History and Mission
The Progressive Media Project is an affiliate of The Progressive, Inc., the nonprofit educational institution that also publishes The Progressive magazine.
In 1993, Allen Hunter, then of the Havens Center at the University of Wisconsin, and Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive, came up with the idea for the Progressive Media Project. Recognizing the imbalances in the mainstream media, they decided to launch the Progressive Media Project as a way of diversifying and democratizing the dialogue on the op-ed pages of our nation's newspapers.
With crucial early help from the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Progressive Media Project began to assign, edit, and distribute 200 op-ed commentaries every year. These would get published at first in four or five papers and increasingly now in ten papers each.
From the very beginning, the Progressive Media Project has tried to promote diversity on the op-ed pages. In 1996, we reconceptualized part of work under the rubric of "Voices of Diversity," which now accounts for about 75 percent of the pieces we distribute. Each week, we send out an op-ed by an African American and by a Latino/a. And every month, we send out op-ed pieces by Asian Americans, Arab Americans, Native Americans, persons with disabilities, LGBTs, and women.
The Progressive Media Project also believes strongly in building media capacity for nonprofits. We hold four or five op-ed writing clinics each year for foundation grantees and nonprofit staff. These clinics empower participants with the confidence and the toolkit they'll need to write op-eds and to communicate their message better.
The Progressive Media Project seeks to amplify voices of social justice, end discrimination, democratize the viewpoints offered to the American public, and bring about a more just and equitable society. Working with people and nonprofits underrepresented in mainstream media, we provide the training, professional support, resources and infrastructure needed to help generate nationwide dialog on critical issues, reflecting underreported perspectives and marginalized communities. Media diversity is critical to a healthy democracy.
The Progressive Media Project distributes most of its op-eds through the McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. The Progressive Media Project tracks placements in newspapers, handles reprints (online and print media), fields reader response and media follow up (tv/radio interview requests, etc.) and provides ongoing editorial support for participating nonprofits.
Op-ed writing is an extremely efficient and productive way to build media competence, strengthen organizational capacity and promote social change:
- Op-eds are read by both the general public and policy makers alike;
- A well-written and strategically placed op-ed can reach millions of American readers simultaneously, in small rural and large urban markets;
- Op-eds provide issue visibility for people suffering from mainstream media neglect and democratize news content for the general public;
- Op-eds are used as authoritative content by policy-makers, issue analysts, other media, think tanks, educational institutions, advocacy and nonprofit organizations, ethnic and niche media outlets, and foundations;
- Op-eds enjoy a very long shelf life with online reprints. Moreover, our op-eds are regularly picked up by some of the world's largest mainstream news sites, including the New York Daily News, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Newsweek, and news aggregators like Real Clear News and World News;
- Op-ed writing is not difficult to learn &emdash; in fact, it is almost tailor-made for overworked and underfunded nonprofits. However, for maximum impact, would-be activist writers need basic training in professional journalism standards, editorial support, access to effective distribution platforms and ongoing assignment opportunities. Once this training is completed, activists are able to pass on the training to other agency staff members and volunteers, further extending the project's reach. This support and expansive reach are what make the Progressive Media Project a uniquely valuable media and advocacy ally for social justice groups.
In 2008 we placed 211 op-eds in newspapers around the country. The average number of newspaper placements was 10.5. The total readership for commentaries was 241,342,224 and on any given day in 2008 over 660,000 people were reading an op-ed of the Progressive Media Project.