by Matthew Andrews, editor of Vermont Movement News
Starting a newspaper was never my goal. I wish I could say it was part of a master plan. This past year I have watched movements in Vermont struggle to communicate with the public and construct their own narrative of current events. I realized that a newspaper for excluded voices in Vermont was critically needed. Coincidentally, it just happens that a team with the right skills was coming together to meet this need.
This past fall, I was the Liberty Union Party candidate for Congress. We have the rare fortune in Vermont to have reasonable ballot access laws. A handful of intrepid candidates and I stood up to the political establishment. Despite being on the ballot, Vermont’s corporate media blacked out our message. I wrote nine press releases, but was only published once by VTdigger. Candidate debates required one or two minute soundbites. Aside from a couple debates, we were invisible to the corporate media. This media didn’t fail just the candidates. They failed to play the essential role of journalism to inform voters of their choices at the ballot box.
The sole article dedicated to Liberty Union in Seven Days was a hack job by Kevin J. Kelley. After being interviewed, we thought we were finally breaking through. Boy, were we mistaken! He didn’t entertain our point of view for a moment. Instead, he told voters (in the middle of the election!) that Liberty Union always loses. He even incorrectly told the public we refuse to raise funds, which conceivably hurt our ability to raise funds. Everything regular people complain about politicians doing, we were criticized for not doing. I believe these attacks come from a place of fear. Today I’m happy to announce that those fears were well founded. We’re launching a real alternative newspaper!
It’s not just independent candidates that get blocked from a mass audience by the corporate media. Teachers from South Burlington were attacked when they went out on strike after eight months without a contract. Instead of reminding people that schools are not widget factories, thanks to unions defending the teaching profession, the corporate media and Governor Shumlin attacked their right to collective bargaining. In typical right-wing fashion, they skipped the political context and focused on the immediate disruption.
Similarly, the corporate media gave only perfunctory coverage to a lively demonstration against a proposed fracked-gas pipeline through Addison County and under Lake Champlain. Hundreds protested outside the statehouse and sixty four were arrested for occupying the Governor’s office. Vermonters spoke eloquently about the right to land, clean water, and a stable climate. But in the corporate media, phony messages from Vermont Gas about job creation and lower energy bills dominate the debate. Environmentalism is acceptable if the message helps advertisers sell “green” products. But if the message is about stopping a politically influential polluter, the story is suppressed.
The most glaring example of media bias came after the elections. The governor’s race was much tighter than expected. Despite overwhelmingly friendly media, Peter Shumlin had a hard time getting people to vote for him. The progressive majority that had supported him in the past just couldn’t hold their noses for an anti-union, pipeline loving governor who refused to tell us how he would fund healthcare reform. In the myopic two-party world of the corporate media, this somehow got misinterpreted as a rejection of single payer health care. Starting the day after the election, the media continuously hammered Shumlin and the public with their anti-healthcare message before he finally cracked. On December 17, Peter Shumlin announced it would be too expensive to fund Green Mountain Health Care. “Too expensive for whom?” Nobody in the corporate media asked.
The problem with corporate media is systemic. They depend on advertisers for profit. Their advertisers are capitalists. As a class, they enjoy a closer relationship with politicians than the rest of us. They are many times wealthier than the average Vermonter and consequently have different priorities. Most fundamental of all, they have a different relationship to production. Their wealth comes from owning property while we must sell our labor to survive. This shapes their attitude on taxes, banking regulations, workers rights, environmental protections, police conduct, and just about every other issue. News outlets are owned by giant corporate conglomerates, beholden to create a media environment that is friendly to advertising, and will not upset the sensibilities of their paying customers.
The desire for a cozy relationship with capitalists and politicians is deeply rooted in the sub-conscience of the corporate journalist. Rather than probing for the plain truth to empower the public, corporate journalists provide friendly coverage in exchange for interviews and access. Vermont Movement News dares to propose a different model.
We practice citizen journalism. We are committed to fairly presenting complex stories in their full social, economic, and political contexts. Unlike the corporate media, we will also be honest about the values that drive our reporting. We intend to provide a reliable platform for a variety of progressive activists and movements that otherwise suffer from media neglect. We will not credit politicians when grassroots struggles achieve victories. We will also analyze movements that get stonewalled. Our goal is to get these stories to people who don’t normally seek them out. That’s why a print edition is so important. Furthermore, we hope that single-issue movements will begin to see their common interests with other progressive struggles and find the wisdom to support a newspaper that will unite and benefit everyone.
We believe the work of assembling and distributing a newspaper is a social activity that connects people and helps build movements. While online tools are extremely helpful, the experiences and relationships we have in the real world cannot be replaced. The only remaining challenge we face is to raise the money necessary to make Vermont Movement News a reality. We need $2,500 just to publish six issues in 2015. Much more will be necessary for postage, promotions, and other expenses. We aren’t expecting any grant money or wealthy benefactors to cover these costs. We are depending on Vermonters who want real news to subscribe and make small contributions.
Please pledge your support at our Indiegogo webpage http://igg.me/at/VTMovementNews by Saturday, January 24th. You can subscribe, buy ad space, get a Vermont Movement News t-shirt, or become an underwriter. Just choose the “perk” you want for your contribution. You can also write a check to our fiscal sponsor, Liberty Union, and send it to Boots Wardinski 629 Saxie Welch Trial, S. Ryegate, Vermont 05069.