Reflecting on the year as it winds down, 2020 has been a year of many challenges. It has also been a time to appreciate our medium of radio as a uniter, when so much seems deeply divided. It’s also a time to rally to community media’s aid.
In August, Pew Research identified many trust gaps in media. No more than half of respondents have confidence in journalists act in the best interests of the public. An equal number think that other Americans have no confidence in the institution either. However, fully 75% still believe it is possible to improve Americans’ relationship with the media.
Surely more than a bit of distrust is driven by the commercial television news cycle. Columbia Journalism Review is among many media watchers to decry cable TV networks’ obsession with outgoing Pres. Donald Trump. Negative coverage, or stories that seem calculated to spark anger, fear or other emotions aimed at keeping people tuned in are central to the charge. Former MSNBC producer Ariana Pekary wrote of how one TV executive called their field a cancer. “As it is, this cancer stokes national division, even in the middle of a civil rights crisis,” Pekary reflected over the summer. “The model blocks diversity of thought and content because the networks have incentive to amplify fringe voices and events, at the expense of others … all because it pumps up the ratings.”
While radio is not immune to toxic ratings-first leaders, we also have community-minded institutions that want to contribute to their cities and towns. Radio as a medium has long enjoyed more trust than other platforms. Community media, especially community radio, remains a steadfast part of this movement for a better, more trustworthy medium.
Tune across community radio and you will find a fascinating look into local subcultures, community news, area arts that fight to survive in spite of COVID-19, and an ideal of media access that can’t be extinguished, even decades into community media’s run. While commercial media organizations crater under the weight of layoffs and a loss of trust, they scramble for new engagement models, nonprofit status and ways of listening and integrating the audience into their daily work. But guess what? Community media and radio in particular has been doing that for generations. As one astute media observer told me, “community media are the hipsters of this engaged journalism trend today.” And that’s not too far off base.
Where community media struggles at times is around scaling this important outreach and storytelling. But with the year-end period upon us, that is where you come in.
From now until Dec. 31 is where nonprofits traditionally see the most generosity from their communities. These large and small gifts help nonprofits pay staff, sustain their initiatives, and dream big as they plan bold new efforts. In the case of community media, a gift’s impact is as easy to observe as turning to your television, radio or internet browser. Your gifts have immediate results by supporting broadcasting, and chipping through the walls of distrust we see in many towns.
Those giving back have many options. Whether it’s donating to a local community radio station or lifting up nonprofits helping our medium, such as OpenNews or the Maynard Institute, or even contributing to an admired nonprofit media outlet, your year-end donation can really help radio to thrive.
Repairing trust and bridging divides will be an ongoing process. If you are one of those good souls who gives back to your communities during the holiday season, do not forget community radio. This year more than most, stations have made a difference, but need your help to do much more.