Pens Give Power to the People

A friend of mine online was having an argument with a very politically conservative American woman. When told she was not getting the full extent of the stories behind issues such as the war in Iraq, she gave a response that sent us both into hysterical fits of laughter. “Of course I get more than one perspective,” she said, totally serious. “I watch CNN and Fox!”

It’s a sad state of affairs when people think they actually have a choice, when that choice consists of essentially the same political and cultural view. Corporate media, or mainstream media as it is sometimes called, is part of our everyday way of life as we are inundated with major daily newspaper, television stations owned by media gurus, and radio that plays either top hits or the same tired songs over and over.

Community and alternative media provides another voice in society – often that of the people themselves. As the editor of a community newspaper, I encourage people to tell their own stories and report on local news and issues that are important to them. This is called ‘citizen journalism,’ and it puts the media into the hands of the people. By becoming the media, so to speak, individuals can offer a first-hand perspective and both express themselves creatively, while informing others.

‘Community media’ is not just a form of communication; it is a form of activism. When mainstream media covers activist events, for example – if they even show up, that is – often the reporters come early, leave early, and then report that there was hardly anyone in the crowd. When media is owned by corporations, or people intrinsically tied to corporations, there is only one perspective that can be told – that which is in the best interest of advertisers or the people pulling the purse strings. So when community media springs up in the form of blogs, zines, alternative newspapers, and even street magazines like the one you are holding right now, it automatically has an air of ‘subversive’ about it.

There are many ways in which people can become the media. Writing letters to the editors of local newspapers is a start, but often they will not print ones that provide a radically different viewpoint to the dominant one supported by the publication. Find a community newspaper in your area, and offer to contribute – for instance, we here at Our Voice are always looking for submissions.

Get online and start a blog, and comment about the issues that compel you. Take pictures, shoot video – the Internet provides inexpensive and easy ways to publish your work. When I saw the lack of coverage progressive and activist events were getting in terms of airtime, I started, an independent, local media resource documenting these events in photographs and video.

Make a zine – a small, independent publication. It can be about politics, a poetry collection, or anything you can think of. Some zines are as simple as a few photocopied pages, stapled together. Others use desktop publishing software and are professionally printed. This is a great project where one can team up with others to share skills. You’ll be limited only by your creativity – and your budget.

While it may seem intimidating at first to get involved in community media, you don’t have to be a professional writer or photographer – besides, skills develop when they are used. So pick up a pen, and give yourself power. Become the media.

Paula is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer in Edmonton. In addition to Our Voice, she edits the Boyle McCauley News. You can reach her at: