Communist media: the terrain is challenging, but we must build there anyway

BY:Taryn Fivek| April 2, 2024
Communist media: the terrain is challenging, but we must build there anyway


This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors

Over the past decades, media (both news and entertainment) have become increasingly centralized in the hands of a select few capitalist concerns. More than 90% of all traditional broadcast and print media are now owned by just six corporations: Comcast-Universal, Disney, CBS, Viacom, News Corp, and AT&T. So-called “social media” is dominated by Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, and Elon Musk, who owns Twitter/X. Streaming services are dominated by Netflix, Apple and Amazon. Even “organic” social media personalities and influencers are often bankrolled by secret corporate sponsors.

Dom Shannon points to a “crisis of culture” in the US, with the extreme right gaining ground. Shannon is correct in that “we cannot afford to concede the realm of cultural commentary to the far right.” Additionally, these media are used to push narratives that are beneficial to billionaires and extremely harmful to our class, such as racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and transphobia. Media moguls and their corporate sponsors increasingly seek to construct a fascist reality with anti-worker propaganda and lies.

While People’s World has spent a century delivering news and cultural commentary from a working class perspective, it is not a party organ. We must strengthen the party’s media presence to regain what was lost from the shuttering of Political Affairs while also taking advantage of new opportunities to share and discuss the party’s perspective.

Since the 31st convention and the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, our weekly livestream, “Good Morning, Revolution!” became an increasingly valuable tool in an attempt to fight back against reactionary and bourgeois media we so often consume. Through a weekly roundup of news and cultural topics, our comrades and allies hear directly from party leadership on the political and cultural issues of the day. This provides clubs and districts with a powerful organizing tool — we can refer to an episode to answer questions on everything from the party’s tactics to win an immediate ceasefire in Gaza to our stance on so-called “patriotic socialism.”

Presently, GMR is produced by a small handful of volunteers who can only commit an extremely modest amount of time per week to expanding and improving the show. The CPUSA should not only have a roster of regularly broadcast live streams that could focus on youth or cultural issues in addition to GMR, but should also produce more longform video and audio content on specific issues. We should produce and distribute professional-quality content that is both educational and entertaining that will help us gain influence with our class.

At the same time, the party should interact more with traditional media. Even though the consumption of such media has fallen drastically since 2010, there is a trickle-down effect to digital media and social networks. What appears on the front page of the New York Times or at the top of the hour on CNN still has a tremendous impact on overall public discourse.

Take a look at the New York Times archive, where the CPUSA once enjoyed regular mention and coverage. Party leadership had letters to the editor published, events and campaigns were featured, and journalists reached out to leadership for comment and interviews.

Some in the party might argue that if traditional publications were really so interested in what we are up to and what we have to say, they could reach out to us directly. However, this leaves out the day-to-day reality of media workers. Increasingly overworked and underpaid, journalists rely heavily on press releases and public relations contacts to reduce their workload. Whereas journalists used to rely on pitching stories to editors, nowadays it’s more often the case that stories are pitched to journalists by individuals, organizations, and companies. Understanding (as Marxists and workers ourselves) that news and entertainment are primarily profit-seeking industries, we should do more to understand how this impacts the party’s coverage and presence in the vast media landscape. Additionally, traditional forms of media could sometimes be easier for us to work with, since we do not have to contend with automated and often invisible algorithms, de-boosting, and shadow bans.

Building up the CPUSA’s presence and influence in the media landscape will require the party to dedicate resources to the effort, which necessitates a political understanding of why it is critical. Staff who answer to the National Board are needed to craft media strategy, produce content, and seek access to channels and publications outside of the party and People’s World via press releases and story pitches. Unlike other so-called progressive media, we are not financed by wealthy capitalist patrons, and we do not take grant money from bourgeois foundations. We are still in the process of rebuilding our material capacity as a party, but a successful media strategy would include fundraising to sustain itself and should seek to bring in more support for the party than is necessary to finance its own efforts.

Like with our style guidelines, media efforts should be coordinated nationally to ensure that our messaging is politically consistent. While some members already enjoy their own audiences and followings, and sometimes use their status as CPUSA members to cultivate their own audiences, we cannot rely on these individuals to push a central message, since this can become a direct challenge to the party’s positions on whatever the individual may disagree with or de-emphasize in our Program.  We likewise cannot risk comrades who already make a living as traditional media workers losing their jobs or becoming blacklisted due to their public affiliation with the CPUSA.

A focused, tight, and centralized media strategy with a Marxist orientation is necessary to build on the increasingly hostile terrain of US media, both digital and otherwise. We are obligated to use all methods necessary to organize our class. To paraphrase Che Guevara, we cannot just shake a tree and expect a mass audience to fall on our heads. It will take political will, hard work, and the commitment of resources to accomplish what is not only possible, but necessary for our collective working class success.



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