MARKET VIABILITY OF A PROGRESSIVE NETWORK

Prepared and edited by WC Turck

williamturck@yahoo.com

INTRODUCTION

A major issue highlighted by recent elections and national discourse is the imbalance in media, both in print, Radio and television. This report argues for the necessity of addressing that imbalance in order for Americans to:

Access the broadest possible accessibility to varied perspectives and ideas.

Protect , defend and ensure viability in American elections

Minimize monopolistic propagandizing of information

Protect and ensure real fair market economics with regard to information technology and information.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

The founding fathers of the United States recognized the critical necessity in news and information to a viable and health democratic republic. Constitutionalists need only to look to the arrangement of the Bill of Rights. Freedom of the Press is enshrined as a fundamental right in the very first Amendment. In June of 1776 the Virginia declaration of rights was ratified,  an integral step in the adoption ultimately of the Bill of Rights. Section 12 of the Virginia declaration read:

That the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.

That declaration was underscored by Thomas Jefferson:

Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.

Arguably, more than any other single issue Freedom of the Press galvanized the and united the drafters of the Constitution. A press antagonistic to the British Crown  served an essential purpose. after the war and the founding the Press’ adversarial duty as a check and balance to power and corruption turned towards the new American government. Though often at odds Americans have long preferred and defended press freedoms unlike those of more restrictive nations.

Diversity of opinion and perspective has long been a strength of the American Press. Rising Literacy rates in the 19th century helped in the proliferation and power of newspapers, which held the ability to reach more Americans than the government could alone. That brought both power and wealth, and both can be potentially deadly to maintaining impartiality and fairness in reporting.

THE FAIRNESS DOCTRINE

In 1949 the US under took a crucial step to protect that diversity under the so-called Fairness Doctrine. The Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters.  The move was consistent with James Madison’s view of what a Free press should be expected to  do:

Whatever facilitates a general intercourse of sentiments, as good roads, domestic commerce, a free press, and particularly a circulation of newspapers through the entire body of the people … is favorable to liberty.
Despite recent efforts to discredit the Fairness Doctrine with hyperbole and innuendo, it was not an “equal time” rule. Equal time, which has also been abandoned in an age of political advocacy, applied only to  air time for political candidates. After a series of court cases, under Ronald Reagan, the Fairness Doctrine was repealed. By itself, the effect of repeal of the Fairness Doctrine would not have had a deeply detrimental affect of political and ideological diversity in media. Other factors endanger the free distribution of media, information, ideas and news.

MEDIA CONSOLIDATION

Deregulation has led to greater consolidation of media and information available to Americans into the hands of fewer and fewer large multinational corporations. As the lines have been blurred steadily between government, media and corporations it is arguable that the quality and security of unbiased, unfiltered, uncorrupted information has declined as well. Framed in political terms in a Left/Right orientation, consolidation has artificially promoted ideologically right wing perspectives, while divesting from Left wing perspectives. The question becomes, is there a market reality that justifies the near monopoly of one perspective over the divestment of another? The answer is in the numbers.

Running numbers on ratings between progressive radio hosts and Conservative hosts. Stephanie Miller Show vs. Sean Hannity Hannity is on 500 stations with 13.25 million listeners, or an average of 26,500 listeners per station. Right wing radio is about saturation not ratings. By contrast, Stephanie Miller is shut out of most markets despite that she gets 2.5 million listeners in 64 markets. If she was allowed in the same number of markets Miller would garner 19.25 million listeners, or fully 6 million more than Hannity or Limbaugh. Progressive Radio host Thom Hartmann averages 2.75 million listeners weekly, or 39,800/station, or a 33% increase over the next largest conservative program. In national overall ratings, according to the authority and standard for US radio, NPR’s Fresh Air comfortably maintains the top position for radio listenership.

Hartmann relates a conversation with an executive from Salem Radio Network, in which, Hartmann highlights his ratings only to be told by the executive that Salem would never air a Progressive program. Salem owns and operates 118 radio stations, with 73 stations in the nation’s top 25 top markets – and 25 in the top 10.  That averages to nearly three stations. With 850 stations, iHeartMedia is the largest radio station group owner in the United States, both by number of stations and by revenue. That programming is dominated by Right leaning content. iHeartMedia, formerly Clear Channel, has agressively shut out progressive programming. Its 850 stations reach more than 110 million listeners every week, and 245 million every month. According to BIA Financial Network, iHeartMedia recorded more than $3.5 billion in revenues as of 2005, $1 billion more than the number-two group owner, CBS Radio

There are currently 97 Progressive stations listed nationally, however, a number of them also offer Right-leaning content, often scheduled in peak listening periods, making the designation as “Progressive” arguable. WRJN (1400 AM) in Racine Wisconsin serves southeastern Wisconsin to Milwaukee, and features non-Progressive programs such as conservatives Bill O’Reilly, Phil Valentine, Mike Gallagher and others, utilizing more than 1/3 of the station’s entire programming.

Progressive radio is profitable just by the numbers, so that means the decision for stations to cancel top rated programming is politically motivated.

AIR AMERICA

Air America (formerly Air America Radio and Air America Media) was an American radio network specializing in progressive/liberal talk radio. It was on the air from March 2004 to January 2010. Several shows had million plus audiences, and multiple weekday presenters continued on in radio, television, or politics after their time on Air America. For example, in 2008, The Thom Hartmann Program had 1.5–2 million unique listeners a week and The Lionel Show had 1.5–1.75 million unique listeners a week. Hartmann, Randi Rhodes, and Mike Malloy still have shows on other networks. The network was financially troubled. In October 2006, mounting debts forced Air America Radio to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Air America programming was carried on 66 terrestrial broadcast stations.

WTF with Marc Maron is a weekly podcast hosted by standup comedian Marc Maron. The show launched in September 2009. The show is produced by Maron’s former Air America co-worker Brendan McDonald. WTF has received generally positive reviews, including positive writeups in The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly. On average, it receives over 220,000 downloads per episode—with the show purportedly reaching its 100,000,000th download by 9 December 2013

The Young Turks launched a TYT Network app on Roku, which features much of the same content that is already available for free through the program’s YouTube channel, which has over 2.9 million subscribers and generates 50 million monthly views. The network is among the few channels to generate more than 1 billion views since launching on YouTube. The website’s yearly revenue was roughly US$3 million in 2013. According to Cenk Uygur, “about a third of the revenue comes from subscriptions, and the rest comes from YouTube ads.”

2016 ELECTION: ISSUES Vs. BRANDING

This might also have been titled Progressive versus DNC. Progressives are not loyal to the DNC brand as much as they are animated and motivated strongly by issues, i.e., LGBTQ rights, racially and class inequities, the environment, immigration, Citizens United, Internet freedom, individual and student debt, mental health care, assistance for the poor, international trade agreements, GMO foods, living minimum wage standards, universal healthcare, social safety net structures such as Social Security, permaculture, justice issues and women’s health and choice issues.

A key complaint among street level activists and community organizers is that current Progressive programming is more akin to “Radio DNC” and attempts to co-opt movement, such as the occupy Movement. There is ample evidence that MoveOn.org and the Democrat leadership turned on Occupy when the movement refused to become an extension of a political party. There remains a great deal of distrust and even betrayal by Bernie Sanders supporters who felt that the DNC unfairly and ignorantly sided with an establishment candidate and even skewed or cheated to make that candidate the nominee.

Anything building coalitions or addressing true progressive issues must have a degree of autonomy apart of party doctrine. It must address issues that maintain and build a strong progressive audience as the vehicle to maintaining advertiser loyalty, and hence, revenue.

KEY ISSUES OVERLOOKED

Key issues to progressives were overlooked or ignored in the General election in 2016 by the democratic ticket.

  • LGBTQ rights,
  • Racial and class inequities,
  • The environment,
  • immigration,
  • Citizens United repeal,
  • Internet freedom,
  • individual and student debt,
  • Mental health care,
  • Assistance for the poor,
  • International trade agreements,
  • GMO foods,
  • Living minimum wage standards,
  • Universal healthcare,
  • Social safety net structures such as Social Security,
  • Permaculture,
  • Justice issues
  • Women’s health

Most Progressives consider each of these issues non-negotiable.

SNAPSHOT OF THE PROGRESSIVE MARKET

The Progressive market is more complex and diverse than the conservative market. Within a demographic that shows dramatic differences among generations that are misinterpretations. This profile seeks to correct and clear up some of those misconceptions.

There are 3 distinct age categories.

  • 18-39
  • 40-59
  • 60 and up

The 18-39 group encompasses, from advertiser’s perspective, the prime demographic. This a critical demographic, with a large consumer profile most likely to remain with new technology, the purchase of smart phones, tablets and laptops. Across all three demographic ranges, women make up the strongest block, overall averaging, according to the 2012 election results, a 55-45% difference in favor of women. Non-married women went 67% for Obama in 2012, though that number shrank with voter discontent over process in 2016.

Blacks, Asians and Hispanics turn out overwhelmingly for Progressive candidates, or 93%, 73% and 71% respectively. All three of these demographics are virtually ignored in Progressive and conservative media, even despite claims that they are so-called battleground demographics.

On religion, Catholics are evenly split, while more than 2/3 of Jewish and other religious oriented voters skew Progressive.

76% of LGBTQ oriented voters skew Progressive.

Educationally, the numbers are telling, indicating a correlation between poverty, with 64% of those who did not finish high school skewing Progressive. That number drops to 51% with a high school degree. Some college and college graduates are nominally split. Some college is interesting in that Progressives skew at 49% to 48% conservative, with alternative party candidates garnering 3%. Post graduate educated voters @55% skew overwhelmingly to progressive candidates.  That is supported in the income demographic where those with household incomes under $50,000, fully 60% of the country skew Progressive. That number declines to a low of 42% for household incomes over $250,000, or the so-called 1%.

They tend to be urban (69%) or in mid-size cities (58%). They tend to live in the Northeast, Midwest and West. While small towns and rural areas tend conservative it must be noted that because of conservative media saturation virtually no alternative programming is available in these areas. As the evidence indicates, profitability is not a prime concern in conservative media proliferation. Message and saturation is the priority.

THE NUMBERS

  • Democracy Now! is the flagship program of the Pacifica Radio network. The television simulcast airs on public-access television stations; by satellite on Free Speech TV and Link TV, and free-to-air on C Band. Democracy Now! is also available on the Internet as downloadable and streaming audio and video. In total, nearly 1,400 television and radio stations broadcast Democracy Now! worldwide
  • Facebook is the obvious news powerhouse among the social media sites. Roughly two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults use the site, and half of those users get news there — amounting to 30% of the general population.
  • Facebook and internet advertising, or per click advertising is still at least a decade or more behind traditional advertising.
  • YouTube is the next biggest social news pathway — about half of Americans use the site, and a fifth of them get news there, which translates to 10% of the adult population and puts the site on par with Twitter
  • In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 2.5 million votes. Hillary garnered, as of Dec. 1, 2016, 48.1% of the vote, or  64,226,121 to Trump’s 46.6% and 62,213,331 respectively.
  • Thursday’s report, from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, put 2012 voter turnout at 57.5% of all eligible voters, compared to 62.3% who voted in 2008 and 60.4% who cast ballots in 2004. In 2000, the turnout rate was 54.2%. An estimated 126 million people voted in the election, where President Barack Obama defeated GOP nominee Mitt Romney. That means 93 million eligible citizens did not cast ballots.
  • Since 1992, Democratic White House winners have won the popular vote by an average of 7.1 million votes while Republican White House winners have won the popular vote by an average of 84,000 votes.
  • Conservatives have been the largest ideological group in the United States since 2009, but the 38 percent who identify as such remained the same as last year’s Gallup poll findings. Liberals grew by one point to 24 percent, marking the highest percentage in Gallup’s history. The increase shrunk the conservative-liberal gap to a 14 percent difference, the smallest since the poll’s inception in 1992.

 

SUMMARY

As the Left looks towards confronting and eclipsing a Rightwing media network 3 critical aspects come to mind. Three, building an integrated and sustainable system with a clear mission, and then adhering to that mission. Two, it must not be the propaganda wing of the DNC, but speak to the issues that matter most to Progressives rather than the posturing and bartering of a political party apparatus. And One, it must be actually progressive, and not anything like, say MSNBC, which was simply a whiny echo chamber of daily outrage. Brian Murray and I within a few short weeks, along with a new positive energy from Mike Sanders took Our Town Sunday mornings on WCPT from 7700 average listeners to 40,000 according to Arbitron by engaging the activist community directly. Progressive and Liberal activists have long BEGGED for a credible media outlet, but they all keep spinning to party politics. Hillary did damage to herself over her statements, or lack of about DAPL. People in the center will respond if the Left anchors itself in the true causes it champions, voting rights, the environment, homelessness, economic and political reforms, green tech, women/s, immigrant and LGBTQ rights, combatting racism, strengthening the middle class, protecting the elderly and uplifting the poor.

If US media is truly about market economics then decisions to carry Progressive programming is a solid, reality-based market decision. It is also paramount to the viability of a healthy and functioning, and peacefully and productive adversarial political environment. We have seen how poor information proliferated in a media skewed to a single perspective can artificially swat public opinion. Breaking the hold of that ideology on media must combine aggressive proliferation of media, especially traditional media with strong support and integration with digital media (Strategic Convergence), but also legislative efforts, given that all traditional media is licensed at the federal level.

Finally, no media network survives without a revenue stream. Advertisers must have a level of confidence in ROI. The available market, and media’s ability to access and engage that market is critical. In recent years we have seen the power of boycotts in harassing or in communicating to advertisers. That is a two-way street, and advertisers must have a level of confidence an audience will support their ROI with a degree of loyalty that can offset potential harassment from boycotts. Air America suffered in part as conservative groups directly targeted and intimidated advertisers. Diversity in programming, sincerity and accuracy and a support for critical progressive issues and street level and community activists sets the stage. Support for responsible businesses helps advertisers understand the strength and ROI of the Progressive movement.

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