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How Pacifica Can Become the Media That We Need

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Posted on Apr 2, 2014

By Alan Minsky

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Editor’s note: Pacifica is America’s first public radio network. It was founded in 1949, about 22 years before National Public Radio. For years we have heard that the network is in crisis, and indeed a recent LA Weekly cover story went to town on some of its problems. The New York Times, The Village Voice and radio trade publication Current have also weighed in.

Alan Minsky has worked at KPFK, Southern California’s Pacifica radio station and the home of Truthdig Radio, for over a decade. Since July 2009, he has been KPFK’s interim program director. He is the author of a positive vision for Pacifica’s stabilization and growth, and he has agreed to share that document, along with an introduction, with our readers.


We live in a time when there is a near consensus that American Democracy is in crisis, that the political system fails to address the primary concerns of 99 percent of the citizenry and that the mainstream media are central to this problem. 

There remains one national broadcast media network that stands apart in this regard, Pacifica Radio, which consistently challenges the American establishment in a manner that befits these crises. Tragically, over the past decade Pacifica has been unable to get its act together, expand what it does best and fulfill its role as a socially transformative institution.

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“Building a Powerful Pacifica,” which is linked to below, outlines a clear and concrete strategy for Pacifica to grow rapidly into the most powerful left/progressive media outlet in the country. This is exactly what the overwhelming majority of Pacifica listeners want to see, and what tens of millions of Americans have been waiting for: an honest left/progressive media outlet that affects the national dialogue.

Currently, Pacifica is shrinking. It is hemorrhaging audience and laying off employees. The plans outlined in this document will reverse that trend. As a national media organization, Pacifica’s budget is miniscule. Some of the proposals outlined below cost money, but they are easily covered (and then some) by growing to a $17 million-$20 million annual budget from $13 million. Adopt these ideas, and Pacifica will raise that amount easily while carving off half, or more than half, of its fund drive days. And once Pacifica begins to grow, with production costs dropping in the era of digital media, the sky’s the limit.

“Building a Powerful Pacifica” is a detailed document with many facets, but there are a few proposals that are central. Pacifica must build a world-class website that features the best of its daily national and international coverage. This website would be the network’s primary national platform and would include a 24/7 stream of its best political and cultural programming. This website should be complemented by a renewed commitment to local community radio at the individual stations. Pacifica also needs to establish a network-wide commitment to the highest journalistic standards. Finally, the Pacifica Foundation must refocus the responsibilities of the elected governance boards so that they clearly support, instead of damage, the network.

Americans want a powerful, truly independent national journalism outlet, and Pacifica is perfectly positioned to be just that. It simply needs to do two things: Make its content easily available at the national level, and commit to practicing the highest journalistic standards. The latter is essential for any serious media outlet that asks for the trust of millions of people, and Pacifica currently airs far too much junk science and blindly speculative conspiracy theories. 

Yes, Pacifica must be open to ideas and explanations excluded from the mainstream media, but these have to be supported by journalistically and scientifically sound evidence. Programmers putting forth novel positions have to accept debate, and when such challenges occur, a clear mechanism has to be in place to excise the nonsense from sound information. If Pacifica does not take this step, you can forget about it being a significant force for social justice. Rather it will be just another contributor to the grotesque mal-education of the American public.

If Pacifica does commit to serious journalistic standards, the next essential step is designing a top-flight national website (Pacifica.org) that features its best nationally and internationally relevant content. If Pacifica does this well and it gets the word out about such an excellent site, Pacifica.org will quickly become a phenomenon. The premise is simple: Pacifica already produces an excess of tremendous analysis about national, international and cultural issues. However, it is not collected and organized effectively in one place. Think about it. At each of its five stations, Pacifica produces 168 hours of material per week. Every day the network produces the most radical, penetrating analysis of the day’s biggest events and issues. Pacifica’s already No. 1 in that regard. All the network needs to do is build a great website overseen by a super-sharp political editor who is able to organize the material in a complementary way. Very quickly, Pacifica will be on its way to becoming the leading left/progressive media outlet in the country—and begin making a real impact on this society.


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