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Lessons of the Sinclair Battle

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, October 26 2004

Jon Stahl reflects on the victory of "a decentralized network of citizens and media activists [that] took on the 'old media' network of Sinclair Broadcasting" and draws some interesting lessons:

1. Don’t agonize over which tactics are best – try ‘em all and continually report back on what seems to be working. In this fight, we quickly figured out that going after advertisers worked well.

2. Use technology tools to quickly aggregate information and make it available to everyone. In this case, one person put together a quick, simple database where folks could report in on Sinclair advertisers. This allowed a massive, distributed boycott to take shape overnight.

3. All of this stuff is *way* easier when you can leverage already-existing media interest. But you can amplify your voice through the blogosphere.

4. You can win. So fight.

Not only was there already-existing media interest, there was a lot of activist energy available since many people saw Sinclair's original declared intention to show an anti-Kerry propaganda film, falsely labeled "news", as an outrageous abuse of its license to use the public airwaves. And, while lots of individual sites and groups played a role in organizing a boycott of Sinclair and pressuring its advertisers, it's vital to note that this is a victory without a individual hero (unless you want to count Nick Davis, the "concerned citizen" who created the Sinclair Boycott page, which experienced over 300,000 unique visitors in its first week of operation). Sort of like Seattle, 1999, only playing out in the media-sphere rather than in the streets.

Stahl is one of a circle of organizers rooted in the environmental movement (people like Marty Kearns, a PDF contributing editor, and Alex Steffen and Gideon Rosenblatt) who are doing some really interesting work figuring out what network-centric political organizing might look like, and how it may upset all kinds of apple carts...