Tracy Van Slyke
"A lot of people used to say hi and pass each other at conferences, and check in for two minutes, and still saw each other as competitors in a lot of ways, and I think there's still a healthy competition, but there's a real recognition of the need and benefits of finding the right moments and opportunities to coordinate together."
Van Slyke in interview with the MGP, May 2009
By the Media Giraffe Project, May 15, 2009
Tracy Van Slyke was the first full-time employee of the Media Consortium, a network of independent progressive media outlets that includes Mother Jones and Air America.
At the time the Consortium formed around 2004, she was editor of the progressive In These Times. She had recently co-authored a series of articles and maps (see here and here) charting what the liberal media looked like. These articles attracted attention, and she was invited to a Media Consortium meeting.
She said The Media Consortium was appealing to her self-described organizing brain. She started on the coordinating committee, and took the Consortium on full-time in October 2007. She now oversees daily operations.
Origins of the Media Consortium
Van Slyke said the Media Consortium began to form sometime after the 2004 election, when people looked around and wondered what had happened. They felt their reporting didn't have an impact, and could see the business models changing. Van Slyke said that in March 2005, a small group including Mother Jones and American Prospect came together for a meeting, not quite sure what, if anything, would come of it. What ended up coming of it was a period of loose collaboration, something Van Slyke called their dating years, "where more and more people were brought to the table, and relationships and trust were built."
"It was something that I had really wanted for a long time," she said, "and I was glad to see people were taking the helm with it, trying to figure out how to work together. It did not make sense for people to be in their silos anymore."
She said that Steve Katz, at the time the associate publisher for Mother Jones, did much of the early trust-building, for what was a collection of newspeople that might have acted like rivals in the past. They felt that with the changing of the news industries, this way of looking at eachother wasn't going to make sense anymore. Van Slyke came on at the second meaning--held at the Free Press Conference in St. Louis--at Katz's invitation. Katz is now on the coordinating committee, but is no longer part of the day-to-day operations.
What the Media Consortium looks like
Van Slyke called the current form of the Media Consortium "lean and mean but high impact." They have brought on another full-time person and a project assistant; the rest of the work is done by contractors and consultants. Van Slyke estimated that 90% of funding comes from foundations. They keep dues low---Van Slyke said that she wants quality members who participate actively. "I'm not interested in logos," she said.
"This is a network, this is not a--I'm not dictating to people what needs to happen, I'm really trying to listen to what people are talking about, what don't they know, and guide them through that process."
She said that members have to mostly journalism based, but that they have seen a blurring of lines between journalism and advocacy recently.
Current projects include a progressive media wire meant to increase the exposure of member's voices. She also sees the consortium as helping to act as a filter on the internet, setting up their members as experts on their subjects. They are also helping to launch an advertising network.
Van Slyke and Jessica Clark have a book coming out fall 2009: "Beyond the echo chamber: How the network of progressive media is transforming politics." The article stems from the graphing they did of the liberal media in 2005 (see here and here). You can read more about it on their blog, www.buildtheecho.net.
March 2009 interview with Van Slyke on feministing.com.
"The Future of Investigative Journalism," guardian.co.uk, April 16, 2009. In this article published by the Guardian, Van Slyke rebuts the idea of a national endowment for journalism, instead says funds should support something more independent and varied, suggesting the Media Consortium as a good model.
Van Slyke bio from the In These Times website, including links to some of the articles she wrote while there.