Using Journalism As Activism
Journalism can be used as a very effective means of activism. There used to be an old saying about the guy who owned the press in town having all the power. It is true there is a "power of the press," so to speak. It takes time and energy, and mental concentration, or *work,* to write articles in a coherent fashion. But if you want to donate your time to a cause or organization, offering articles is one way you can help them increase donations, membership, and visibility.
Journalism as Activism
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)
Journalism (or writing, publishing, and syndicating articles) can be used as a very effective means of activism. There used to be an old saying about the guy who owned the press in town having all the power. It is true there is a "power of the press," so to speak. It takes time and energy, and mental concentration, or *work,* to write articles in a coherent fashion. But if you want to donate your time to a cause, organization, community, etc., offering articles is a way you can help on many levels. When you highlight an organization in an article, for example, it is possible their membership will go up or donations to their cause may rise, due to the exposure. When you spend time researching an article on the history of some issue relevant to an upcoming event, protest, etc., it can help educate people as to why the protests are important and increase participation. You can spread all kinds of useful DIY information, you can give a voice to issues that you feel have not gotten enough exposure. You can use your journalism work to help others, on many levels.
The first part of activism journalism is to gather some article ideas. The next thing to do is to write the articles. Then the next thing you have to do is find somewhere to get the articles published. Then you need to start doing internal work, such as setting up your own website, archiving your own articles written and where published, gathering lists of submission possibilities for your writings and email addresses of contacts, etc...If you are serious about using journalism as activism, you can start today! But just know, it is not about whipping out a 30 minute article and you are done.
Let's say you want to work with forest defense. Maybe you like the idea of your kids having some trees and air left when they are older, and recycling, riding your bike to work and bringing your own coffee mug everywhere are not making you feel you are doing enough. Well, you can start using journalism, today to *do more!* Make a file folder today, on your computer and in real life, where you can deposit any scrap of paper, any email address or URL, any lead you stumble across having anything to do with ecodefense or saving nature, etc. You can go into this folder later when you are ready to write/do some activism, to just see what resources have amassed over time in there to draw on. This month I saw a one paragraph blurb in Sunset Magazine, of all places, on a group called "Village Harvest" which helps facilitate the harvest of backyard fruits for food banks in the Santa Clara Valley in California. I ripped that one paragraph out and put it in my "articles to write soon" file. I want to interview them, or at least review their website thoroughly to do a full review of their work and organization as it sounds worthy of support. I also see I have scribbled on a scrap of paper in my "to do" file, something about a mobile books on bikes library program in Africa, where they take 1000 books over 5 villages by bike, exchanging books then riding on...I really want to write about them too. I feel like my articles generate donations to good causes, such as the Tree People, Border Angels, etc., when I write about them, giving writing a duality in activism. Not only will some articles you write give a worthy organization exposure, it will also get donations to them. So I often take down information on organizations I would like to help, but since I am low-income and cannot give them money, I instead give of my time and produce, publish and syndicate an article on them. It is a worthwhile use of my time and a valid and valued contribution to a cause.
One way to write an activism article is to find an interesting political organization in line with your beliefs and to contact them for interviews for an article, or you can just review their website. I used to set a 30 minute limit for website reviews. I would give myself 30 minutes to read and review as much of the website as I could. I was allowed to clip and paste URLS and parts of pages I wanted in the review. I would race through all of the pages on site, noting what seemed most unusual or helpful to know, and then once my 30 minute jaunt through their site was over, I would sit and process the site review into a small article that was interesting enough to make people laugh once or twice, but also a review that made people want to go to the site and/or become involved with the group, driving up their membership.
Another thing I have done is ask political groups I want to help for things of theirs to review. I will ask for their newest book or zine, or their new CD or DVD, to review so I can help them sell more of their work, as I believe in it, or to help widen their exposure so more places carry their work. You can get people to attend events via publicity, help organize events, and help transmit useful information as a journalist. You can not only help the people within your communities keep information moving freely to all, but you can also help get your message out to people outside of your communities via journalism. And you can meet some fabulous folks doing activism journalism! I have a woman writer colleague from Ecuador that I met through journalism and she has offered me stays at two of her houses in Ecuador, I have also met painters from Brazil, sculptors from Germany, etc. You meet a wide array of folks in the world of journalism. And in time, people will come to you, asking for help with exposure for their groups and causes, as well.
One thing you can do to widen your readership right away is to work with some bilingual friends who can use their skills to help in activism journalism, as well. Maybe they don't want to write the articles, but they don't mind translating them. I have a close political ally and friend who will translate my articles into Spanish for me, and that allows both of us to engage in activism through journalism, and on a wider scale than we could do alone, separately. You can find real people to help you with translations at the Indy Media Translations group ( http://translations.indymedia.org/), although I have gotten feedback that some of my articles translated by them are really off...Really, the only way to do it is to learn how to write and read in other languages yourself, to translate your own work. I am working on that now. Anytime you are sitting around, wondering "what should I do right now?" You could answer that with "learn a new language."
Another angle to activism journalism is research writing. Researching the history of things, places, movements, events...these articles are useful and often entertaining and engaging. Once I was bored, looked at my shoes and wondered who first thought of shoes, what the first shoes were, etc. And all of a sudden, I had researched and written an article on the history of shoes!! I still want to write one on the history of beds! When I am thinking I need a new topic to write about, I often just look at something around me and think of its history! I have done one on the history of laws, the history of underground caves, etc. in wars, the history of rebellions at concentration camps, the history of insane asylums, etc. Anything can be made into a "history of" article, with people to interview out there. I found and talked to John Carlos, one of the men who had his fist in the air at the '68 Olympics, when I did a story on him. You just have to poke around and pick interesting topics. Often people will thank you for putting together history articles. I wrote a history article on my anarchist midwife, who passed away in the 1990's, and her son wrote me thanking me for my article he found when he Googled her name recently. Right now in my "to do" file folder, I have the idea to write an article on "Conspiracy" as a criminal charge...what it means, how it has been used in the past, how and why it is being used on environmental activists in the NW now. You can always find helpful and informational articles to write on history topics.
So let's say you figured out an interesting article angle, with a group of folks you really want to help with your journalism...So you have the article in hand, now what? I come from a DIY mentality, so the way I did it and sometimes still do it, is to just launch it into the press and onto the internet in several different ways. For instance, if my article mentioned any specific cities, I would post the article on the Independent Media Centers ( http://www.indymedia.org/en/index.shtml) nearest those cities. I would also find any local open posting sites near those cities, and also open posting websites with those themes and topics. Use locality, as well as subject matter, for publication. I would submit my articles to the email addresses of editors for magazines and websites with relevant topics. So, for an article reviewing the Village Harvest folks, I would write it, then I would look for websites and magazines that are positive to environmental and community projects, and to DIY community projects like that, maybe to some poverty action sites as well, and would submit the article to them via email. I would also email the article to groups with similar interests, such as the Tree People, and I would also send it out on my own email list of several hundred people who read my articles. Several of the people on my email list, are also editors of websites and media sources, so they often take what I send out on my list, and post it on their sites. Often when something of mine is posted on an IMC, it also is reposted elsewhere by people who read it there. So I find a good article will self-propel itself across the internet. All I need to do is launch it. Once I launch it at the right places, my work seems to spread out pretty nicely, without too much effort on my part. Which is why even though sometimes I find myself in the middle of controversy storms, the reality is, when things all settle down, even the controversy seems to help to widen my readership. What I am saying is if you use the proper syndication techniques, you can get your articles and activism into publication, so that your hard work is not wasted on one blog that gets 10 hits a day somewhere.
If you are an activist writer, here are some places you can submit your activist writings to:
Portland IMC ( http://portland.indymedia.org/) * IndyBay IMC (www.indybay.org) * Slingshot Newspaper (www.slingshot.tao.ca) * Media Island (www.mediaisland.org) * FierceWoman ( http://portland.indymedia.org/) * IndyBay IMC (www.indybay.org) * Slingshot Newspaper (www.slingshot.tao.ca) * Media Island (www.mediaisland.org) * FierceWoman ( link to fiercewomen.com) * Tear It Down (www.tearitalldown.com) * Resist.ca/Mostlywater.org (www.mostlywater.org) * Earth First
Journal (www.earthfirstjournal.org) * Off Our Backs ( link to www.offourbacks.org) Make a list of places to submit your work, in a file folder, so you don't reinvent the wheel every article you write!
To find places to submit articles, you can Google the article topic and see what you get. Submit your articles to those websites and places that carry articles about that topic. But think of new angles too...maybe you could sell an article about using nettles to a magazine about anti-consumerism or maybe you could sell an article on protesting as a parent to a parenting magazine, rather than a protest magazine. Think outside the box. Look for websites, forums, publications by subject. For instance, a feminist article could be sent to feminist website editors, posted on feminist forums, sent to feminist magazine editors, and even sent to a local feminist radio show to have you come talk on the subject...keep thinking of new venues and new angles to broaden your readership base. The broader your readership base, the more beneficial you will be as an activist journalist. I find often that an article I am writing is not only to empower and encourage those I support, but also for people outside my political communities, to inform them and perhaps incite their support for different political causes than they might normally be exposed to.
Journalism as activism is not new. But it is may be a little more challenging in some ways nowadays due to the web. Still, there are so many people doing so many fabulous things; there is even a calling in just making sure those people get proper publicity! Seriously, if you cannot figure out where you belong in activism, maybe you belong in the world of journalism, helping report on others' hard work...as your hard work. It is an odd calling, but journalism is most certainly a valid form of activism and one that can be used for many different purposes in the world of action. As I have said, your articles can not only give exposure to a group or event, but it can drive up membership, it can bring in donations...those are important things to bring to the table. Do not underestimate the power of your work as a journalist and activist. Activism journalism is a never-ending horizon, full of worthwhile work to be done at every turn. You meet good people, you learn wondrous things, and you get to help people. It doesn't get much better than that. You may work long hours, and take some punches now and then for a controversial article or two, but on the whole, activism journalism is a rewarding enough way to spend some of these precious few hours of life we have been given on earth.
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