and developed a critical mass of support. It’s easier than ever for critically-minded individuals to influence the public with a dissenting voice. YouTube is now a space for discourse and fact-checking; Twitter is a mini-blog for communication and organization; Instagram is a place for candid live streaming; the list goes on.
A robust and comprehensive leftist media should seek to cultivate and promote all of this activity in a way that makes it easier for individuals to engage with and become a part of a movement. The only antidote to massive amounts of money and propaganda within media is to face it ourselves, head on. We need to produce journalism, opinions, stories, philosophy, novels, videos, music, art, podcasts, and organization with the same vigor and reach that the mainstream, capitalist media does.
In the same way that conventional media limits its contributors to traditional writers, wealthy citizens, mainstream politicians, and journalism school graduates, we need to do the opposite by democratizing our media to include as many people as possible. Worker, tenant, homeless, disabled, queer, young, old, high-school educated, college debt-laden — whoever and wherever you are, we want to hear from you. Your voice and experience matters. Someone’s life could depend on it.
Maximillian Alvarez — a journalist I hold in high regard — wrote an article titled “Can the working class speak?” He wrote about his family as they experienced the Great Recession, and how his father learned to vocalize his experience. The article ends with the beginning of his podcast called Working People, and it’s exactly what it sounds like — Alvarez talks to ordinary workers about what life is like.
The first episode features his father talking about everything from growing up to working in real estate. It sounds a bit too normal — and maybe it is. But perhaps we all need a large dose of normal right now. Just a head nod, ever-so-small, that someone knows what you’re going through, what your daily life is like. Working People is a hat tip to solidarity.
Our media should help explain the struggle of normal life. If someone wonders why they can’t afford their prescription medication, we should be there to answer them. If someone asks how homelessness persists in spite of the massive accumulated wealth of the world’s billionaires, we should be there to answer them. Most importantly, if someone asks how to solve these issues, we should be there to involve them in our movement. Only our collective dialogue and conscious education can help us understand and consequently change the world we live in.
The magic of Working People lies in the types of stories it tells. They’re totally down-to-earth, everyday stories about labor and exploitation. Most episodes, Alvarez has a seemingly mundane conversation with seemingly unremarkable workers. But this is why it’s so fascinating; it’s addicting to listen to the struggles of a Kentuckian coal miner. I don’t want another column from a seven-figure cable news anchor. Where can I hear Walter Vicente speak about the difficulties of his cooperative textile factory in North Carolina? Certainly not the Wall Street Journal or CNN.
That said, and with Working People in mind, here are a few principles for our media to follow:
1) Prioritize dignity, democracy, and human freedom at all costs. We should be clear about our goals. Education and journalism are not neutral acts. They are a form of public service and, in a broad sense, a form of activism. An institution like the media not only has the power to influence our everyday lives by shining light on the problems we deal with, but it can change our entire schema of consciousness, our lens through which we view the world — we may end up somewhere that we previously could not have imagined.
2) Avoid false notions of “objectivity” or “balance.” There is no objective journalism or education, and anyone who claims so is dishonest. Information and education is always slanted toward some angle or some agenda — the best we can do is be honest about ours.
3) Structure it to be free from inordinate influence and ownership. This media can’t be like others, whose goal is profit and promotion of the status-quo. Our media needs to value itself based on education and empowerment, not income or prestige. This does not mean our media can’t take sponsorships or donations but, when it does, they need to be in service of our goals. We need to be transparent about sponsorships when we take them and called out by our audience when something begins to alter our goals.
4) Be unceasingly skeptical and adversarial toward capital and other controlling institutions. This is a hard deviation from most media. Instead of deferring to capital and autocratic governments, we need to challenge and question them every step of the way. This means shunning capital and uplifting the oppressed and downtrodden.
5) Educate others about how to get involved. Our media should include everything from reading groups to reporting to philosophical education to literary work. It should also actively teach people how to do these things and participate in the media project themselves; writing, video editing, content production, coding, anything you can dream up. Otherwise, we’ll miss out on important educational opportunities as a community-oriented media. Everyone who doesn’t participate is a lost connection.
Our media should serve as a profound experiment in critical pedagogy. That is, we should be teaching you about the world and how to understand it. And in turn, you should be teaching us. Ideally, “we” as writers and “you” as an audience merge to become one indistinct group. This continuous interaction becomes a powerful revolutionary act of community building and radical education.
Alvarez begins most episodes with this: “Whoever you are, wherever you may be, and whatever grind you’re on…”
I’ll steal his line. Whoever you are, wherever you may be, and whatever grind you’re on, we want to hear from you — rather, we need to hear from you.
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