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Being on the other side: Why the world needs alternative media

I have spent literally 15 years of my life thinking about alternative media. And a part of this process is reflecting on mainstream media, ingesting their images and words, and trying to fuel my anger into a process that is empowering and participatory. When I plan interviews or stories, I think about voice and representation. And when I interview community organizers, I am always conscious of making sure they don't feel used after the interview.

So -- it is weird to go from this role to another role of providing interviews to mainstream journalists. In the last six weeks, a group of folks from the Toronto Community Mobilization Network have been active with press conferences, interviews and responding to media requests. And suddenly, I found myself in front of the journalists I would sometimes mock. It is something I didn't really prepare for even though I have done a lot of communications for many organizations. Because the reality is that before the G20 stuff, no mainstream media really cared about rallies, workshops and lefty politics. When I began, I really thought I would mostly be working with alternative and community based media. But it turns out when a movement is demonized and sensationalist images of violence are used, they come out like zombies out of a sewer.

You suddenly go from this process of figuring out how to provide education, in-depth information and history to a process of sound bites and particular messaging that reaches out to audiences hearing about activism for the first time. I never thought I would be engaged in such a bizarre game where you reflect on their questions and have to gage whether they will back you in a corner and embarrass you and your comrades. And it is easy to forget that when you are doing anti-capitalist work, you will never get what you want with capitalist media.

Here are some main observations that I have noticed:

1. Yes, journalists do look that good in real life as they do on tv. Their make-up is caked on and their clothes have no movement to them. It's hard to be interviewed because you feel like pushing the camera
aside and giving the journalist a noogie to mess up their hair -- just to see their reaction.

2. There is absolutely no concern about history or context. Even if you voluntarily offer up the information about past struggles, you see their attention span drifting away.

3. They often confuse you with other South Asian women also doing media. Two weeks ago, I did three interviews where they thought I was another person. Even though we look nothing alike.

4. They really like to compliment you to butter you up before a humiliating experience. Whether it's assuring you that you look fine even if you have spinach in your teeth or calling you a "terrorist" and then asking for your personal number after, it reminded me of dating in high school.

5. I don't think they have interviewed many people with non-Western names given their confused look when I spell out my name to them. Or have seen my name spelled "Charmaine Kahn." I have thought about using an alias porn name just to play around with them. Like "Madam Slickbooty" or something.

So after many weeks of going home and feeling the ghost of Raymond Williams stand beside me shaking his head, I figure I will write these observations in the days to come. Only to remind me why the world needs alternative media.

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