Thursday, January 15, 2009

New media and the future of progressive talk

Ever since The Mic 92.1FM (our local Air America affiliate) initially dropped the Thom Hartmann show from their line-up and Lee Rayburn then quit his morning show, I've been involved in a flurry of emails, meetings, and article-writing on the subject.

On Monday night, I spoke with Lee over the phone to get his take on the matter. On Wednesday night, I attended the Friends of Progressive Talk Radio meeting to hear station operations and programming managers Mike Ferris and Brian Turany give their sides of the story.

At the end of the meeting, I had a good conversation with local writer, activist, historian and Mic radio host Stu Levitan about the current and future status of progressive talk in Madison. He expressed his opinion that, despite the programming changes, the Mic was still the most consistently progressive talk radio station in the area and a valuable asset. I appreciated a lot of what he had to say, especially when he chimed in as the (quite emphatic) voice of reason a few times during the sometimes heated meeting. We also discussed the possible reasons for why it was such a struggle, even in this rather liberal city, to keep left-wing talk on the air.

It got me thinking about the future of broadcast media in general. An anonymous commenter in my recent post about all of this made the suggestion that radio was more suited to the shouting, bombastic style that's typically found on more conservative talk shows. They went on to say that perhaps progressives shouldn't be looking at radio to be their main outlet, but perhaps would be better suited with blogs and print media, etc. The funny thing is, the comment was a lot more condescending to both sides of the coin than I think is called for, and I didn't agree with all of it--but it did bring up an interesting point.

First of all, I have to say that I adore good old-fashioned radio quite a bit. I had the great pleasure of hosting my own show on WSUM, the local student station, for just under two years during my time at college. I grew up wanting to be a radio DJ. It's something I've always, and will always love. But maybe the kind of talk/commentary many of us who so hate the radio shout-fests (from across the political spectrum) are looking for would be far better suited to new media platforms.

That is to say, perhaps nuanced, thoughtful, engaged debate and discussion of the issues can no longer fit onto the radiowaves. Maybe we should be looking to the internet and satellite radio as better mediums: podcasts, blogs, videos, etc.

At the moment, we're in a very transitional phase: Most of us have seen the light and it is on the internet, but I'm not sure anyone has yet figured out a viable business plan to make new media a profitable, and therefor sustainable, enterprise. That's why so many newspapers and other traditional media outlets are struggling so much. But perhaps these are all the birth pangs, and if we stick it out--which I think we will (have to?)--we will eventually find a way to make this all work for everyone's benefit.

More viewpoints, more stories, more opinions and research will find their equal digital footing, thereby helping to level the playing field. That's an optimistic prediction, but I'm making it now in the hopes that more of the right people will take up the cause and make it happen.

(Part of this will need to involve a massive effort to get computers and computer literacy to a wider swath of the community, regardless of income, etc.)

It's just a thought, but an intriguing one, I think. I have nothing but respect for those people fighting to keep The Mic progressive, and I understand their frustration. It's no easy thing to be shat on for so many years and then try to keep a level head. But keep it we must, because the future of any open, democratic society depends upon it.

1 comment:

ryan said...

i'm truly bummed at the loss of Lee Rayburn in the mornings, and i've yet to find something to keep my brain active during my morning commute. i don't have a problem with finding progressive content on the web or in print, but i can't take that in while driving or at work.i support the advertizers on the mic to the tune of ~$2000/year, but i've taken to streaming 1190KNUV from pheonix to get the content i want at work, as i'd rather hear Randi Rhodes and Thom Hartmann live than Shultz and Hartmann non-live. in giving my support to the advertizers of the Mic, i am showing my support of the idea of Progressive radio, even if i don't listen to it regularly due to the schedule. here's to hoping the lineup changes for the better in 2009, and Lee gets his greatest wish, whether that's getting his job back, or moveing on to some other form of media/broadcasting.

The Lost Albatross