Questions about self-organisation: Free Speech Radio News

Free Speech Radio News

Adrienne Lauby

> What are the aims of the project you are involved in?

Free Speech Radio News (FSRN) has as its primary goal to produce a 30-minute Monday–Friday independent radio newscast. With a network of over 200 freelance reporters around the world, FSRN serves over 100 radio stations and a growing cadre of Internet outlets. FSRN aims to bring the world to the U.S. in first-hand reportage of every continent by independent reporters: coverage that CNN can only dream of. With a diversity of voices, in ethnicity, age and class, which outstrips every other news organization. FSRN aims to be the vanguard U.S. news source for the majority – those questioning wars on innocent people at home and abroad. Our over one million listeners include many without Internet access and we are proud to join National Native News as the only progressive daily news outlets for those forgotten by high-tech hype.

> How is the project organised?

FSRN is a multi-generational, multi-class, multi-race organization with many strong women of color in leadership. Reporters who achieve a minimum level of produced stories and all staff automatically become voting members of FSRN. Daily newscast decisions are made by editorial and production staff team members who work in constant communication throughout the day. Organizational decisions and priorities, including personnel, finance and hiring committee work, are set by a member-elected Steering Committee. Final responsibility and governance power rests with the elected board of directors as mandated by our by-laws and California non-profit law.

Our internal structure is flexible, porous and peer-driven. We attempt the fluidity and inclusiveness of volunteer-staffed non-profits, utilize the tools of corporate executives and demonstrate the cohesion of a winning basketball team. Our goal is an ongoing demonstration that individuals who work for a more equitable distribution of wealth and power do not have to make each other miserable along the way.

> How do you support the work financially and what impact does this have

> on your project?

Our work is supported by our affiliate stations (those who air our broadcast), occasional grants and by listeners who make regular donations. Individual stations not only include us in their budgets but also share working space and other organizational resources. This is particularly true of the Pacifica Foundation, which shares our history and whose five stations are among our largest affiliates.

There are many advantages in working so closely with affiliate stations, including the ability to share reporters and local understanding of important stories. Without them, especially the Pacifica Foundation, we could not maintain the basic quality and credibility of the newscast.

Our staff members currently work without health and other benefits, and the fee we offer reporters is not consistent with a living wage. We ask for difficult, nuanced work from our reporters and offer them peanuts in exchange. Because our finances severely limit our work, we have occasionally spent too much time chasing large amounts of money. Lately, we have pursued bulk mail and other methods to diversify and deepen our base of support.

> What do you feel you have achieved, and what are the problems you face?

The FSRN Newscast has raised the bar for radio news in the US in reporting from the news site and in the number of interviewees quoted. Other, more commercial, news programs have closed international bureaus and laid off foreign reporters. We have expanded and sought stories around the world from people who had first hand knowledge and experience. We are one of the few radio outlets to offer training and accept reports from individuals who are new to reporting. As a paid outlet for reporters in our affiliate station news departments, we’ve played a part in keeping local news alive in community radio.

Primarily, we have brought news that is censored and ignored in the US mainstream media to our listeners. We’ve covered movements such as the anti-death penalty, reparations, lesbian rights, prison activism, Native American sovereignty and environmental movements. We’ve covered issues like voter rights, anti-sterilization, immigration, attacks on the Americans with Disabilities Act, day laborers, sweatshops and union building, Zapatista demands for indigenous rights, Congress, the Supreme Court, Bush & Co, prostitute rights, forest activists, election reform, repression of Middle-East immigrant communities, Haiti, homeless people, GLBTI concerns, high stakes testing in schools, civil rights, torture and privacy encroachment, labor reform and much, much more. Each day, as we bend our hands and hearts to gathering and producing this news, we make the activists more visible, set alternative frame stories and give our listeners hard information they need to make daily democratic decisions.

It’s a big challenge to operate a daily newscast – where many decisions must be made quickly – as a collective, which traditionally takes more time to discuss issues and bring everyone into decision-making. Finding sufficient funding is always a problem, since we serve a worldwide community that does not have deep pockets – or sometimes any pockets. Our desire to cover events around the world too often short circuits on our ability to reach out to more new reporters, offer more training and help with the necessary equipment.

> Are there any past projects/models which have inspired you?

We draw on 50 years of listener-sponsored radio, as exemplified by the US community radio network and the Pacifica Network. We have often been inspired at the annual Grassroots Radio Conferences by those who operate community radio stations with even fewer resources than our own and whose participants are committed to a healthy collective process. Individuals among us are inspired by many current and past movements, including worker collectives, utopian projects, indigenous communities and personal contact with anyone who ever translated a dream of a better world into concrete and useful activities.

> What are your hopes for the future?

We hope for long-term financial viability so we can pay a living wage and benefits to staff, and offer competitive compensation to reporters. We hope to continue and even increase our fighting role to take back media in the U.S. from corporate sponsors and journalists who become cozy with their powerful sources. We hope for a consistently outstanding newscast in terms of content, technical quality and timeliness. We’d like to add production of a live broadcast, an early morning audio news package, and news headlines throughout the day. In the short term we hope to expand our coverage into new areas, including our current priorities in Asia, Africa and the US.

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