Yesterday evening marked the official launch of GreenStone Media, a new national radio network "for women, by women." With powerhouses Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem serving on GreenStone's board, this looks like a wonderful day for feminists, indeed.
GreenStone promises to be "what is missing in talk today -- radio that is thought-provoking, emotionally involving, believable and trustworthy. Radio that talks with you, not at you." GreenStone took the unique approach of having Gloria Steinem host a conference call with a number of well-known women bloggers to help promote the concept that this radio network will be a two-way conversation. Steinem also gave the keynote address, titled Broadcasting: As If Women Mattered, at this year's The Conclave Learning Conference (a key conference for radio industry insiders). Her address is an interesting one and is well worth the read.
In her address, Steinem makes some surprising (at least to me) statements about women's interests: "Nine out of ten (women) said they want information about current events and issues – no topic ranked higher – and they also want humor; they want to laugh. They want information about health, about fitness, about relationships, about women in the news, and also – this is something they find virtually nowhere -- about how women live in other countries. How do those women handle many of the same things that women experience everywhere? Women wanted stories, stories and more stories. They also wanted to know what books and movies or worth their very scarce time. What do they want the least? Politics – because unfortunately, it has come to symbolize fighting -- and sports, because inaccurately, it has come to seem like “a guy thing.”"
I thought that the group might take this opportunity to reframe the political (and, for that matter, athletic) conversation. To make it so that talking about politics is not associated with Limbaugh-style confrontation. Instead, it seems, it's simply off the agenda. According to an article in Washington Business Journal, GreenStone President and CEO Susan Ness "says the company plans to add programming for every time segment and day of the week. The shows will steer away from politics and instead focus on issues such as faith, business, families and relationships. "The talk that typically appears on the AM radio tends to be harsh and confrontational, and that's not the kind of radio that women want to listen to," Ness says.""
It also struck me as a little strange that Steinem, of all people, seemed concerned in her keynote address that radio insiders not be put off by any feminist label: "I tell you all this about feminist not because good programming is about labels. On the contrary, it’s about information and humor and creating an on-air community, one that treats everybody with respect. I tell you this only as preventive medicine: Don’t let labels be used to keep you away from good programming – the programming most women want." And just in case any radio executives might still be hesitant about joining forces with arguable the country's best known feminist, she reaasures them, "I trust the intelligence of this audience to know that we aren’t going to burn bras."
The thing that struck me as most odd in the address, however, was that after a lengthy discussion of how women are ignored by mainstream radio, in spite of our earning power, education and lead role in major household purchases, one of her conclusions was this: "No wonder 91% of women are annoyed at the low level of ads and pitches directed at us."
Huh? What? I'm annoyed at ads, period. High level. Low level. They are all ads, trying to convince me to buy something I don't really need.
So then I thought I'd check out GreenStone's advertising policies because up to this point, I thought that it would be run along the lines of NPR. Suddenly the reading became even more interesting.
On the page designed for prospective advertisers, the network is described not as a place for women to be their "authentic selves" (as is described on the listener oriented page), but as "The Perfect Vehicle for Female-Oriented Brands". It describes how "GreenStone Media programs offer unparalleled advertising opportunities for people and products who are trying to reach the very desirable 25 to 54 year old women." They describe their approach: "We do it with powerful personalities with a sense of humor, big time guests, real world content, interactive talk about issues that women care about, and an approach that creates community: the best possible environment for female-targeted brands."
On the "Our Reach" page, they offer their advertisers access to their target market: "More than just radio, we’ll build brand awareness and drive sales with in-program product placement, guest experts, branded features, podcasts, and promotional campaigns -– on-air and on the web. These targeted efforts will bring your brand closer to the female audience than ever before."
On their page describing their Charter Sponsor Packages,they refer to an "Audience Database -- We know who our women are, where they live, what they like. . . and what they buy. Get product and logo placement, database research, targeted email, product sampling, and more." They offer these features: "Product Placement and Guest Experts -- Where appropriate, your products and experts will appear on our shows and in our content", "Sponsor Features -- Own a lifestyle feature: Parenting, relationships, beauty, entertainment, health, fashion, shopping, style, leisure, home, and more.", and "Long Form Commercials and Custom Vignettes -- Your brand becomes the star with audio content that entertains and sells your message."
And the final line, in bold, "GreenStone will deliver the women you want in a whole new way."
Yikes. Is it just me or is this a little unsettling?. I know that sometimes the end justifies the means and perhaps this is the game we play in order to get our issues on the agenda (Gail Evans, author of Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman is on the Board of Directors) but, wow, I've got to say this left me feeling a little weird. How can I be expected to have an open and honest conversation and to be my authentic self, knowing that somewhere out there a researcher at a consumer products company is mining my data to try to get me to buy more female-oriented products?
In fact, even in her keynote address, Steinem seems to be referring to how offering women what they wanted to hear can influence their purchases. She describes radio pioneer Mary Margaret McBride: "She ate food on air, could be lyrical about describing it, and became so trusted by listeners that advertisers forgave her for refusing to promote alcohol and cigarettes -- just as they now forgive Oprah for promoting products she actually likes." Cue radio industry audience chuckles.
I'd like to think that women are looking for ways to take an ownership role in the media and I don't kid myself that making a profit will not be high on the list of objectives. As more and more media consolidation is taking place, obtaining and maintaining ownership is critical to keeping the issues concerning women -- family, health, and yes, even politics -- on the agenda. But I just want to believe that the $3.1 million invested by Billie Jean King, Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem and Rosie O'Donnell, all strong and powerful women, might be used to do something other than "deliver women" to advertisers.
Ladies, I'm concerned. Please prove me wrong.