Representing a community in local media

I help Valley Free Radio, a low-power FM (LPFM) station in Northampton, MA, with their Website and other Web related issues. Lately at the station there has been a conversation about how to best represent members of the local community in the programming on the station. In an effort to ensure a radio station that represents the local community, a “collective” system was established; each collective (around 30 different ones!) is supposed to represent a particular type of programming or group of people in the community. Some of the collectives include “African American Affairs,” “Children’s,” “Current Affairs,” “Goth Music,” “Native American Affairs,” and “Spirituality”.

It’s a complex system and some station members are trying to simply the system while still ensuring that the programming represents the community (assuming it does under the current collective system). I agree that changes need to be made, and I agree with the direction members have been working towards, but I’m not convinced that it’s the best it could be.

I think that having “people of color,” “youth,” “music,” and “public affairs” collectives is problematic, and in particular the “people of color” collective. This isn’t just about semantics, but “people of color” can be a stigmatizing phrase in certain contexts–it suggests “the other” because while at the same time signifying non-white people, it suggests that white people don’t have color and are “normal” or not “the other”. In no way am I an original thinker in this regard; the literature is deep and wide within critical cultural studies concerning this very issue, I am just bringing the information forward.

I understand what the motivation for creating these collectives is, and I agree with the motivation; I fully support inclusiveness and a diversity of voices at VFR. However, I think creating these youth and people of color collectives is the easy way out. In the end it could be said, hey, we created these collectives and blocks of time, if “they” (see “the other”) don’t want to participate so be it, we created the opportunity. The harder road, but the road that I believe would be more progressive and inclusive, would be a three part plan to insure diversity at VFR: outreach, opportunity, and retention. With a guiding idea like that we can then enter into many different constituencies to bring new members to the table, not just youth or people of color.

That’s why I think keeping the collectives aligned with the genres on the program schedule (which could change in any re-alignment), would keep things simple and allow for energy to be focused towards outreach, creating opportunities, and keeping people at VFR (retention). Currently the four genres are Arts and Culture, Education, Opinion and Advice, News and Public Affairs, and Music, which seems like good jumping off point for organizining the programmers at the station. Under a genre/collective plan some programmers may have a problem with the genre they’re categorized in, but they are cateorized like that now. My proposal is simple: collective and genre names are the same. Then we work together on a plan for outreach and retention.