At its birth in Chicago almost 50 years ago, Toward Freedom was a modest three-page mimeographed newsletter. Yet, it took on a daunting task: to correct the distorted coverage of world affairs that focused virtually all discussion on Superpower rivalry and the East-West struggle for world rule. Clearly, it wasn’t the best of times. The first hydrogen bomb had just been detonated on a tiny Pacific atoll, and McCarthy hysteria was taking hold in the US. Yet founder/editor William B. Lloyd and others could see past crisis and colonialism. Inevitably, they believed, the world was moving “toward freedom.”
In the 1950s, most major news publications Ñ TV was in its infancy then – ignored the developing countries. But TF chronicled their struggles and progress. For example, it was the only publication in the US to provide detailed coverage of the historic Bandung Conference that launched the Non-Aligned Movement in 1955. During the troubled transition of the Belgian Congo (later Zaire, and now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) to independence in the early 1960s, TF’s reports won popular acclaim while raising the ire of mining company executives whose interests were threatened.
As times changed, the emphasis shifted to neo-colonialism, the economic challenges of independence, and nonviolent peacemaking strategies. Bill Lloyd also emerged as a pioneer in the communication revolution, promoting the use of satellites as a tool for development and peace. Long before the emergence of the Internet, he called for “a new structure commensurate with today’s technological advances,” noting that “world communications are as important to the future of world society as the nervous system is to the human body.”
Today, the challenges facing small publications are even greater. There are countless sources of news, and audiences around the world can be reached instantaneously. News consumers crave thoughtful insights, but expect them fast and frequently. Meanwhile, most corporate coverage continues to reinforce negative stereotypes. Despite world-shaking changes and the emergence of a global consciousness, dominant news sources offer as “fact” a heavily edited, often myopic, and largely distorted vision – the world as its worst, from the perspective of the dominant “first world.”
The TF board has grappled with these problems for several years. Complicating the picture, this publication is the main project of a small non-profit organization, dependent on private contributors and subscriptions in an increasingly competitive environment. Although our Website allows TF to reach thousands of additional readers in more than 60 countries, this hasn’t altered the basic dynamic. Sustainability remains an illusive goal, and the publication’s reach is not nearly what we think its mission and content deserve.
Last year, we considered suspension of the print edition, but found sufficient support to continue. Meanwhile, we launched the Independent Media Convergence Project to assess the challenges, forge new connections, and find a path to the future. More recently, the Board of Directors decided to publish at least through 2001, as TF enters its 50th year and concrete steps are taken to create a more sustainable vehicle for progressive world news.
During the coming months, a serious attempt will be made to launch a new commercial venture that is multi-media in nature, progressive in focus, and both locally and globally linked. As a recent report from the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy (NCRP) notes, media activists are often forced to choose between building community-based media or sacrificing local ties in order to influence national media culture. “Independent media without a mooring in the lives of everyday people has the potential to be nothing more than a punditocracy of progressives,” writes NCRP staffer Neil Carlson.
Thus, our goal is to link the “local” with the “global” through a media enterprise that has strong regional roots, but offers consistent, progressive, high-quality coverage of world events – possibly every week and even more often on-line. If the legal and structural issues can be resolved, potential investors and small stakeholders will be approached. Working from our New England base, such a venture would likely include a mass marketed print edition, an interactive web presence that provides daily news and aggressive, state-of-the art e-commerce, distribution of progressive radio programming, and the capacity to provide streaming video. If you want to play a role in this new project, particularly as a possible investor, let us know
If all this comes to pass, Toward Freedom may change. But the main intention is to ensure that the important stories it publishes reach a substantially larger audience. In the meantime, we’ll celebrate the publication’s golden anniversary year by offering glimpses of its impressive history, honoring its traditions through our ongoing coverage, and working toward a new incarnation that responds to the challenges of a new century and a revolutionary new media era.