Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why Media Access Matters

I'm back in my adopted hometown Minneapolis for a holiday visit and have been listening to my former employer, KFAI. KFAI's model is volunteer-based and they've made it work. A lot of my German colleagues scoff at this - they have something called "open channels" in Germany that in my opinion is a system set up to fail - but I'm listening to Truth to Tell as I write, and the host and executive producer, Andy Driscoll, has marshalled his granddaughter, and her classmates to talk about racial integration in school.

The show is terrific. The young women, who are 7th graders, are talking to a teacher, a policymaker, and a student who interned for KFAI's Youth News Initiative. Nissan produced a very personal radio story about her experiences as the lone black student in a wealthy, white, suburban public high school. Out of all of the students I worked with during the program, Nissan's was my favorite.

What I find most moving about this program though is when the 7th graders ask the adults "what do we do about racism in the schools" or "how do we address this". And the adults, who are accomplished and educated, respond in Adult Speak. "This is a complex issue" and "That's a big question". For at least this hour on the airwaves, I as a listener got to see the world through the eyes of a 12 year old, and to hear them talk about these issues re-energized me. It also struck a chord because for some reason I decided to revisit J. Anthony Lukas' classic Common Ground, his detailed reportage of the forced busing to achieve "racial balance" in the Boston school district. The recent presidential election has created a period of hope for the moment, but let us not forget our previous policy blunders.

Without media access, we wouldn't hear from these young women. The way most broadcasters are set up, there would be no forum to look at the world through their eyes for awhile. But KFAI does. It's a small, clear bell in the cacophony of the media landscape.

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