Project South Aims to Train Low-Income Communities to Tell Their Stories

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November 3, 2016; Current

Apple Music. Tidal. Deezer. Pandora. Spotify. Slacker. Podcasts. The ever-swelling wave of listening options, let alone sources of local news, has engulfed the listening public. Even as mobile and social news habits evolve, however, legacy platforms have by no means been abandoned. According to the Pew Research Center, 91 percent of Americans ages 12 and older listen to traditional AM/FM terrestrial radio.

Current reports that Project South, an Atlanta-based community organizing nonprofit, is planning to create a new media organization designed to syndicate its social justice communications tools and journalism training through community radio and by other means.

The nation’s quickly changing news habits have a significant impact on how and to what extent people function within an informed society. As NPQ has reported before, people are increasingly getting their news about politics and government on Facebook, a platform where friends and algorithms drive influence. Traditional news organizations are subsequently downsizing their capacity to find and report local news vital to a thriving civil society.

There is commercial and public broadcasting, and then there is community radio that serves specific geographic communities and communities of interest with content that is often overlooked by mass media. These radio stations are typically nonprofit and provide a priceless channel for individuals and groups to tell their own stories.

Founded in 1986, Project South uses “popular education techniques as an organizing tool to build a base of skilled leadership that directly challenges racism and poverty at the roots.” Some of their communications tools include a youth-led initiatives and education curriculum focused on social justice. The new media platform Project South is planning to create will grow beyond radio.

The organization will look to partner with community radio stations, LPFMs, alternative or independent print publications, and public-access TV stations on the project. It is also working with the National Federation of Community Broadcasters to identify possible partners by surveying local news and reporting efforts at community radio stations.

There are generally two kinds of community organizing. One is protest action designed to force powerful groups to respond to demands. The other form generates a sense that the community it represents possesses power. That perception of power enables the group to engage key government officials or corporate leaders because of its reputation alone. As Saul Alinsky said, “The first rule of power tactics” is that “power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.” Project South’s plan to provide journalism training in communities through community radio stations might very well create more than the perception of power.

No matter who wins the election today, Project South’s mission to build the communications capacities among low-income families of color needs to remain a civil society priority for years to come.—James Schaffer