J500 Media and the Environment

Niche Media’s Green Obligations? by genghiskuhn
February 18, 2008, 4:37 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , , , , ,

Bryan Welch opened his presentation last Thursday with a reiteration of a well-known journalistic truth: fair-and-balanced sucks. Instead, he proposed a more palatable idea: the journalist’s duty is to present his or her best crack at The Truth.However, Mr. Welch’s reply to a question addressing hot-button green issues pointed in an entirely different direction: “Well, for example, Utne readers like to be challenged.” This statement’s unspoken half, unfortunately, is that the readers of Motorcycle Classics DON’T like to be challenged. From presenting The Truth (sorry about the caps, I just can’t help it!), we’ve suddenly shifted gears to “creating communities of readers”. Is this Facebook or the news? When coupled with the intense user-feedback mechanisms he described, this means people will never have to read anything that upsets or challenges them.

The upshot: Do informed niche-media journalists have a duty to present green material in publications with anti-green readership? If so, how should they go about it?

(Next time: Natural Home AND Motorcycle Classics?!: Media Diversification Makes John Uncomfortable)

John Kuhn


16 Comments so far
Leave a comment

My point was, every magazine has its audience and if you don’t supply them with the thing they are paying you for, they will stop paying you. And they’re quick to do that. If you can provide me with a model in which I get to tell the reader what I think is important even though they don’t want to hear it – and they’ll pay me for it – I’ll be first in line to implement it!

Comment by Bryan Welch

The sad fact is that media consumers are going to what information they want, not what we think they need.

That is why there has been drops in readership of major newspapers and drops in viewership of network news programs.

There is so much media to sift through, that one doesn’t have the time to get the general news much anymore. They only look for news that interests them.

What is happening though, is green messages are making their way into various media. Not as the focus, but as sidebars. It’s a start though. If you can get Modern Bride, Men’s Health, or even Maxim to have occasional eco stories, that is huge. Because people aren’t buying those mags for the green.


Comment by acbowman

(on a side note, anyone know how to put hyperlinks in a comment?)

-Adam B

Comment by acbowman

Who wrote this post? John, is that you?

I was thinking the same thing when Bryan was here; wish I could have asked more questions.

His description of “communities of readers” was disturbing; never being presented with information outside of their own views and interests seems so limiting. Fosters tunnel-vision.

Before I was cut off, I really wanted to ask how people outside these communities come to join. How does Bryan get new readers? I think of the average Joe as NON-green (neutral, not very knowledgeable), rather than ANTI-green (has mind firmly made up that green sucks). Getting a non-green to participate in these communities who then could potentially turn green might be easier than communicating with those who are anti-green. Does Bryan do this? How or why not?

YES, those journalists have a duty. How? Gently and subtly.

~ Sarah Hemme

Comment by shemme

Couldn’t he carefully weave *1 or 2* challenging ideas into the magazine? Kind of slip ’em in there, stealth-like?

~Sarah H.

Comment by shemme

I don’t think that Bryan meant that MC readers don’t like to be challenged or that readers never get to make decisions for themselves as to what is good or bad, upsetting or enlightening.

From what I know about these publications, every magazine has its own voice, audience and personality. Utne is just as he described it: an anti-establishment, against the grain, provocative, forward-thinking magazine. Motorcycle Classics is for your nostalgic, born-again youth, carefree reader and rider. Natural Home is for eco-chic readers who care about style and sustainability. Mother Earth News is for the DIY, agriculture-literate crowd. These “communities of readers” have a shared goal of getting people to go green/ride a bike/plant a garden/challenge the norm, etc. The magazines DO get more readers by featuring easy steps, like top 10 ways to (fill in the blank) coupled with more in-depth pieces for people who are more of the “dark green” shade.

As an editor at a niche green publication, it IS my job to attract people who are on the fringes of green, but what’s more important is to keep the people I have (my community of readers) loyal to my cause. It is those people who get the word out after reading something that the magazine has put out for the public. We draw in the best of the best, and the best go out and spread the word. The truth IS in these magazines—but we can’t make people read the truth. We can only hope that a “light green” Earthling is attracted by something we put on the cover—and you can bet that we survey it/test it again and again.


Comment by kimwallace

Ouch, an unsigned post- looks like I get 5% docked off my participation….wages?

Bryan- Thanks so much for jumping in; it’s great to have a second chance to pick your brain on this issue; your talk was very compelling and thought-provoking.

I’d also like to say that I’m being a bit unfair; all sectors of the media have roles to play, and expecting niche magazines to deliver (non-topical and universal) truth is unrealistic.

However, this discussion alights on important issues: Where is the line between media and entertainment? How do you inform people about pressing global issues without aggressive alienation(i.e. my earlier post?) or manipulation(umm…”stealth” tactics?)? Why am I so obsessed with unnecessary semicolons?

-John Kuhn

Comment by genghiskuhn

On a side note, I applaud your use of tags, esp. “sexyback.” People always Google that. 🙂 Not sure the Google spider is going to crawl your page and give you many relevancy points, though. But who needs that?! Haha.


Comment by kimwallace

Brian did bring up the subject of getting new readers. You have to sort of prime a market, (farmers) and then start a magazine for that community.
However, not everyone is ready. Not everyone on the NON-green fence is ready for a green magazine. But as a journalist, trying to find a green story that deals with the values your readers care about can and is being done.


What DMB fan wouldn’t switch to cloth diapers after reading this?

Adam Bowman

Comment by acbowman

Sorry, I misspelled Bryan’s name. And I can’t go back to edit my comment. So please accept my apology Bryan.

Adam Bowman

Comment by acbowman

Manipulation? Too strong of a word. I’m just saying, slip ’em a little zinger every now and then, see how they respond or maybe they won’t. How does anyone know until they try? A little 1/2 pager or 1 page zing here and there, it would be such a tiny percent of the overall magazine…but it would get those who might not ever be exposed to those ideas the opportunity to have a look. They can always just turn the page, it’s up to them. If 99.9% of the publication is giving them what they always expect, will that 0.1% really make them never pick it up again?

Is it really too risky to just give it a try?

Sarah H

Comment by shemme

Adam, I agree and I also remember what he said about a farm magazine. Sure, the non-green/light-green people might not be ready for a full-fledged green magazine, but why not give them little bits of green in the publications they might already be reading and of course, those tidbits would need to be framed within the values of the mag’s audience.

My entire post on the Death of Environmentalism was about about reframing around values… whether it’s a reader, a community, etc.


Comment by shemme

What a great string!

I believe we do more, here, to bring environmental awareness and alternative, progressive ideas to the fore than any other media company on the planet. It’s a privilege. We earn that privilege by creating compelling and attractive media – media that are highly valued by their consumers. As soon as that value slips, even a little, in the mind of the consumer the readers go away and all you have is a rosy view of history.

I wouldn’t mourn the decline of the media behemoths of yesteryear. The aggregated power of today’s diverse media landscape is greater by far, and the New York Times is learning a lot, these days, from Slate, Matt Drudge and, for better or worse, Arianna Huffington. During the decades when the big newspaper and the three networks dominated, we were acutely aware that they covered the news in lockstep. Very few dissenting voices were heard.

As journalists, we don’t accomplish much unless we have an audience. Today we can economically serve audiences much smaller than we could back in the days of BIg Print. That’s very cool. But we still need to make our media succeed as businesses if we want to make a significant impact.

So, first, we must serve the audience. Oh, yeah, and there must BE an audience.

Both our kids were born at home and cloth-diapered. 😉

– Bryan

Comment by Bryan Welch

P.s. to Sarah: Have you picked up Utne Reader? I think you might like it. I don’t think we can be accused of taking no risks. Also for those of you interested, visit the Mother website and look through the coverage of global issues over the past 38 years.

Comment by Bryan Welch

[…] We should think of a snappy name like the, “Statistical Assessment Service.” And then get ourselves out there to be the faces and voices of the environmental, or green, or whatever name we are now movement. That is how we get the little zingers that Sarah was talking about in her comments on John’s post, “Niche Media’s Green Obligations?“ […]

Pingback by The Game « J500/ES624 Media & The Environment

Have you looked at the magazine rack in the grocery store lately? Mary-Kate was trying to break up Heath and Jen, Britney’s preggers again and Cosmo knows secrets about your man that you don’t.

1. People open to The Truth probably don’t search in magazines first.

2. Mother Earth News (whose easy acronym spells MEN, which used in this sentence turns it into cyber-yelling stereotyping) would probably not be my first target when pointing fingers about convenient reporting.

Your overuse of semicolons can rival my incessant (and sentence-rupturing) parenthetical asides.

Comment by Sonya

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: