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About Grassroots and Community Media
Paul Riismandel, Sept. 1996

So what are Grassroots and Community Media anyway?

For the purposes of Radio Free Conscience, I define Community Media to include individuals and organizations who produce or are involved in media (radio, TV, print, internet, etc) which is aimed at serving the needs of particular communities or subcommunities, be they geographical, ideological, cultural, etc. Further, these media are independent of large corporations or other large organizations which are significantly divorced from the community the medium attempts to serve. Emphasis is given to organizations and individuals whose motivation is not purely commercial or (economic) profit-driven.

Essentially, I consider Grassroots media to be a subset of Community Media, where Grassroots indicates that the media product involved is produced by individuals or groups within the very community which is served. Grassroots media is decidedly non-commercial and generally attempts to serve a narrower or more specific audience than more general Community media.

Why are Grassroots and Community Media Important?
Grassroots and Community Media are especially important in the late 1990s since we live in a time of escalating media exposure combined with the growing centralization of media ownersip of media outlets by a dwindling number of multinational corporations. The result of this is that more and more of our mediated lives is in control of fewer and fewer people, whose primary interest is maximizing economic profit above all else. As scholars like Noam Chomsky, Edward Herrman and Robert McChesney have demonstrated, this centralized control leads to media which provides more homogenized and purified content, aimed to entertain and (marginally) inform, but not to challenge or encourage action (except consumer action). That information which does come from these corporate media conglomerates is friendly to those who have power (=$$$) and generally not friendly to those who don't. The problem is, then, that our democracy in the U.S. (and WORLDWIDE) becomes effectively replaced by a system where one dollar=one vote (AND one dollar buys one vote).

Yet, as media of all types have proliferated, the ability for individuals and small organizations to make their own media has proliferated too. Given the dominance and influence media has in our lives, Community and Grassroots media are a first step to returning voice to interests other than large multinational corporations. Still, because the people behind Grassroots and Community media generally do not have the money to initiate the types of ad, PR and awareness campaigns that multinationals use to make people aware of their media product, there are still many people who are unaware that true, viable alternatives to corporate media exist--frequently in one's own backyard. More unfortunately, due to the constant barrage of corporate media's values that empahsize wealth, power and flash over all, many people mistakenly assume that if an individual or group cannot get their voice heard in corporate media, then what they have to say is not worthy, legitimate or true. My hope is that Radio Free Consciene will make a few people--whether they be casual listeners scanning the dial, die-hard media activists looking for information, or those just getting their feet wet in the alternative media--aware of the wealth of information, education and entertainment availabe to them outside the corporate deadlock and motivate them to tune in and take a look & listen, or to "take up arms" themselves and start a new media outlet.

What topics or media do you empahsize on Radio Free Conscience?
I try to balance my focus between media which are local to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois (where WEFT and I am located) and media located in other parts of the country and world. I am especially interested in people who are making new uses of media and breaking new ground. This is why I've given a fair amount of coverage to the growing micro-power (unlicensed) radio movement in the U.S. Those involved in micro-power radio are utilizing a media familiar to us all in way which is unfamiliar-- instead of the same 40 songs, canned commercials and cheesy DJs, they bring the microphone to those who would never have a chance to be on air. Micropower broadcasters like Free Radio Berkeley are on the forefont of a movement to wrest control of our airwaves from corporations and bring them back to citizens who truly own them.

What about the INTERNET?
While the Internet is a new and exciting technology (I myself spend many hours a day there), I must admit that it is far from a popular medium, as it is able to reach only a small percentage of people in any community. Although someone might run an incredible web site, without a majorly expensive server, that web site is unlikely to see more than a few thousand visitors a day worldwide, whereas in a medium size city an inexpensive independent 'zine, newspaper, or 10-watt radio station can reach several times that many people. Further that 'zine or radio station can reach people who, because of finances, education or interest, have never even touched a computer.

Still, I do not mean to put down the internet, nor do I mean to discount it's potential for impact. However, that impact on a large scale is still several years away compared to other media. Where the Internet really shines right now is giving people active in Community and Grassroots media a very effective and relatively inexpensive way to network and communicate like never before.

Therefore, while the Internet is not frequenly the focus of Radio Free Conscience, it is a part of it's structure and mechanism. And, as more and more free-nets go up around the world and more organizations attempt to bring the Internet to those with the least access it will become a greater focus.