NYC DAILY REPORTS and Documents | NYC iPNB meeting page
Proposal for more for coverage of Pacifica news on Pacifica
Presented at the iPNB meeting in NYC Sept. 19-21, 2003
CECOPNOP Formed to Press for Coverage of Pacifica News on Pacifica
CECOPNOP, the Committee to Effect Coverage of Pacifica News on Pacifica, has been formed to help Pacifica listeners find out what is happening on their network.
CECOPNOP urges all Pacifica news departments to cover the story of the network's transformation just as they would cover any other important news story: with beat reporters and regular items on station news programs.
"This information is vital to Pacifica listeners, who will soon be asked to vote on candidates for local station boards," said Cliff Barney, organizer of the new group. "Without regular news coverage of events within Pacifica, they will be acting in the dark."
CECOPNOP is an ad hoc group formed by Pacifica listeners and activists who have been increasingly frustrated at the lack of broadcast news about Pacifica at a time when the foundation is trying to democratize itself under court order. "There has been a bitter struggle over the writing of bylaws," Barney said. "The diversity issue has split the activist element of Pacifica, and bylaws were finally passed by a single vote on the KPFK Local Advisory Board.
"Apart from reporting the mere fact that a bylaws vote had passed, Pacifica's news departments have not told this story. Except for a few hundred activists who follow the many Internet discussion lists about Pacifica, listeners know almost nothing of this struggle," Barney said. "How can they act as an informed electorate when no one is informing them?"
CECOPNOP also supports the broadcast of special programs devoted to governance and elections. "Of course, candidates for elections must be given air time, and there may be programs devoted to this single issue," Barney said. "But candidates will all be promoting themselves, and special reports are hit-or-miss affairs in terms of listenership. What is needed is day-to-day coverage by the news departments, acting independently."
CECOPNOP will continue to raise this issue at LAB meetings and national board meetings, and it will suggest items that news departments should cover.. "Carol Spooner [iPNB secretary] has suggested the formation of an ad hoc commission on diversity within Pacifica,” Barney said. “There is an active movement to revise the new bylaws even as they are being used to structure elections. Why haven't the news departments reported these stories?"
To join CECOPNOP, go to the group's message list at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cecopnop/. "Our goal is to have an active listener group in every broadcast area that will raise this issue at each station," Barney said. "in addition, station staffs, and particularly news staffs, are welcome to join CECOPNOP and take part in our discussions."
For more information:
Making Its Own News: Why Pacifica Must Report the Story of Its Own Transformation
White paper released by CECOPNOP, the Committee to Effect Coverage of Pacifica News on Pacifica
By Cliff Barney
What Pacifica's news organizations cover is just as important as how they cover it. I don't listen to Pacifica for a slant on the news, but for access to information about topics I don't see in other media. In the particular case of politics and social issues, I depend on Pacifica to tell me about the people and organizations that are working to achieve peace and social justice, what they are doing and how they are doing it.
One of these organizations is Pacifica itself, so news of what happens to Pacifica is important to me. But I rarely get it without making a strenuous effort, tracking Internet lists and attending local meetings. The mainstream press doesn't think Pacifica is important, and Pacifica itself seems to agree. There is very little news about Pacifica on Pacifica's airwaves.
For years, news about Pacifica was actually banned from the air by official policy (the so-called dirty laundry rule), which effectively prevented listeners from knowing much about changes within the network. The national board thus was able to make itself self-selecting free from the effects of listener dissent or disaffection.
As Pacifica broadcasters perforce adhered to this practice, they seem to have gotten used to it. Even now, with the dirty laundry rule history, this culture persists. It has its uses to management when something happens, like a fight between board members, that Pacifica would just as soon not make public. But even everyday Pacifica news is also mostly ignored; and required regular reports by managers to listeners are not only absent from the air, but even station boards find them difficult to obtain. Coverage of the bylaws process, mandated by the interim national board over a year ago, has ceased. As for news departments, with rare exceptions, they repeat the mantram learned under the old board: "The listeners aren't interested in the inner workings of Pacifica. We have other things -- wars, international politics -- more important to cover."
That was the official point of view while Pacifica was being hijacked. It was only when KPFA broke the tradition of omertá and reported on the firing of Nicole Sawaya that listeners found out what was happening and started to organize against it.
And only during the a brief interregnum that followed, when KPFA operated as a kind of rebel station, did I hear anything on the six o'clock news about the struggle to regain control of Pacifica. Then there were regular pieces about protests and court events, and KPFA covered Pacifica's bizarre attempt to censor its own press conference. But now that that struggle is supposedly won, the story has dropped out of sight. There has been almost no news about the whole incredible process of reinventing Pacifica, writing a new set of bylaws, undergoing bitter and tendentious factional strife, all under the gun of a judicial mandate. This important news has been scanted, to say the least, by the news departments and by Free Speech Radio News.
As a journalist, I have a hard time following their reasoning. Didn't we just learn what happens when governance is carried out in secret? I think Pacifica needs to give full coverage to this process. Not live or Internet broadcasts of national board meetings, not occasional two-hour mega-specials involving all five stations and the affiliates, not special reports to the listeners; not talk shows featuring one or more interested parties; or at least not just these, but real ongoing news coverage by reporters who, under the guidance of an editor, contact sources and write independent stories.
The reason is simple: the listeners need it. The listeners must have news coverage of their network in order to become full citizens of this democratic media. Had it not been for the report on the firing of Sawaya, the hijacking plan might well have succeeded. News coverage is an efficient way to get the word out. Special broadcasts are hard to put together and not everyone has time to listen to them. For that matter, not all news events are worth special broadcasts. But regular, day-to-day, coverage of Pacifica news would go along way toward helping Pacifica's listeners participate in its governance and making them an informed electorate when it comes time to choose board members.
Naturally, at election time, the stations will run election specials and give candidates air time. And Pacifica needs to cover its own elections just as it covers any election. But beyond that, regular coverage of Pacifica events, including long-term processes like writing the bylaws and divisive ones like the battle over diversity, will familiarize the listeners with Pacifica in a way that pure talk show format can't do, in that the news offers context and a sense of independence.
Example of what is missing: Last year, Pacifica's most popular program, Democracy Now!, was spun out into an independent production. Little about it was described on the air, though many insiders felt that the deal had left unaddressed some questions of conflict of interest, and others were surprised, to put it mildly, to find that the newly independent DN! Would be given access to Pacifica's mailing lists. After a brief uproar, the contract was supposed to have been re-examined. Not a word about the result, if any, of this process, or even if it ever took place, has been broadcast on Pacifica.
Example 2: The only news story out of last spring's Los Angeles meeting of the iPNB was a three and a half minute FSRN piece that gave very little hard information about what happened there. On the Internet, Carol Spooner reported that the board had adopted a budget, that it had delayed a vote on the bylaws but adopted a schedule for it and circulated drafts of amendments, that it had formed a diversity committee to wrestle with the problem of establishing Pacifica policy within legal limits, and taken a number of other interesting steps; but most Pacifica listeners knew nothing of this, or why it was or wasn't important, because it wasn't covered on Pacifica. Only the few hundred listeners who follow the Internet lists saw Spooner's report. How can the thousands of listeners who didn't see it be expected to act as an informed electorate? Most of the meeting was broadcast, but trying to puzzle out the workings of Pacifica from the occasional network broadcasts of iPNB meetings is like trying to interpret Congress by watching C-SPAN: you see only the show, nothing of the context.
Example 3: As I write this, a serious battle is taking place between proponents of different views on how Pacifica should promote diversity among its listeners and officers. Several members of the iPNB say that the battle threatens the very settlement that regained control of the network. Others say that that position is racist. The LABs seem to be at loggerheads with each other over the bylaws provisions. None of this is told to Pacifica listeners, who are contributing record sums to the stations under the impression that the struggle for control of the network is over. It isn't, and they aren't being given the details.
There is another reason Pacifica reporters need to cover this story, and I am amazed that they don't see it: it is the media event of their generation. Nothing more important than the attempt to democratize Pacifica, the nation's only independent media network, has happened in my journalistic experience, and I don't think anything like it will come about very soon hereafter, either. What is happening now far transcends, I think, the experiences Matt Lasar chronicled in his history of early Pacifica. That was the birth and adolescence of Pacifica. Now comes the maturity. In an age of media agglomeration, when, as Amy Goodman put it on the Charlie Rose show, corporations control what stories are covered and how Big Media covers them, Pacifica is, or is becoming, the lone democratically run national network. Through satellite radio, its reach can be global. In addition, Pacifica is in a position to play a role in building the whole new distribution structure required for a true popular alternative to mass media.
Big story, lots of angles, plenty of ways to cover. Pacifica should be on it. It's not; Pacifica's news departments are missing it. They should have been on the bylaws process from the beginning, sending reporters to the committee meetings and summarizing what happens. Ignoring the process, which is what they have done, is like running a newspaper in Philadelphia in 1789 and not covering the writing of the Constitution.
Trouble With Self-Reference
News organizations, it is true, have traditionally had difficulty covering themselves. It makes all parties uncomfortable - the reporter who writes about the boss, the boss forced to allow publication of sometimes embarrassing material.
There's a tradition in the news business: you don't write about yourself, or at least you do it only on special occasions, such as when you win a journalism prize or promote someone to assistant city editor. Newspapers, A. J. Liebling liked to say, write about other newspapers with respect, and about themselves with what amounts to awe. (Pacifica has modified the principle somewhat; while it took the gloves off in reporting on other news organizations, for itself it has enforced the gag rule.)
Reporting on itself won't be easy for Pacifica. There are too many built-in conflicts of interest. Management and board members will always want to constrain editorial enterprise. Individual reporters, many of them activists themselves, may tend to favor one or another of Pacifica's many warring factions.
One FSRN reporter, for instance, has published a biting description of the activities of the board, the nature of the diversity battle, and the competence of some board members, on an Internet mailing list. The reporter made no secret of his disgust with one faction, and then added:
"Don't worry; my report would never sound like that - this is not me, the reporter talking, this is me the frustrated about-to-hit-somebody activist screaming. Can I switch hats and be a fair journalist? Of course. I do it all the time."
Well, maybe. Based on my own experience in journalism, I certainly believe it is possible. You report on the topic fairly by sticking to reporting what is happening, not what you think of it. But a lot of people won't believe that this is possible, and in fact a lot of reporters won't do it, because they can't or don't want to or don't really understand the issue.
In addition there is a long tradition of putting one's self in the best light. Pacifica is not free of this universal urge, and its culture of not airing so-called dirty laundry will work against open reporting on the changes now going on.
Finally, the news departments do not now see this as an important story and someone will have to build a fire under them in order to change their minds. The Pacifica story needs beat reporters who will track events and report on them regularly.
How to effect this change? Judging from past practice, nothing will happen, I think, until the listeners demand it. CECOPNOP, the Committee to Effect Coverage of Pacifica News on Pacifica, was formed to focus listener demand and provide a means to bring pressure for Pacifica coverage on the news departments and general managers, on the national Pacifica staff, and on Free Speech Radio News.
Membership in CECOPNOP is open to any listener interested in this issue; to join, go to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/cecopnop/ and follow the instructions. Station staff and news departments are also welcome to join the discussion. Our hope is to build local groups in every listening area that can lobby news departments for Pacifica coverage. CECOPNOP does not support any faction in the continuing struggle over Pacifica governance. It merely insists that these issues be discussed openly in front of the entire Pacifica audience, so that the listeners will be able to make informed choices.
Cliff Barney is a journalist who has participated in the struggle to regain control of Pacifica in Los Angeles, as a member of the KPFK Listeners Group and webmaster of the FreeKPFK website, and in Berkeley as a contributor to the SavePacifica site and a member of the Committee for a democratic Pacifica.
Cliff Barney 541-482-8046 email@example.com
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