Urbana Champaign True Colors

Radical Ideas for Social Change...

Originally written for African American Studies 398
Black Leadership Development December 2005
By Jeff Ginger

The True Colors is a unique, progressive, free speech response and answer to the needs and wishes of the collective liberal community at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

Watch the Video first!!

INTRODUCTION:

Throughout history newspaper publications have been an instrumental form of media for not only portraying and conveying the news, but influencing nearly all aspects of society. The sociology of newspaper publications is one of the most interesting to study because it is the inherent nature of news publications to be tied to their surrounding societal and cultural contexts implied. Newspapers go well beyond simply depicting objective facts and stories; they aspire to paint pictures and create visions of the events on which they report. In past years the newspaper has even gone so far as to warp public opinion into starting wars, such as the Spanish-American war, where so-called yellow journalism was perhaps one of the most significant contributing factors in the conflict. Though there have been studies indicating that the influence of the newspaper has lessened in the information age, articles, editorials and pictures still make an undeniably powerful impact as they are rushed to readers' door steps every morning. Heated theoretical arguments circulate between academic elites discussing the true impacts of mass media - if newspapers act as a homogenizing force or instead as a selective means of absorbing information that help to encourage differentiation (Singer 140). Regardless of the true manipulations behind news media, it is blatantly apparent that careful consideration must be given to the collection, distribution, and messages found in newspapers.

It is absolutely critical to consider newspaper media structure and ownership in relation to freedom of expression - especially in a country that prides itself on being diverse and open to many perspectives. Unfortunately, "Fewer than one percent of nearly 1600 newspapers in the US face direct competition from a newspaper publishing in the same city" (Derouzous and Trautman 1). Dangerous monopolies have developed around the news media industries and even world wide only a handful of large mega-corporations own all of this capital. The delineations of policy set by these few rich, white male owners and stock investor boards are the true visionary and strategic control and motivation behind the messages circulated in the ink-blotted, recycled paper that boys on bicycles once delivered. Many groups are overlooked or poorly represented due to the lack of diverse control. Concerns have been voiced in studies pertaining to communicators' traits of mass media organizations, content analyses about violence, race, gender, and experiments or surveys regarding the "violent" antisocial effects of the media on stereotypes (Tuchman 29). Bakari Kitwana speaks specifically of the criminalized image of young minorities in our society: "The study also found that Blacks were too often portrayed as perpetuators and disproportionately as victims, whereas Latinos were nearly invisible in the news media except in crime reports" (Kitwana 80). Public opinion is forged by these misconceptions and advances racial disparities. This is the reason control of the news media is of particular importance to the new age Hip Hop generation- if a unified effort to inspire and provoke change is to occur, it must be heard and seen in the news.

Even within our local area, there are conglomerations of news media groups; most campus publications are found under the umbrella of the Illini Media Company. The ICM is a non-profit corporation and is arguably very well established and fairly run. Despite this, however, there are not many competitive sets of newspapers on the University of Illinois campus to speak of. Minor papers and newsletters might be found in remote sections of the undergrad library and elsewhere, but not on a large scale like the DI or the Buzz. One paper, however, that has managed to stand out is the Orange and Blue Observer. The insidious nature of the paper is described best by George Milton as he states, "Some enemies of freedom of the press, on regrets to say, are in the press itself. These are the men who ignore the public trustee-ship of their institution, who give only one side of the picture, who deal in half-truths or whole lies. Such men put weapons in the hands of those who would end the freedom of the press" ( Milton 690). The Orange and Blue observer is precisely this - a radical conservative operation and example of white nationalism on our very own college campus. The OBO has managed to become a household name by offending with a progression of denigration, dehumanization, and demonization which often generates scape-goating - that is subsequently used to justify aggression against targeted groups and individuals. The OBO and Illini Conservative Union have made considerable efforts to viciously attack numerous groups and organizations on campus that stand up for rights for minorities, the environment, and religious freedom. As of yet, our campus has seen no unified response from the organizations under fire. Each has found ways to protest and fight back independently, but a direct coalition has not been conceptualized and organized at this point. Thus there is a need for a new radical solution.


THE CORE THEORY:

This is the place of the Urbana Champaign True Colors: a newspaper intended to be a unique, progressive, free speech response and answer to not just the OBO but more importantly the needs and wishes of a collective liberal community. Too long have radical conservatives taken up the banner of "American ideals" and called it their own. It's about time we start defining American principles the way they should be: by will of the group. It's important that we don't become disillusioned with our country - this only polarizes the sides more and makes efforts to communicate to the crucial audience increasingly difficult. One of the greatest challenges to unifying so many disjointed liberal interest groups is the complexity rooted in the diversity of these very groups. A newspaper allows for a presentation and communication medium where the ideas of so many schools of liberal thought can be assembled under a unified title, truly creating strength through diversity.

Urbana Champaign True Colors is an idea that strives to embody the spirit of a truly progressive newspaper, centering around opportunity, liberal ideology and freedom of expression. Change often begins on the small, local levels before it can aspire to impact the nation or world. The news touches the lives of University students daily. This newspaper has the potential to make impressions on the academic, social, political, economic, and spiritual opinions and education of students all over campus. "The candid journalist knows that the newspaper is impressed with a grave responsibility for its social consequences" ( Milton 682). The Urbana Champaign True Colors and its constituents would be a pure and unadulterated approach to fair and effective communication of ideals - not motivated by profit or selfish gain - but for public enlightenment and amelioration of the community and student denizens.


GOALS AND INTENDED OUTCOMES:

Among the first objectives in establishing the group would be generating a manifest expressing all mutual goals of groups involved. The organization would need to take into account the interests of all of the participating groups and individuals integrated into the organizational structure before orienting itself.

From my own personal perspective, I believe the group could fulfill several important aspirations. The primary objective of the newspaper would be to spread essential news, both local and international, that matters to the target audience. Secondarily, it would function as an agent of communication for numerous liberal ideas. Articles and topics of news sections and editorials would give proper representation of people of many minority backgrounds - be they gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, etc. The newspaper would also maintain a goal of remaining accountable to these different groups, doing its best to fairly represent all individuals as well as possible, but in a liberal, progressive sense. Another goal of the newspaper would be to provide a refreshing outlook on religion through examples of progressive faiths and spiritualities as well as philosophical alternatives. Many liberal individuals become disillusioned with the church or Pope or conservative and extremist religion; the paper could help to give positive representations in a world where the left are frequently viewed as apathetic atheists and the right as judgment-obsessed conservative Christians. Beyond this, the newspaper would naturally be tied to political opinions and activism - most likely often in line with democrat, green, or libertarian outlooks. This political venture would be fundamentally linked to empowering students to educate themselves on issues and get involved in making things better. Like the Daily Illini, the paper would need to include an interdisciplinary focus - students belonging to many colleges and majors would be encouraged to pitch in for the best multi-tiered perspective possible in an academic regard. Another decisive aspiration of the newspaper would be to introduce innovative and radical ideas into the minds of the readership. Concepts such as veganism, transcending morality (systems of self regulation and life outlook unconstrained to morals), anarchy, socialism, new methods or interpretations of marriage, collectivism, and pacifism could all be engaged in an effort to challenge the knowledge and understanding of readers. Many of the concepts I just mentioned are not even ones I agree with or see as plausible, but are pioneering nonetheless and could be included. Coverage of political related issues would be bundled into this, though with a special focus on human rights, freedom, and domestic and national infrastructure related affairs. Visual interpretations are arguably as important as semantic ones and as such the paper would make it a goal to include other emotive forms of expression as well. Photos would be plentiful, comics and insightful cartoons standard, and other unusual artistic statements would be integrated into the constitution of the paper. Lastly, goals would be set keeping in mind the need to maintain an accessible database of material, both online and otherwise. Advertising would be a must as well, and each edition would have a calendar of related events from liberal, activist, and community clusters on campus. Lastly, most importantly, the paper would be a dministrated by liberal, progressive students of all kinds.

A final and substantial ambition of the newspaper would be free distribution. The spread of ideas shouldn't be limited to only those with money. Moreover, this the paper couldn't take off the ground if people had to pay for it. Financing for the paper would come primarily from advertising and grants from related liberal interest groups.


TRANSFERING THEORY TO REALITY:

Obviously, the target demographic is the student population, but there are more complications to this audience than seen at first glance. First and foremost, both graduate and undergraduate students would be a focus of the paper - and if at all possible representation from higher level students would be present in the operation and writing as well. Beyond this the community and surrounding cities would be of instrumental focus. One of the main missions of the paper is to establish better relations and connections between the often separate student and town populations. Professors and staff of the university would have key roles too, as they often act as the sustaining agents who help to bridge projects, create, and alter policy. Initially, one might assume that the estimated reader demographic would also be comprised primarily of political liberals. While this is true, it's imperative to realize that students of all kinds would be reading the paper. Often times the battles waged over politics or social issues make no significant impacts in influencing the opinions of the opposite sides - instead, what they do is catch the attention of those on the fence - the persons undecided about what they believe, who are navigating through issues with an open mind seeking resolve. Debuted in a strong, intelligent and diverse student population like that at the University of Illinois the paper could truly thrive and reach many with messages of freedom.

At this point in time the Urbana-Champaign True Colors is just a radical idea. That being said, I have some understanding how it could and would be implemented. This would surely change in practice of course, ideally, a few very well-connected and resourceful individuals would put the wheels in motion to capture interest and obtain assets. If I were to lead up the project, I would hit key players in charge of groups and organizations all over the place - starting with the student population that I know best and moving on to community and university resources as well. With a gathering of well connected individuals and a dedicated leader the group could easily gain momentum.

A strong and competent staff of administrators, writers, and project coordinators would all be needed to launch the newspaper. One of the easiest initial ways to unearth material would be to utilize that being produced by other groups on campus. For example, Democracy For America is releasing a bi-weekly newsletter about political situations rocking the united states next semester. This newsletter would be a great liberal political perspective to help inform students of the downfalls of the Bush Administration, as well as give them opportunities to get involved in political action and activism. Pandora's Rag, the Gender and Women Studies office sponsored feminist magazine releases material yearly and could easily help feed into the same newspaper; the writers have the motivation and means to represent a liberal women's rights perspective. Amnesty International and Green Peace at UIUC have potential periodical publications that would bring in salient perspectives as well. Liberal religious organizations could also be contact, such as the Champaign United Church of Christ, or The Hillel Jewish foundation. CBSU and Pride could contribute material and representation forged from writers within their member base. Substantial portions of the art student populace are liberal individuals as well, which would fill the need to find people to create cartoons and comics, submit photos, and design artistic statements. As word about the project and paper and continual invitations to groups circulated, more connections would surely be found. Likely the group would need to start out as an RSO in order to obtain funding, initial web site space (for sustainability and communication), and the ability to partner with different organizations.

Advertising could be an ingenious characteristic of the newspaper. Instead of running the typical ads that most newspapers feature, special attention would be given to creative and benevolent organizations and corporations. Institutions such as Strawberry Fields, The Red Herring, Urban League, Head Start, and more would be present in the newspaper. Public notices for service groups such as the Rape Crisis Center or University Counseling services or Office of LGBT Concerns would be an important component of the advertising in the paper. Liberal and community service parties could advertise job and internship opportunities for those who would like to get interested. Some traditional ads could be run as well, but the focus would be predominantly on proactive and progressive groups concentrating on helping others.

I can give some guidelines for a few specific roles individuals in the group. Besides a president in charge of coordinating, connecting, motivating, and empowering the organization several responsibilities would need to be fulfilled. Someone would likely be in charge of circulation development, policy for distribution, and promotion (Willey 136). A treasurer would likely need to help take charge of accounting and fundraising - including financing as it would relate to advertisement. Another correspondent might take care of policy and public relations for the paper - editorial policy, maintaining good relations with other groups as well as University officials and offices. Beyond this, the group would be made up of representatives from related organizations on campus. Special regard would be given to keeping the group diverse and if at all possible writers and executive agents could be drawn from a dozen organizations - starting with those outlined in the previous paragraph. To this end, the paper would make every effort to embody democratic free speech oriented values in its leadership.


METHODS OF EVALUATION:

Evaluating the impact of the ideas spread by the newspaper is an almost incomprehensible task. No one knows just how much influence news publications could and would have on any given individual's life. General poles of knowledge in the student population might help bring some of this to surface, but I have an alternative proposal for the best method of evaluation. Since one of the major goals of the newspaper would be to help provide a framework for uniting liberal groups of all sorts of types around campus, one could easily evaluate how well the paper has supported and connected these factions. Participation in leadership and joint efforts by the convening assembly would be easy to measure real world understandings that should be employed to determine the success of the organization. Money and efforts given to services and companies advertised in the paper would be a financial recording keeping point of reference, though the paper's focus wouldn't be so much about specific monetary gains. Each of the involved groups would likely have their own systems of evaluation and benchmarking that they could employ to determine if they're making significant enough of a difference - whether it be quotas for material, set objectives of ideas to be communicated, or other accurate systems of judgment. Additionally, the group could have bi-semester evaluations to determine performance and lay down new plans and expectations. The growth of distribution would be another quantitative technique of tracking success as well. The group could aim to push out more and more editions and releases as the demand for them increases. Beyond this, I'm sure more prospects for evaluation would come about as the group grew in magnitude and intricacy: the previously mentioned ideals are just the start.



CONCLUSIONS:

To this end, may implementation of free speech have its own impact. Milton 's speech contained a quotation more than a hundred years old that I believe still applies now. Joseph Pulitzer once said: "Our Republic and its press will rise and fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as a base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalism of future generations" ( Milton 691). We are this future generation and it is our responsibility to follow the creed: "Know ye the truth and the truth shall make you free." This faith composes the Urbana Champaign True Colors obligation to democracy, education, and freedom of expression through diversity. In this endeavor it must and shall not fail. Godspeed.