A Hunger for Truth About Media

My friend John Anderson of DIYmedia.net has enrolled in graduate school here at the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois. His assistantship is to produce a weekly 5-minute media reform newscast called Media Minutes that is posted to the Free Press website and airs on Robert McChesney’s Media Matters program on public radio WILL-AM.

The first edition of the program was posted last week, and second one went up last Friday.

I helped John set up a little mini-studio in an office in the Armory building on the U of I campus where he produces the program. I’m impressed with the very high-quality results he gets with relatively inexpensive equipment connected to a garden-variety PC laptop.

As a side note, apparently McChesney’s Media Matters program broke the WILL-AM pledge drive record a week ago during a special two-hour pledge drive extravaganza. I think it’s cool that the program beats the likes of NPR blockbusters such as All Things Considered. NPR and the CPB have for the last decade been trying to get public stations to carry more national syndicated programming (instead of local programming), always singing the siren call of increased pledge drive revenue for national programming. Media Matters’ success shows that public radio listeners do value local programming, especially when it values dialog and bringing in critical voices who challenge the ruling media oligarchy.

On top of that, Bob is a master of pledge drive because he clearly and directly articulates both the need for non-commercial radio, and why listeners need to support it. Bob has been generous enough in the past to lend a hand to pitch pledge drive on my radio program on community radio WEFT.

The mediageek radioshow typically does pretty well on pledge drives, too, especially given that it’s only a half-hour long. However, I do have to give the caveat that the number of pledge drive calls or the amount of money pledged during any program do not necessarily equate with the number of listeners or the popularity of the program relative to other programs on the same station.

Part of this is due to the fact that people pledge when they have the time to, and when it finally makes it to the top of their list. It’s also true that most people who pledge listen to many different programs but can really only call and pledge once — so which show gets the call is kind of a crap shoot.

That said, when people call is also generally a result of listeners being tuned in, listening attentively and hearing the pledge pitch just before they call. Unlike most public radio stations, community radio WEFT doesn’t make programming decisions based upon pledge drive calls or revenue. Doing so would function like relying on ratings. Minimally, it would reward the popular at the expense of the unpopular. At worst, it would punish voices who don’t appeal to your more active and affluent listeners, especially programming that is aimed at less affluent minority communities who are unserved by commercial media.

Still, I believe that the good pledge drive response to programs like Media Matters and mediageek does indicate a level of listener support and a more general desire from our communities in Central Illinois to hear more critical information and analysis about our media system.