By Ariel Dougherty
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Many women's organizations spend money courting corporate media, which rarely cares about our messages or missions. Meanwhile, our own dedicated media groups struggle. It's a new year. Let's invest more wisely--in ourselves.
(WOMENSENEWS)--As 2010 closed, my e-mail box was clogged with end-of-the-year fundraising requests. The breeze of sending out e-blasts makes fundraising seem easy, but, really, is it?
There's room for doubt there, given the general state of women's independent media financing.
As the national project director of Media Equity Collaborative, a national initiative working out of rural New Mexico to encourage greater support of women's media, I have seen that for every step forward, we incur two steps back.
Two examples: One of our partnering organizations, Chica Luna, a holistic media training center for low-income women of color based in New York City, was unable to even keep operating their Web site. Third World Majority, a tech savvy media justice and training center in the Oakland, Calif., area, also shut down its Web site last year.
And while the recession has taken a toll on many media groups, it's been particularly heavy on groups by and for women of color.
The economy isn't the only culprit.
A central stumbling block is the way mainstream women's organizations and the media consultants who guide them seek to publicize their messages and their organized efforts through big, corporate media outlets.
These groups, along with women's funders and donors, almost entirely overlook the alternative women's media community as a voice for their messages. One major donor group for women, for instance, directed a million dollars to place more opinion pieces in mainstream newspapers. I scratch my head in amazement at this blind spot.
That's like relying on the American Medical Association and existing (Catholic) hospitals and other long-established health structures to provide abortions services.
We all know that's not viable. Instead we have built stand-alone clinics and health programs specifically aimed at addressing unmet reproductive health care needs.
What about our unmet media and information needs?
This one-level media strategy, in which we pour all our money--and expectations--into public relations aimed at corporate media, is the wrong model.
For one thing, it wastes money. As much as we ask corporate media to pay attention to events such as pro-choice rallies in Washington, they simply don't. For another thing, corporate-focused public relations could be better spent on partnerships and alliances with hard-pressed women's media groups and funders who support these groups.
In a June 2010 study, Media Equity Collaborative identified 114 funders of 20 gender-justice media organizations, outlets and projects. The largest common funder was Media Justice Fund, part of the Funding Exchange based in New York, which tragically had just folded. Twenty-five percent of the groups depended on its developmental support.
Think about low return on investment of corporate-focused public relations and think about letting an entity like this expire.
As the women-focused donor community starts revving up this spring with a second Women Moving Millions campaign, aimed at raising more seven-figure donations for projects for women and girls, I beseech the participating funders and the larger donor community to earmark funds for a concerted women's media effort.
Building a women's media movement and a sorely needed infrastructure is critical to the overall movement for girls' and women's rights.
Grassroots media efforts focused on women have been around for decades. Today they number about 350, with Women's eNews, the publisher of this essay, among them.
New, impressive efforts are constantly arising in the struggle to tell the stories of girls and women. NIST.tv, a feminist video site, was "released into the wild" of the Internet last July. If you've ever tried a YouTube search for "women's video" or "feminist video," you'll immediately see why NIST.tv is so vital.
The Feminist Wire, a brand new blog launched this month--not to be confused with Ms. Magazine's Feminist Wire--was "inspired by the sense of crisis" to counter "our shattered political culture" and to provide "a socio-political and cultural critique of anti-feminist opinions, practices, orientations."
The energy of these new ventures is crucial, but so are the efforts that we often fail to sustain. The majority of women's media organizations and outlets are in the middle ground, with budgets of $50,000 to $500,000, and need ongoing funds. This collective body of work is underpaid, if paid at all. We discount the experience and know-how of this core media community at our peril. It is no less than the core of a new media infrastructure.
This media community needs and deserves a new dedicated fund. As part of the process we need to have the messy conversations of what has and has not worked in the past, to stand upon one another's shoulders, not step upon toes.
The creative work of women's media and culture can be among our very strongest force. It's a new year. Let's use it to forge big gains.
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In addition to her work at the Media Equity Collaborative, Ariel Dougherty produces films, most recently Lynn Hershman's "!Women Art Revolution."
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