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
- What topics or media
do you empahsize on Radio Free
- 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
- 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.