Sunday, October 15, 2006

Progressives must get real and get smart about Digital Media

From Jeffrey Chester's Will Google Take the Internet Over the Cliff?:

"More mergers in coming years will continue the consolidation of old media giants with the new. It's only a matter of time before a handful of companies will own TV, radio and newspaper properties along with key online services. This further interferes with the ability of mainstream news media to serve as an effective watchdog on government and big business.

Though the Internet was originally envisioned to serve the public interest, there is no guarantee it will continue to do so. Like radio, broadcast TV and cable, it will continue to be shaped by politics, telecommunication policies and the market. Web activists envision a medium that will always support social change and can serve as a platform to distribute diverse points of view. But if the economic relationships between the old and new media are allowed to dominate online culture, what guarantees do we have that the Internet will continue to be the "people's" medium? Events are moving quickly; media and telecommunications giants already have a powerful hold on members of Congress; regardless of which party is in power, it is unlikely our elected officials will deliver a federal policy that that puts the needs of citizens ahead of corporations.

That's why I suggest that progressives begin to get real--and get smart--about digital media. While we have a few reliable outlets--Democracy Now!, Alternet, Huffington Post and The Nation--the progressive community lacks a reliable well-connected broadband infrastructure that will deliver an array of news and cultural content to national and community audiences. I'm not talking about the wires and connections but about building a coalition of tech-savvy content providers that will deliver to PCs, TVs and cellphones a flow of alternative news and information challenging the status quo.

Imagine progressive organizations making smart deals with a variety of providers to carry this content deep in the heart of the digital distribution system. Imagine nimble, creative enterprises willing to experiment with new business models. Imagine having the courage to go beyond foundation grants and pledge drives and becoming adept at paying your own way. Imagine developing socially responsible advertising that respects personal privacy, is transparent about how data is collected and used, allows consumers to opt out of immersive experiences, fosters independent identity, builds community and supports social justice.

Foundations and the so-called Democracy Alliance have the potential to be the economic engines for such experiments and do the organizing necessary to patch together a content-challenge to the status quo.

As YouTube, Google, MySpace and immersive media marketing reshape the digital landscape, we need to be sure that public interest remains in the picture. And as tech-savvy progressive media find their place in that landscape, we must work together to build an online culture that not only pitches products but works for equity, social justice and the riches of a civil society."