Laura Flanders hosts both GRITtv, a daily news discussion program, and The Nation magazine's weekly radio show, RadioNation, where she provides a grass-roots perspective to leading issues. She's now in the process of filming, Live from Main Street with Laura Flanders for GRITtv, a five-part series of live, town hall events leading up to the presidential election. Also, Flanders wrote Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians.
PRWeek: What led you to host news programs?
Laura Flanders: I've always been interested in telling stories I felt were not being told elsewhere. I've always been interested in listening, reporting, and communicating what I hear. Sometimes that's taken the shape of writing, more recently it's taken the shape of internet or satellite TV, but in the middle, radio was the perfect medium - cost effective, effective, and accessible…I went to Barnard [College] in New York, and I was interested in the question of feminism and the women of the IRA feminists. A good question can lead you who knows where. This was in the early 1980s, and I was [focusing] on women's studies and history. So, a good question led me to Northern Ireland where I made a film [What's the difference between a country and a house] about domestic violence and state violence, and began a career in journalism. I didn't know it would work out that way, but it did.
From that film, I [went to] radio. I was present by chance in a situation, where a person was shot right in front of me, quite by chance. And, that ended up compelling me to get the story out, the story of what I'd seen out to the world [via] radio, which was the most accessible. And, I started in radio because of that.
PRWeek: How do you think the landscape of radio has changed since you started?
Flanders: Radio has changed dramatically with the end of the Fairness Doctrine in the mid-1980s under [President] Reagan. The end of the Fairness Doctrine permitted station programmers to program one-note lineups. The consolidation of the industry, meaning businesses behind the industry, that there were fewer and fewer places you could go for a job, meaning you had less diversity on any one channel, network, or station, and you had fewer networks and stations from which to choose.
PRWeek: Is the Fairness Doctrine really making a comeback?
Flanders: I've heard that that's one of the demands people are making of the Democratic National Committee, even at the level of party platforms in this election year. I think that [Sen.] Barack Obama (D-IL) is actually very well educated on the questions of justice and media policy, a subject that. . .I think really has become an important issue in this country and one that people really understand. And, Barack Obama has had to consult with some thinkers on this issue. I can't remember if he's committed to it, but I know that he has the most comprehensive media reform platform of any of the candidates.
What we've seen in the last five to 10 years, when I started with the media watch group, [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting], these subjects of media policy, of media regulation, would just bore people to tears. What we saw in the 1990s and the last two rounds, in 1996, you saw the devastating [Telecommunications Act of 1996] under [President] Clinton, which Democratic leadership did nothing to stop the massive give away of digital specs to corporations with nothing coming back to the public in return.
PRWeek: Recently, you covered how the subprime market was hitting the African American community hard. What draws you to these kinds of stories?
Flanders: We went to Miami for one of these “Live from Main Street” events and town hall style meetings with local people talking about how the subprime situation had affected them. And, the data we heard was knock-your-socks-off about what proportion of black wealth, being disproportionately lodged in people's homes, was being wiped out by this crisis. One person said, "This was the largest transfer of wealth among the black community since slavery. We didn't have much to begin with. We're ending up with naught at all."
I think it's our job as journalists not just take what's the obvious and thrust on us, because frankly that's what everyone-else is taking. But, instead, maybe to go where everyone-else's microphone isn't, go to where the stories haven't been told. That's our job. That's what I'm interested in listening to. That's what I think my audience is interested in listening to. [My book] and what I think I'm interested in is exactly that concept of grit, frankly that sort of dual nature of the news that I'm curious about. It's the stuff that both makes you very uncomfortable and makes you very inspired, like grit in the bottom of your shoe blisters your foot, makes people in the Establishment a little uncomfortable, but it's also the mettle that gives people the guts, the determination, the defiance, to take on the really tough stuff.
PRWeek: Hosting news discussion programs, do you think it's important to present the issues even-handedly?
Flanders: That's what makes life interesting. Every journalist, they're kidding if they don't think they're bringing a political bias to the stories that they pick and the questions that they ask. But, anyone who says they're purely objective is just not telling the truth. Of course, we bring a lens to what we're doing. However, we have a responsibility as media professionals, in that moment that we've created, to be fair - to treat both sides of two sides or more fairly, to listen, not to shout them down, not to invite people in for a cat fight, or a boxing session, Not to bring in people as they do on Fox [News Channel] to serve as a punching bag. So, I feel a responsibility to fair and even-handed, in the conduct of an interview or a discussion. A lot of conservatives have been on my program over the years, and would agree that I do that.
Do I have a political lens that drives my curiosity that drives my sense of priorities? Absolutely. I'd be crazy to pretend that I didn't. That's what people look to me for. I think it's my responsibility to be open and honest about who I am and what I believe, but as I said, it's also my responsibility to model, as people watch me on TV, openness and curiosity even to those voices I think I already know. So, sure, I do commentaries on my show, people know where I stand.
I think increasingly in this country this discussion is not between right and left; it's between people who are curious and who feel there's a problem and want to find a solution and people who don't want to know.
Name: Laura Flanders
Title: Host of GRITtv and RadioNation
Outlets: Free Speech TV and weekly radio program for The Nation magazine
Preferred contact method: firstname.lastname@example.org