News

Lookin’ Back, Movin’ Forward: The End of MediaMouse.org

Almost ten years ago, a group of people fed up with the way things were going in the world and in Grand Rapids, Michigan started meeting. Inspired by the excitement surrounding the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in Seattle, Media Mouse formed as a group that sought to distribute information about under reported issues–globalization, corporate control, Latin America, and U.S. imperialism–to name just a few.

In the early years, that meant organizing a wide variety of campaigns and projects–protests, independent media festivals, speakers, rallies, documentary showings, zines, and more. Like many groups that formed in 1999, Media Mouse rode the wave of energy that followed the successful WTO protests in Seattle and made globalization and corporate power an issue here in Grand Rapids. We also did local work: we built connections with other groups pursuing social justice, targeted area lawmakers, and organized in support of alternatives to motor vehicle transit. Again, like many groups of the era, we moved into anti-war work following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and had an arguably important roll in that movement. We posted regular updates about protests on the Internet and launched one of the first blogs in Grand Rapids to keep people updated about what was happening in Iraq and in the ant-war movement. We continued the work of that earlier blog–The People’s Alliance Bulletin–when we launched a regular blog at MediaMouse.org in January of 2004.

Since 1999, the political context has changed greatly–gone is the excitement of Seattle, gone is the sense that anti-war work could end the Iraq War, and gone is the administration of President George W. Bush. Granted, Bush’s replacement–Barack Obama–has proven to be every bit as disappointing as we would have expected, yet much of “the left” is still struggling with how to deal with the Obama phenomenon and has been largely paralyzed since his election. In addition to political changes, the Internet has changed dramatically since we started blogging back in 2003. Now there are innumerable places for people to get left/progressive news and a wealth of technologies that make it increasingly easier to do so.

In this context, it’s hard to see where MediaMouse.org fits into the current struggle. To be sure, there is plenty to be outraged about and plenty of things to fight for and against. Everything that we ever wrote about–environmental destruction, inequality, racism, etc–continues to persist and likely will for quite some time (especially if we don’t step up to organize against these things). However, locating where MediaMouse.org should be in those struggles is difficult. Stepping back from the daily task of writing and maintaining the site, there are no easy answers to those questions. At this point, I’m convinced that MediaMouse.org–as it has existed at least–doesn’t have much of a place. In a lot of ways, I think we failed at our main goal–which was to motivate people to take action in their communities around issues that they care about in order to help strengthen the struggle to a new world. We rather simply told people how bad everything is and rarely inspired substantive discussion about how we could move forward.

Moreover, underlying these questions about the where MediaMouse.org fits into the broader struggle are the particulars of the project. MediaMouse.org has no clear and quantifiable strategic or political goals, making it next to impossible to determine our direction or measure any “success” we might have. All too often, we jump from one issue to the next with no real continuity and are all to willing to write about whatever we feel like, with no real connection to what folks need or want out of an alternative media project. Similarly, the project is almost painfully dysfunctional–there is no decision making structure, there are all sorts of problems with work distribution, no accountability, emails go unanswered, and almost all of the work is (and has been) done by one person. To add further insult to injury, if the project is not sustainable when it comes to its actual work, it’s even less so financially. Ultimately, the internal problems are such that to abandon it–and start over if needed in the future–is the only thing that really makes sense. Trying to “fix” things would be an uphill battle that at this point we don’t have the energy to pursue. To be sure, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the numerous mistakes that people involved with MediaMouse.org have made over the years–hopefully sometime soon we will be able to share some of those lessons to prevent people from making the same mistakes again.

At this time, I’m confident in saying that MediaMouse.org has outlived its usefulness. Internal problems coupled with an inability to respond to the changing political context, has rendered this project largely ineffective. That said, we’re quite proud of much of the work we have done over the years, whether it is reporting on under reported issues here in West Michigan or traveling across the country to cover large mobilizations against trade agreements. There is a lot to be thankful for, not the least of which has been the opportunity to hear that we inspired people–however few they may be–to act to make this world a better place.

With MediaMouse.org no longer taking up so much of the contributors’ time, we will be in a better position to be able to act in that capacity and to move forward from a place where we are unhindered by the baggage and responsibilities associated with this project. To that end, we are excited to see where the future takes us–and excited to make room for others to fill whatever gaps may be left by our departure.

In the end, we just want to thank everyone that ever read what we wrote, contributed to the site, or otherwise helped make this project work to the extent that it did.

In Pursuit Of A Stronger Struggle For A New World,

- MediaMouse.org

Media Alert: Email WOOD TV 8 About Military Recruiting Story

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The Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) has issued a media alert regarding a story on military recruiting that ran on West Michigan’s WOOD TV 8:

On November 12, WOOD TV 8 ran a story on a local man who has been trying to join the military but has been unable to because of his criminal record. In light of recruiting shortages, the military has been relaxing its rules to allow people to enlist if they have a criminal record. Despite this, the local man in the story has been unable to join the military because of a domestic violence charge against his girlfriend. The story only spoke with the man and two military representatives and failed to get an alternative perspective on the issue. Such a story could have placed the issue of domestic violence into the larger context of sexual assault in the military.

Send a Letter Telling WOOD TV you are Disappointed with the Story:

http://citizenspeak.org/node/1170

View the Story (includes video and transcript):

http://www.mediamouse.org/griid/dissecting.php?artId=343

For additional news analysis, visit the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy’s (GRIID) “Dissecting the Local News Feature” at:

http://www.mediamouse.org/griid/dissecting.php

For additional media literacy resources, including studies of local news coverage, visit:

http://www.mediamouse.org/griid/

Study Shows Videos Produced by PR Firms Continues to Air as “News”

A new study by the Center for Media and Democracy has found that news stations around the country continue to air video news releases (VNRs) produced and sponsored by corporations. This is despite a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigation undertaken in response to a previous study by the Center earlier this year. VNRs are corporate funded public relations videos that are designed to resemble independent news reporting and frequently promote products or even positions friendly to corporations or industries. For example, in addition to a host of VNRs promoting products, the study documented one VNR that was designed to promote doubt about global warming. According to the study, the VNR had ties to the oil giant Exxon-Mobil.

The aforementioned VNR promoting skepticism regarding global warming is just one of 54 VNRs (around 2% of the estimated 5,000 given to television stations in a six-month period) documented in the Center for Media and Democracy’s “Still Not the News: Stations Overwhelmingly Fail to Disclose VNRs” study. The study, a follow up to the April 6, 2006 “Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed” study; found that news stations are still failing to disclose which entities produced VNRs. The Center found that 90% of the time television stations made no attempt to disclose the source of the VNR and often made it appear to be a legitimate news story by re-recording the narration, editing the segment, or even removing corporate supplied disclosure notices. Public relations firms produce the VNRs to integrate advertising into newscasts with the understanding that in an era of media consolidation, cuts in news staff, and emphasis on generating profits from newscasts, stations are likely to air VNRs as a means of reducing costs. As media ownership has consolidated the use of PR packaged news has increased as a way of enhancing profits, with 80% of the stations implicated in the Center’s research being owned by large media conglomerates such as News Corp, Tribune Broadcasting, Gannett, and Sinclair Broadcasting.

The initial study resulted in an FCC investigation, launched in August, in response to organizing that led to tens of thousands of letters being sent to the FCC according to Free Press, a group that organized a campaign against fake news. When the FCC began its investigation by sending letters of inquiry to the owners of the 77 stations cited in the original report, two industry groups responded with an active campaign designed to end the investigation. The Radio-Television News Directors Association sent a letter to the FCC in October urging that the investigation be halted and that the letters to the stations be rescinded, as it opposed any enforcement action by the FCC before the completion of a more general review of VNR usage and believes that sponsorship identification rules do not apply “in most cases where a licensee has not received or been promised consideration for broadcast of certain material.” The Association, with a code of ethics for news reporting that would seem to prohibit the airing of unsourced VNRs, has failed to oppose such VNRs despite their self-proclaimed duty of setting standards for news gathering and reporting. The National Association of Broadcast Communicators, a consortium formed by fifteen public relations firms over the summer in response to the organized campaign against VNRs, is calling for voluntary industry self-regulation. Despite the PR industries attempt to dismiss the issue, it is clearly a problem, with eight of the stations under investigation by the FCC airing VNRs during the second study period.

Free Press has setup an online email action that readers can use to call for the FCC to extend its investigation, as well as state-specific email actions for states where VNRs have aired. The Center for Media and Democracy has documented the airing of three VNRs in Michigan and consequently readers are able to send a Michigan specific message to the FCC as well. VNRs aired in Michigan were documented on WWTV-9 in Tustin (Cadillac area), WILX-10 in Lansing, and WJBK-2 in Southfield (Detroit area).