Sunday, August 26, 2007

Thoughts on GreenStone Media and the real lesson

That was the end of Grogan,the man who killed my father, raped and murdered my sister, burned my ranch, shot my dog and stole my Bible. But if there was one law of the West, bastards had brothers . . .

-- Diane Thomas, Romancing the Stone

And if there's one 'law' of 'modern times,' it's that while 'success' has one father, failure has multiple mothers. Or that's what some would have you believe.

"Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem's Radio Network Fails!" scream some headlines while others include Rosie O'Donnell in the text. GreenStone Media, first of all, wasn't a "radio network" or a "radio station." We realize that's hard for some to grasp. Stab felt the best place to slam GreenStone Media was at a gala (during wartime -- oh, if Bette Davis were alive today) for FAIR and, all things considered, she may have chosen aptly.

On September 19, 2006, the Idiot Bellafante ran her attack in The New York Times. At the time GreenStone Media programs were only broadcast over the airwaves in Jackson, Miss., and Hartford, Conn. So it only made sense (in what world?) for Stab to attend the October 20th FAIR gala and, in a speech noting problems with The New York Times' coverage of women, rely on the same paper to attack GreenStone Media, Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem:

And then, you know here's a real stab. We get Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda coming along and starting a radio station for women which won't have arguments on it, won't have debate on it. Because they . . . are saying as they start this new station that women don't like to argue and debate. We're too sweet, too nice. Gloria and Jane, have you heard of Katha Pollitt!

Stab, unless the government has started issuing ear plugs, we'll guess that everyone's heard Pollitt. But probably not a good idea to utilize The Times for facts because that explains your trouble with 'facts'. GreenStone Media was not "a radio station." Nor did Fonda or Steinem ever say women were "too sweet, too nice".

But there was Stab, offering a fact-free attack on Fonda and Steinem at a FAIR gala and apparently that was going to serve as the left's 'support' for GreenStone Media. Now please note, many were happy to take to GreenStone to flog their wares. But who offered anything back? Who among the left even explored why GreenStone came into being?

Certainly not FAIR's CounterSpin which is allegedly concerned with media outlets and the coverage offered. There's not enough diversity, CounterSpin tells you once a week in a show hosted by two White males and one African-American woman. Had they wanted to address that topic, they could have interviewed Steinem, Fonda or any of the other founders or even, shocker, some of the radio hosts of GreenStone Media programs. In fact, we'd argue the perfect time for that would have been in any of their broadcasts from February 16, 2007 through March 9, 2007, four weeks when not one woman was among their guests.

An interesting contrast can be made with Air America Radio and GreenStone Media's reception. Air America Radio was kicked off with massive coverage, the cover of the Sunday magazine for The New York Times (Baby Cries A Lot solo, War Hawk then and War Hawk now), The Nation would both do a cover story before Air America Radio celebrated its first year. [Ty note: Others would later follow including The Progressive. C.I. notes The Progressive put Baby Cries A Lot on the cover in 2005, not 2004, as this previously stated.] GreenStone Media? Apparently not even worthy of a blog mention at The Nation. (Possibly Katrina vanden Heuvel's many male co-authors weren't interested in listening in to GreenStone Media?)

On July 6th, CounterSpin would begin airing a program on the lack of diversity in radio but, strangely, even then had no interest in speaking to anyone with GreenStone Media.

It's really amazing that so many left outlets, supposedly concerned with diversity, had nothing to say about GreenStone Media. (Maybe The Huffington Post believes their gleeful 'GreenStone Is Dead!' recent coverage makes up for it?).

For those who can remember the start of Air America Radio, promoted (falsely) as the great left hope, it debuted with six programs that aired Monday through Friday and five of those programs had female hosts or co-hosts (So What Else Is News? had one host, male) with one show (Unfiltered) having two female hosts. Twelve hosts in all, six males, six females. Today? Eight hosts (all but one program is solo hosted) and the figures are six men and two women. [The Air Americans, hosted by a male, goes off the air next month.] Women have dropped from six to two. And, of course, the network's strongest weekend show, RadioNation with Laura Flanders, has dropped from six hours of live radio, covering a wide range of topics, to one pre-taped hour a week. Along with Flanders' reduced presence, the number of women have been reduced as well on the weekends: eleven males, three women.

And that's the alleged left. Forget right-wing, commercial radio, you don't even have to go there to demonstrate the need for programs hosted by women.

In death, GreenStone Media has gotten more concentrated attention than it did during its broadcasting life. Gleeful little jabs as short on facts as anything Stab could have offered.

GreenStone Media failed. There's no denying that. As a syndicator of original content, it failed. Why it failed might offer some lessons for the next go round.

We would suggest that the next enterprise accept that you will not be broadcast over the airwaves. Start from that premise. Radio's hostility towards women is obvious. So instead focus on online streaming.

In its early months, GreenStone Media had a problem with online streaming. At one point, one of us (Dona) tried all over campus to stream to make sure it wasn't just a problem with her computer. The stream was not working. It was fixed. That's the only problem we would pin on GreenStone Media (and they did fix it).

One of the most widely broadcast (over traditional airwaves) programs is Democracy Now! and that show should be seen as the model for any broadcasters. It started in 1995 and was a Pacifica Radio program. It is no longer (that's a whole backstory we won't go into great detail on). Amy Goodman (who hosts with Juan Gonzalez) fought for the show when it was banned from the WBAI studios in an attempt by some to turn Pacifica into NPR. Breaking away from Pacifica ownership was a smart move. It wasn't the last smart move.

The Democracy Now! website offers podcasts, live streaming, streaming and downloads. It also moved from audio only into TV as well. In addition to video, the site offers Goodman's weekly column, excerpts from her two books written with her brother David Goodman (Exception to the Rulers and Static) as well as links to a variety of articles and columns including Juan Gonzalez' New York Daily News columns. Someone just discovering Democracy Now! has a number of reasons to repeatedly visit the website. That's not to suggest those familiar with it have no reason to visit -- it's to note if you're starting up new broadcast content, you should provide multiple reasons for people to visit your website and do so from the start.

It is true that Democracy Now! built up their website as they went along (and it's also true that their archived broadcasts are available) but anyone coming after has a model and there is no excuse for not starting out of the gate with a variety of offerings to encourage visitors and repeat visitors.

DN! notes:

Democracy Now! is a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program airing on over 450 stations in North America. Pioneering the largest public media collaboration in the U.S., Democracy Now! is broadcast on Pacifica, NPR, community, and college radio stations; on public access, PBS, satellite television (DISH network: Free Speech TV ch. 9415 and Link TV ch. 9410; DIRECTV: Link TV ch. 375); as a "podcast," and on the internet.

In addition it is broadcast throughout the world. It offers its headlines in both English and Spanish (and those are also carried by many radio stations).

It didn't build up overnight. It used traditional and (then) non-traditional means to become the force it is today and, again, should be used as the model for anyone attempting to start up a program or several programs.

By building an online audience across the nation, it had an audience that could advocate for local radio stations and TV stations to carry the program.

The reverse model is Air America Radio which started up with online streaming, archived broadcasts and blogs. The Majority Report quickly had to move its blog off of the AAR site. (Sensitivities were offended at The New York Times, primarily with regards to comments about Adam Nagourney and Jodi Wilgoren.) Then everything fell apart to the point that even Air America Place (not affiliated with Air America Radio) had to pull their own archives. Though allegedly a 24 hour, 7 day a week network, they toyed with limiting the amount of time online listeners could listen (three hours) and that also chapped their base. As did their streaming change which prevented stand alone Real Player or Windows Media Players and instead offered up an AAR player with non-stop visual ads which often cause the audio stream to drop out.

The lesson there, as Air America Radio continues to flounder, is that you don't go backwards. You don't offer various content and then begin reducing it. (AAR's reduced listenership also results from the loss of or reduction in hours of popular hosts such as Janeane Garofalo, Laura Flanders, Mike Malloy, Sam Seder, Lizz Winstead, Marc Maron and pushing non-left hosts -- Lionel Hampton, Bob Kerrey -- on what was supposed to be a left outlet.)

In focusing on the online aspect to build up listenership and presence, a number of things could and should be done. GreenStone Media could have partnered with Feminist Wire Daily (a part of Ms. magazine) to provide an audio version of FWD. Anyone coming after should seriously consider doing that. Ms. magazine itself should have done a thirty minute weekly segment that, even if it was available only online, would have provided GreenStone Media with new content and allowed for the presence of the magazine to be raised. Others should have also seen GreenStone Media as a resource. Kim Gandy, for instance, could have done an audio version of her bi-weekly column Below the Belt. This and other features would have been in addition to the four programs that GreenStone Media produced. "Check out our website," you hear often over the airwaves. You do and often wonder why you even bothered?

GreenStone Media offered a blog, offered archives, streaming and podcasts. This isn't a slam GreenStone Media piece. We think they did a strong job. But we think it was a mistake to assume that a radio market unfriendly (at best) to women was going to welcome them. We think anyone coming after should be aware of the cards stacked against you and realize you need a very strong web presence and you need to offer content in multiple forms.

In this community, Hilda's Mix was started by Hilda to highlight the issues of disabled community members. We e-mailed Hilda for her thoughts on GreenStone last Wednesday. She responded that the blog (which she wrote about in Hilda's Mix) was a big improvement "but as a deaf feminist, GreenStone Media didn't offer me much else. I could hit the website and see that some wonderful women were going to appear on various programs or that a topic would be covered but I never knew anything about what was said. My suggestion for anyone trying this again would be to realize that people such as myself may not be able to 'listen' via audio but we are interested in what is happening and it's really a door shut on us when there's no attempt made to reach out to us. Though we will never be listeners, obviously not by our own choice, we can give you web traffic. We can give you support. But for that to happen, we need to be included. Besides the blog, GreenStone Media largely did not include us. It did allow for the inclusion of the blind and the sight impaired which is wonderful. But I would strongly urge anyone trying something similar to remember that various people are served, or not served, by various means. Your example of Democracy Now! is the best example. That show provides text, audio and video. The addition of the headlines in Spanish is another way of reaching out and welcoming."

Along with opening doors to various communities, a variety of new content also will encourage people to re-visit websites. As Ava and C.I. noted in their radio column for Hilda's Mix, Law and Disorder is among the radio programs with websites that is beefing up their online content. In her e-mail, Hilda noted the positive response to that and that for those who do not do that "who just provide an archived broadcast with a date and possibly a brief synopsis, they are missing out on reaching a portion of a potential audience. No, the deaf and hearing impaired aren't going to help programs in the Arbitron ratings but a program like Law and Disorder is about covering issues, not ratings, and a lot of broadcasters are passionate about issues so it boggles my mind that they aren't attempting to reach out as they try to raise awareness. One of the biggest surprises to me in reading Ava and C.I.'s weekly radio reports is how much is discussed over the airwaves, topics and points of view, that do not make it into newspapers or magazines. Those columns are funny and well received for their writing but also because it brings those of us who can't hear the programs into the discussion. Their review of Uprising, to offer just one example, resulted in a great deal of e-mails wondering why there is no print equivalent?"

In terms of longevity, GreenStone Media failed in and of itself. We wish that weren't the case (and several wince as we write that it did). But that is reality. Reality is also that you never succeed if you don't try and GreenStone Media deserves tremendous credit for seeing a very real issue (the under-representation of women on the airwaves) and attempting to address it. Its success in the long term, as a stepping stone for others to build upon, depends upon the take-away.

The popular take-away is: "Ha! It failed! Women won't listen!" The reality is that it had listeners (over the airwaves and online), male and female. The reality is that radio isn't interested in women. You can see that in the dominance of males over the airwaves. You can see that in Air America Radio's decision to promote Baby Cries A Lot at the expense of proven radio hit (before AAR ever started airing) Randi Rhodes. Or in that hideous article The Nation ran (with Baby Cries A Lot on the cover, naturally) where men were funny but "OH MY GOD! JANEANE GAROFALO IS NOT!" The author was bothered by a bit about 'ass babies.' He must have missed Baby Cries A Lot asking an elderly, African-American woman if her (White) father and her (underage, African-American) mother (who was a servant in the household) got it on in the garden or kitchen? Garofalo was funny. And treated guests with respect. Baby Cries A Lot just wanted to leer even when dealing with what was a case of sexual harassment and, most likely, rape or coerced sex since inter-racial relations weren't all the rage in 1925's South Carolina. The man -- yes, it was a man, Nicholas von Hoffman -- was obsessed with her "mouth" which, considering why CBS canned Hoffman's ass, is rather surprising -- until you grasp that when a man says something it's "universal." If Nation readers were hoping to find support for Garofalo, Flanders or Rhodes among the women, they were hoping in vain. No coverage to show. But our always 'helpful' Katha Pollitt couldn't be counted on (sorry, Stab) to write about Baby Cries A Lot (August, 2004) and not any of the women. See a pattern?

Though many were featured by Garofalo (included Pollitt who seemed irritated that her first name was mispronounced -- CATH-ah or KAY-tha, which will it be? -- the most important thing on election night 2004 to be sure), the payback was scorn and silence. She did get a shout out in an editorial that listed her with Baby Cries A Lot (first billed, of course), Randi Rhodes "and others." And, of course, prior to the von Hoffman article, Katrina vanden Heuvel was a regular, weekly guest on the show. Somehow Garofalo never made the "cut" for Editor's Cut (though AlterPunk did whine about her and others in what was supposed to be a piece on Roseanne Cash in 2003 -- AlterPunk was upset that people like Garofalo were getting press attention for opposing the illegal war while he wasn't).

Now for any who missed it, Janeane Garofalo has long done (for free) an advertisement in the magazine for . . . the magazine. So, for the record, has Gloria Steinem. But the magazine can't embrace female broadcasters. (Amy Goodman has never been a cover though Baby Cries A Lot, a War Hawk has, someone explain that.) The next attempt to rectify women's low representation in any media better grasp that there's not going to be any assistance or promotion from the bulk of the left including from women with positions to offer a boost (such as Pollitt and vanden Heuvel).

GreenStone Media got some mainstream media attention (largely negative and mocking) and that was really all it got.

That's the world we live in. Stab may have said more about GreenStone than any other voice on the left (male or female). So much for the 'sisterhood' at the mid-level.

When there is no support from the left outlets, we don't think it's fair to say GreenStone Media failed due to what it provided. Most didn't know what it provided because so many other outlets avoided even noting its existance.

But it presented four programs, Monday through Friday. and one weekend program. The programs were entertaining and informative. By those standards it succeeded. It came into being to give women's voices a forum and in that regard it also succeeded.

The Radio Ritas was easily our favorite program. Humorous, topical and, yes, Stab, the hosts (three originally, then two) could and did disagree. They didn't, however, scream at each other.

Maureen Langan and Cory Kahaney, with the show from start to finish, were (are) radio naturals. If NPR had any sense, they'd find a spot on their network (which has time for car talk) and hand it over to them.

Lisa Birnbach did the most political show. She had her fan base but not among this crowd. It only took her calling for war on Sudan (whether she grasped that or not) to have Jim screaming to turn that off. We are not part of Our Modern Day Carrie Nations.

Rolonda -- Did you know an African-American woman was hosting a live call-in show on commercial radio? Probably not. And that's your loss.

Women Aloud -- Mo Gaffney and Shana Wride were the hosts and Gaffney doing radio alone should have resulted in huge press attention. The second-half of Kathy & Mo is a legendary comic. (For the record, Baby Cries A Lot is not and was not a legendary comic. He was a comedic writer who failed as performer -- repeatedly and in all formats.) But women don't get get the attention men do. If you doubt that, go to any store that sales CDs and flip through the comedy section. Along with a host of names you've (rightly) never heard of, you'll notice that women are barely, if at all, represented. If you're lucky, you'll find a 'millenium' collection of Lily Tomlin's. If you're really, really lucky, Gilda Radner and Whoopi Goldberg's Broadway performances may be included. Even Nichols and May (Mike Nichols and Elaine May -- comedic pioneers and huge sellers) lose out due to what we'll dub the 'rack jobbers trouble with women'. Gaffney could have blown most people out of the water and it's a testament to Wride that she held her own as a co-host and not a sidekick.

The World According to Giles & Moriarty -- A late entry to GreenStone Media but possibly the most heard over the airwaves due to production partnership with CBS News. Nancy Giles and Erin Moriaty hosted. The two women previously hosted Giles and Moriarty and Philadelphia and won two Gracies for their work. The Gracies are awards presented by the American Women in Radio and Television, Inc. If you're not aware of them, take that up with your media.

In June, they held the 32nd presentation of the awards. If you're wondering why so many females have outlets in independent media but have never noted these awards, take it up with them and be sure not to let the males off the hook either. Among the winners in June were Wanda Sykes and Susan Stamberg.

On AWRT, it should be noted they issued a press release June 13th expressing their "deep disappointment" with Dan Rather's sexist remarks. Possibly you don't hear about them because when Rather elects to spout sexism, Katrina vanden Heuvel elects to ignore and justify it? As Ava and C.I. noted June 17th:

The most damaging of the voices defending Dan Rather last week was Katrina vanden Heuvel because, to too many not paying attention, she is a woman of power who is concerned about women. So if this woman was saying, "It's not sexism" (as she did), then, surely, it wasn't sexism.
It was sexism. Those not paying attention shouldn't take vouching from a woman who, as editor and publisher of the weekly Nation magazine, has seen fit to print approximately four male writers for every one woman. Those not paying attention shouldn't take vouching from a woman who is attempting to grab on to some big bucks via the fund raiser/pyramid scheme that is The Nation Cruise -- which, this summer, includes the 'honor' of speaking to Mary Mapes, Dan Rather's former producer. In her defense of Dan Rather, vanden Heuvel failed to note either her own record of publishing women or her magazine's financial gain from her defense of Dan Rather.
That's a bit like saying you're for economic justice and then attempting to weasel out of paying taxes by taking your case as high as the Supreme Court (where you still lose) and . . . Oh, wait.

The reality of GreenStone Media's failure is that it didn't fail because it couldn't deliver solid programming. It delivered strong and amazing program. It was hurt by not grasping the need for a strong online presence and that's a lesson to be learned for the next go round. But most importantly, it was hurt by the lack of support from what should have been allies.

Any new venture needs word of mouth and attention, so that's a really important point. Women who are considering attempting a similar venture need to be very aware that a lot of the female 'names' aren't going to do a thing to support you or use their own outlets to even note you. To the contrary, they will allow men to slam you and stay silent. When Dan Rather accuses Katie Couric of "tarting up" news, the same women, who will not do one damn thing to promote women broadcasters, will rush in to assure you that Rather's sexist remarks weren't sexism.

That may be the most important lesson in this because none of the women involved (and men were involved as founders as well) expected the attacks. They expected the right-wing to attack. That's no surprise to feminists at this late date. Feminism has been maligned and smeared by the right-wing for years. The surprise came from the lack of support and attention from those who should have been 'friends.' What was done to Janeane Garofalo in The Nation article (whose only positive benefit was that listeners no longer had to hear Katrina vanden Heuvel pontificate and struggle for words on air each week) should have been a serious signal to the way feminists would be treated by the 'left' and should have telegraphed that women being at the top of 'left' didn't mean feminists were at the top.

Again, Democracy Now! is the model for the future. The show was built via its online site, Amy Goodman's non-stop speaking engagements and word of mouth. Attention from "big" little media? If you think Democracy Now! crossing over to TV was a story, you didn't work for The Nation. Goodman co-wrote two successful bestselling books with no help from The Nation (and search their archives if you doubt it) -- no reviews, no shout outs on from Editor's Cut blog. In other words, the key lesson can be summed up via quote from Tori Amos' "Taxi Ride" (Scarlet's Walk):

I guess on days
like this
you know who your
friends are

It's a lesson that all should heed.
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