This is a guest post from Harry Weisbren, who was an intern at the Center for American Progress and then a Campus Rep for Campus Progress.
I'm quite the ardent proponent of "media advocacy," as I find understanding this dynamic to be crucial for reconciling our current political landscape. Specifically, and frankly, the core principle I see is that media itself has an inherent role in the salience of any kind of advocacy, and I find that there are massive benefits for those who recognize that this is true -- and act accordingly.
Bringing this down to earth: in practice, I see media advocacy as simply employing communication tools (i.e. media) that amplify arguments, passing them along to an audience in order to persuade. This is certainly not a new concept, as this framework is as old as the written word, but the rapidly evolving capacity of our tools to do this is unprecedented.
Now, the rub with this depiction is that media created by even purportedly objective sources can be considered advocacy, with the caveat that it does persuade (even if it is unintentionally). The impact of choosing what issues to promote, or which sources to lend credibility to, can not be overstated here. Even if the media outlet is attempting to be an objective source, their passing along news of the advocacy -- while highlighting certain issues and promoting specific sources -- has a large persuasive power on its own. The key is that media empowers the advocacy when this happens favorably, as it acts as a vehicle for the arguments to persuade a wider audience.
In this light, the immense power of media advocacy within online channels and social media in general becomes that much more clear as well. Outside media outlets do not need to be solely relied upon as favorable vehicles for the advocacy, and the open and interactive nature of social media fosters dialogues where monologues would otherwise reign. This not only enriches the debate, but also simultaneously spreads it to new audiences merely by publishing the arguments within it. In social media, when you make an argument you are also starting the vehicle for passing it along, and the advocacy is not reliant on media gatekeepers discerning which issues and voices deserve to be heard.
Privileging the distribution of an argument just as much as its production was a principle I first learned about during my online communications internship at the Center for American Progress. One brown bag lunch with CAP's President and CEO, John Podesta, was especially impactful for me, as he explained to us how and why the think tank was specifically designed to provide an equal emphasis to both policy and communication. This was because CAP's founders recognized the decreased utility of policy papers that few would read, and realized that preventing them from being lost on dusty book shelves was just as important as writing the papers themselves. With that mentality, they developed and employed innovative communications tools and strategies to make sure that as wide and influential an audience as possible could be persuaded by their arguments, actively engaging media of all kinds as a part and parcel of their advocacy itself.
Likewise, media advocacy means that making sure arguments are heard is just as important as making them. Even if it is a brilliant argument, what does it matter if no one hears it?
So, how about recognizing that the creation and distribution of media containing your argument is inherently advocacy. Act accordingly, embrace media advocacy.