CHICAGO - Speaking here at the Communist Party's 30th National Convention, People's World co-editor Sue Webb moderated a panel entitled, "Role of the media in building the progressive movement." Joining her were panelists Howard Kling, editor of Workday Minnesota; Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin magazine; Don Washington, founder of Mayoral Tutorial; and Kari Lyderson, a Chicago-based journalist and author.
Asked whether an apparent decline in readership in the country posed a threat to the labor movement, Kling replied, "There's a particular aspect of capitalist development that is introducing problems in areas of education, including reading, and that's forced us into something of a crisis."
In some ways, he said, capitalism creates chaos by facilitating an increasingly sharp divide between "left" and "right" mainstream media sources. Lyderson agreed: "Polarization of media means people in the middle don't know where to look for their news." Even so, she added, "There's still plenty of appetite for reading."
Therein lay an opportunity, the panelists agreed, for labor to continue to create and utilize its own platforms to mobilize those people. Said Washington, "Media's role is to provide you with information to engage the people." If labor activism doesn't take advantage of that need, he said, you're missing the point. "Social media lets you reach outside your own circles, but both sides have to listen. You have to build relationships." If you immediately take the argumentative route, he remarked, "telling someone, 'You're an imperalist and you're oppressing me!,'" that's an immediate turn-off and you're failing to win that person over.
A side-effect of corporate consolidation of mainstream media, said Lyderson, is that "it's imploding, but at the same time, labor groups with a positive agenda are seeing an expansion of their own platforms." Sunkara added that to some degree, "the loss of reading is a manufactured crisis, just like how you hear that the youth today don't care about anything. In reality, the mainstream media simply isn't responding to their needs and interests."
"People certainly read," Washington agreed. "And not only do they read - they want to take action. It's the job of the media to engage them and make that possible. So it's on us to develop that and to bring people into this fight."
Kling admitted, "There is a struggle to maintain longer-form media, as opposed to the short blips on sites like Twitter. So there's a certain tension there. There's still a need for long-form analyses, because if there's nothing substantial there for people to read, that makes [the impetus for] organizing hard, even with social media."
The solution, said Sunkara, is that "our organizing projects need to be intertwined. Long-form media can be the entry point for organizing, which is then bolstered through short-form media. We're not going to win over the people in the middle, or those outside our circles, unless we have an understanding of how to speak to them and mobilize them."
Webb then asked, "When people talk about alternative media, why are labor publications not included?" Kling replied, "Labor once represented the greatest collection of alternative media in the country. In order to continue to be considered alternative, labor publications need to think of themselves that way. One of the struggles is how we get them to embrace that." Washington noted, "It reflects how labor is perceived by ordinary people. They only think about labor when they think about strikes and protests, but it's not thought of in terms of equity and making a better world. You don't hear about it, and there needs to be a shift in the language to reflect these things. Unions aren't talking enough about the values, and that's a problem."
Webb took that chance to highlight "the unique role and position of People's World. It provides that voice for the voiceless, and combines it with a deeper analysis. It bridges the gap between labor, and what publications that focus strictly on labor are unable to do," covering things as broad as culture and the environmental movement.
People's World labor editor John Wojcik, in a speech that directly followed, underscored this statement, recounting, "When New York City Domino's workers went on strike for higher wages, they saw that People's World was covering their fight in a way that no other publication was able to. Workers took photos on their mobile devices and were able to immediately share the actions taking place and see stories quickly put up detailing the struggle. They won their strike and seven of them subsequently joined the Communist Party. And when ALEC was planning to kill clean energy projects, we did an exposé, which environmental news site EcoWatch quickly picked up and shared. They continued to share our stories and eventually participated with us in a Google+ Hangout. They've come closer, and we've grown in size and influence. Those are the types of relationships labor media needs to build and establish in order to broaden its scope."
Photo: Webb (far left), moderates a panel on social media. Terrie Albano/PW