Radio: It’s (Still) Good for Democracy

Despite innovations in media & tech, radio continues to play an integral role in fostering democracy

Participants at the 2018 Media Impact Forum. Credit: Albert Yee for Media Impact Funders

As media and journalism met the digital age, platforms have evolved to reach audiences, share information, and engage citizens in innovative ways. It’s this dynamic that inspired Infogagement: Citizenship and Democracy in the Age of Connection, a series led by PACE (Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement) exploring how our evolving public square has changed the way Americans engage with our nation’s leaders — and with one another. But while technology continues to advance, one communication platform has remained a centerpiece of media for generations, persisting in sparking civic dialogue while reaching one of the broadest audiences possible: radio.

This year’s Media Impact Forum: Radio Active Culture will explore how this mainstay of our media landscape continues not only to inform, but to serve as a hub for community, art, and culture. The Forum will take place in Philadelphia — a city with a vibrant local radio scene — and features local media leaders from the area in conversation about the central role of radio in creating space for community, and fostering meaningful civic engagement:

  • WURD Radio is the only African-American owned and operated talk radio station in Philadelphia — and one of few in the country. Led by president and CEO, Sara Lomax-Reese, the station has become a community hub for Philandelphians, leading discussions on issues that matter to local residents — from the environment, to gentrification, local business, and beyond. The station hosts dialogues with elected officials and livestreams city council meetings, offering dialogues with councilmembers, while lifting up local artists and delving into social issues on channels ranging from gender to race, violence, education, news, and business.
  • Peter Buffet, Co-President of the NoVo Foundation, is also the owner of Radio Kingston, a “hyper local” radio station and center for news and culture in Kingston, New York. The station — WKNY — made its first broadcast in 1939 from the auditorium of Kingston High School, and has evolved into a vibrant source of news, a host for community events, and a hub for the diverse Kingston community. Radio Kingston lifts up voices that might not be heard otherwise, and connects Kingston residents with music, information, conversation, storytelling — and each other.
Eli Pariser presents at the 2018 Media Impact Forum. Credit: Albert Yee for Media Impact Funders

Other leaders take a broader lens to enriching the media landscape:

  • Elizabeth Mendez Berry, Director of Voice, Creativity, and Culture at the Nathan Cummings Foundation will speak to the Foundation’s Critical Minded initiative, a collaboration with Ford Foundation to elevate the voices of cultural critics of color. As national conversations about race, gender, and other issues at the heart of society become increasingly urgent, the initiative aims to ensure that dialogues in our public square are representative of all voices, by lifting up those that aren’t often heard — and are most impacted by the cultural dynamics at play. As Elizabeth said in a piece last year: “If we have been made painfully aware of the lack of representation of people of color in the industries that tell us stories, we should also be aware of the lack of representation of people of color in the places where we make meaning of those stories.”
  • Deborah Ensor, Senior Vice President of Technical Leadership at Internews, a national nonprofit organization that brings local news to cities around the world, and Cristi Hegranes, CEO and publisher of Global Press, work to train and connect journalists to local radio outlets, amplifying quality of — and access to — quality local news around the world. At the Forum, they’ll be sharing a number of strategies for delivering radio news to local communities

Over the years, we’ve witnessed continued advancements in technology and media, and despite the social change they’ve generated, radio has remained a central — and well-funded — platform. In fact, funding for radio has been growing steadily since 2009. The platform has also been driving innovation across programming, often serving as a curator of news and information and community voices. Radio offers funders tremendous opportunities to educate and inform, engage communities, and counteract the challenging social dynamics that can come with commercial social media.

The annual Media Impact Forum is hosted by Media Impact Funders (MIF), a network of foundations who share a commitment to supporting media and technology in the public interest. Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) and MIF have partnered on a series of webinars, exploring the emerging needs of America’s public square. You can view recordings and recommended readings from these events here and here.