In San Luis Obispo, California.
I am here to offer thoughts on how we can all speak truth to power.
Each of us already has this power, and now is the time to activate it.
We live in the media age, and power is manifested by what we pay attention to; in the attention economy, attention becomes currency.
What we pay attention to has a direct impact on our community and country.
What we pay attention to will become powerful – even if it is horrible.
I know because I have worked in the attention economy. I am a journalist, artist, and entrepreneur.
A decade ago, I started Misfit Media to tell stories about what was happening in Brooklyn. In the midst of the financial crisis, I bought the domain name Brooklyntheborough.com, because even though we were in New York City, Brooklyn was often overlooked in local coverage where Manhattan dominates.
Maybe you feel that on the Central Coast?
Communities, people and policy, and their everyday reality, were not getting attention.
No attention, no power.
I applied my experience to building an open source media platform for independent, creative people and projects to publish content worthy of our attention.
Creating a new model for media is important because the traditional model for supporting it is based on the exchange of money to capture our attention.
Every recent election cycle has seen the amount of money politicians spend on political advertising increase. Stop for a second and think of all the political ads you saw on TV during last year’s midterm election.
Now consider the massive effort that went into presenting them to you.
That politician or political action committee spent time convincing people, over the phone and in person, to give them money,
so they could pay a company to make the ad,
then a pay another company to show you that ad.
After that money moves through many layers of people, it becomes becomes ad revenue for a media company that pays the salaries of local TV reporters, who are mostly reporting on crime and not policy.
When all was said and done, $5 billion dollars exchanged hands in the last campaign.
It’s not limited to politics.
Across the content we watch, businesses create advertising to sell products that may make us feel bad about our bodies, or sell us food that is not healthy for us, or products that are not made humanely, or that are not good for the environment.
So everyone here is familiar with the Communications Act of 1934, right?
It continues to be the foundation that governs media today. It says:
…the station itself must be operated as if owned by the public…It is as if people of a community should own a station and turn it over to the best man in sight..
“Best man in sight” !!
If this is the best the best man can do, then time’s up!
Great journalism is expensive; infotainment, punditry and whataboutism are cheap.
Shaming advertisers who support controversial media pundits CAN put pressure on big networks to be best; but the underlying foundation of their business model is flawed.
The thing is, we are all human.
We tend to engage more deeply with content that generates negative feelings.
Over the last few decades, crime nationally is down, but programming about it is prolific – because negative, fear based content deeply engages any anger we are holding inside of ourselves.
But it’s 2019 now! And while it wasn’t that long ago NBC passed on reporting about the predations of Harvey Weinstein, CBS did just install the first woman ever as the head of their news division. Good luck to her!
A friend of mine said something to me in college that stuck with me:
Watch TV like you’re watching yourself watch TV.
When we are watching the news that means we have to ask:
Is this narrative based in fear?
Is political reporting portrayed
in a polarizing way?
What narrative is missing?
I know we all skip the ads, but who is paying for them?
Are oil and gas interests supporting the nightly news?
Is that program covering climate change in a meaningful way?
Our answers will unveil the lens through which we are all looking.
Where we pay attention can change our media; we must seek out clean media.
Clean media is independent media that does not take corporate or political money.
Clean media can be created by anyone, but it includes the perspectives of women; people of color; the LGBTQIA communities; indigenous people. Water protectors.
We should demand clean media.
Since the 2016 election, media has moved towards a digital subscription model.
This is important.
Supporting clean media sources with subscriptions or donations will challenge established media to actually be better.
Supporting reputable sources means increasingly they will cleanse themselves of money from politicians and bad businesses.
We are the community they ultimately work for; our interests are the public interests.
But our job does not end with a payment. We have to engage with our news sources. Write letters to local and national media and ask questions like, do you have a public editor? Who is your internal check and balance?
We can write to our TV news stations and tell them how they might better serve the public interest by reporting on policy, instead of Twitter, in exchange for the broadcast license they need to operate.
Take the extra step beyond just watching and subscribing to news organizations.
Do the work of being citizen journalists.
Anyone can do it, anywhere in the world.
Local media is especially important and needs our attention now. Whatever we are paying attention to is what they will investigate; when we pay attention to what is important, we invest in our community.
Attention creates power.
By the way, you are not morally obligated to pay attention to things that do not feel good, like reading Facebook.
Depending on the time and resources we have, we can do a lot to influence media.
Do research on the companies you rely on most for your information.
Are they owned by a hedge fund? What are their business interests?
If you have time to invest, take pictures and search public records to learn more about what you see happening in your community. Send them to local journalists with good reputations.
If you have money to invest, buy shares in media companies and attend shareholder meetings. Ask questions about whom they do business with and also cover.
Don’t just believe reporters who extol the virtues of journalism, ask them how they practice their ethics. There is a difference between stenographers to power, and journalists working towards transparency. Sometimes they even work for the same company.
Journalists hold the powerful to account, but all of us hold all of them accountable, by paying attention.
It is up to us to ask follow up questions, to be the citizen journalists our community’s need.
When all else fails, start your own news source.
Be the source.
Pay attention to your body; meditate and scan yourself to understand how you feel.
Pay attention to the air you breathe, the food you eat, the relationships you have.
Pay attention to what is happening in your neighborhood, your house, your bedroom.
Pay attention to what is happening in your local economy.
Pay attention to the experience of the people around you.
Pay attention to why Black Lives Matter;
Pay attention to why Jewish Lives Matter;
Pay attention to why Women’s Lives Matter.
Listen to women. Believe Women.
These are some of the most radical things we can do; we can do them right now.
In case you have not been paying attention, pay attention now. Now is the time.
What time is it? NOW.