Monday, March 14, 2011

Aaron Brown's thoughts on cuts to Public Broadcasting

You can listen to Aaron's essay here, or read the text below:

The proposed, probable federal cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting could lead me down a predictable path. I could just say, hey, give money to the cause and call your Congressional Representative. Or just give money. Mostly, we need the money because calling Congress is like calling Bigfoot. Even if you reach Bigfoot on his landline in the Pacific Northwest, he is unlikely to change his mind because of the words you say, which he may not even understand in the first place, presuming he actually exists.

Stations like KAXE exist because of members, still the largest source of revenue and the most important part of our survival. But the nickels and dimes of the working folks who support KAXE have always been augmented by the federal government and other grants. This happens because public radio is more than entertainment, it is a service, a beacon of our culture, a market for the currency of democracy and free thought.

We live in the Information Age. You can’t see this, but I’m capitalizing those words. “I” like “iPhone” and “A” like, well, one of the letters in Facebook. We still need and use industry, machines and such, just as we still use wheels, flint, bronze and the occasional arrow. But the freshest layer in our human development, and the thing that in the future will most define what we now call the United States of America, is information: Technology, communication networks and what the kids these days call “content.”

Private industry has an important role to play in the Information Age. If you’ve used a cell phone or sent a text message this year, you know why. If you’ve ever used the internet to buy things or do work, you know why. But it isn’t just the private sector entering the Information Age, it’s the public sector too, and the public square. The government once ensured that the town square was clear of garbage and street toughs so that the people could safely conduct the town’s civic affairs. Today that town square is online. Elections are won and lost on the internet. Ideas are exchanged through the internet, debated and restructured, before being excreted out through the traditional media.

If you look around northern Minnesota, the only organization offering carte blank access between the people, their information and the ability to access other people in the area is Northern Community Radio. From KAXE and KBXE to Northern Community Internet and an active Facebook cohort, this organization isn’t beholden to corporate overlords or the interests of the powerful. Because power in the information age is information, not many would give that power away in exchange for so little; your voluntary contributions and your desire to express to your elected leaders, no matter your party, the importance of vibrant public media.

There is no profit in news, or in shows about birds, or in letting regular people from your community on the air to talk about what’s important to them. These things lose money, displeasing stockholders. But without this kind of media, we lose something more important that money or the free market system. We lose our hold on the only thing that really matters these days, information, and how it affects we the people.

Aaron Brown is a writer and community college instructor from the Iron Range. You can read more at or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.” 

1 comment:

Ross Williams said...

Well - if Representative Chip Cravick is "Bigfoot", then here is his local office phone number in North Branch 651-237-8220. You can also call him in DC at 202-225-6211. Or on Twitter @chipcravaack or you can email him from his web site at

The simple truth is that phone calls and mail DO make a difference. Even where you aren't going to change his mind, he may not be enthusiastic about voting on something where there are people in his district who disagree strongly.

In particular, Representative Cravack lives outside the KAXE listening area. He may think only MPR when he hears about public broadcasting. Its important to remind him that the rural areas in his district have their own stations that are far more dependent on CPB funding.

So call him, twitter him, email him, encourage people on facebook to contact him. If you care about local public radio or just support those who do, you need to speak up.