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Karen Young
Founder & President
Media Democracy Chicago Inc.
Chicago, IL

http://www.mediademocracychicago.org
info@mediademocracychicago.org
P.O. Box 14507
Chicago, IL 60614
Work: 773-517-6433


"I am not opposed to media being a business but I am opposed to what's happened to it -- that the ideas of community and public service have been lost, not only in radio but elsewhere as well . . . I want to play a role in changing that to help create hope, to discuss ideas instead of just showing the bad news, giving the impression that there is nothing an individual can do to make things better."
Karen Young, in a Sept. 27, 2005, interview with The Media Giraffe Project

Summary:
Chicago-based non-profit seeks to review and rate the city's mainstream media and promote media diversity and accountability

In 2004, Karen Young left a 25-year-career in commercial radio to form Media Democracy Chicago Inc., an Illinois not-for-profit with a small volunteer staff. It's goal is to advocate "media diversity and responsibility in the public interest."

As an individual, Young helped arouse public resentment to proposed FCC ownership-rule changes (See Nov/Dec 2004 American Journalism Review backgrounder on her efffort).

As a group, MDC's first major project, in collaboration with Center for Media and Public Affairs, is a report, published in early October 2005, tracking news coverage by Chicago's six major late-night television news broadcasts. "What we've done, is we took a week of late local television news and we taped their newscasts and coded them," says Young. "We coded all these stories in terms of some democgraphics of the sources they used for race, gender and occupation. We categoried the topics into 12 separate categories. We also categorized them by story topic. A category would be entertaiment, within that there might be the Michael Jackson verdict."

The research found that local political coverage is limited and almost entirely about scandal. "It gives the impression that all politicians are corrupt, that nothing good is happening," she says. "People just want to turn away from that. I want to play a role in changing that to help create hope, to discuss ideas instead of just showing the bad news, giving the impression that there is nothing an individual can do to make things better."

Young has worked in programming and as a disc jockey at stations in Madison, Wis., and Milwaukee, in Springfield, Ill., and the Chicago area. She did research work for Arbitron for seven years. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in communication arts and has taught at Columbia College in Chicago.

Young says media consolidation and high-profit expectations are having a direct impact on resources that media outlets can put into their products. "Everybody who works in media knows that," she says. "Higher management would deny it, but if you talk to any reporter, program director, disc jockey, news director, they will tell you that this has happened. We are not opposed to people having a business. We are opposed with losing site of the need to serve the public interest. Their product is not skim cream -- it is information, the lifeblood of democracy and culture."

Young says the role of community media watchdog is an emerging one with few adherents so far. She cites the Media Alliance in San Francisco and the Media Tank in Philadelphia (see giraffe profiles) as examples, along with the Grand Rapids [Mich.] Institute for Information Democracy and the Grade the News project for the San Francisco Bay area. She says she is trying to form a U.S. alliance of community media watchdog or "advocacy" group with a goal of one in every large city.

How is the idea of media advocacy sustainable? Young isn't sure. "I think you have ideally mixed funding -- earned income, individual donations and foundation funding, but I think what we need more than anything is seed money. When you have to do this nights and weekends there is a limit to how much money you can put into it and that makes it slow to grow."

"There is nothing I would rather do than be doing this full time because I come from media and I come from an era when media was different," says Young. "I am not opposed to media being a business but I am opposed to what's happened to it -- that the ideas of community and public service have been lost, not only in radio but elsewhere as well." With media consolidation, says Young, staffs shrinked and people who are left can't do quality work. "It just really pains me personally. That's why I became an activist in this area."

Young says the role of community media watchdog is an emerging one with few adherents so far. She cites the Media Alliance in San Francisco and the Media Tank in Philadelphia (see giraffe profiles) as examples, along with the Grand Rapids [Mich.] Institute for Information Democracy and the Grade the News project for the San Francisco Bay area. She says she is trying to form a U.S. alliance of community media watchdog or "advocacy" group with a goal of one in every large city.

How is the idea of media advocacy sustainable? Young isn't sure. "I think you have ideally mixed funding -- earned income, individual donations and foundation funding, but I think what we need more than anything is seed money. When you have to do this nights and weekends there is a limit to how much money you can put into it and that makes it slow to grow."

FROM THE WEBSITE:

"We intend to bring people together from different walks of life to do something about making media better, now and in the future. We want to see news about the important issues that affect our lives. Issues such as local politics, education, the economy, and the environment . rather than gossip, kidnappings, plane crashes, and the latest products on the market. An ideal media system would also provide:

  • Opinion and analysis that is truly fair and balanced
  • Journalists, producers, and other media workers with the resources and freedom to produce quality work
  • Vibrant arts and entertainment, with DJ.s, venues and critics who can support what they believe in, not just what research, sales, and the goals of corporate synergy say is best

    "We intend to pursue these ideals by informing and educating the public of issues that the commercial media is not covering, by providing resources and support for media journalists such as issue advocates who can offer opposing viewpoints, and through grass-roots response efforts such as letter-writing campaigns to industry representatives and regulators."

    Read More:
    http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=3500