Until very recently, I was unaware of journalist Laura Flanders and her eponymous PBS show, which I heard was currently being broadcast out of Sullivan County, NY. A little digging online led me to …
Until very recently, I was unaware of journalist Laura Flanders and her eponymous PBS show, which I heard was currently being broadcast out of Sullivan County, NY. A little digging online led me to www.lauraflanders.org, where I learned more.
“‘The Laura Flanders Show,’ on public television and radio,” the website informed me, “investigates the drivers of racism, sexism, and environmental destruction, and examines alternative systems and policies that could, and do, exist with a view to shifting the economy, culture, and political terrain.”
Focusing on in-depth discussion about racial, gender, economic and environmental justice, award-winning journalist Laura Flanders invites activists, artists, journalists, scholars and impacted community members into conversation about the strategies they’re using to build a better future.
Flanders’ weekly broadcast goes out to 300 public television stations (PBS) across the country and serves as the anchor for a YouTube channel and podcast, which have a worldwide audience.
When she is not on location in various parts of the world working with field producers, Flanders can be found broadcasting from her base of operations, which in 2020 moved from New York City to her cabin in Smallwood, NY. The Laura Flanders show is now produced via computer technology, and she is joined online by guests from all over the world.
Having learned that a fundraiser for the Laura Flanders show was being held on Sunday, October 16, I reached out and requested an interview. I sat down with Flanders recently to discuss her PBS show and the motivation behind shifting her focus from an urban to a rural landscape.
Jonathan Charles Fox: How did you wind up doing your show from Sullivan County?
Laura Flanders: I’ve had a cabin here for 30 years, which my partner [choreographer Elizabeth Streb] and I have been coming up to for summers and weekends.
In March of 2020, [because of COVID-19] I moved up here full time, while Elizabeth went back and forth, but I’m here.
Before COVID, I recorded the show at the City of New York University television studios. Once [the pandemic] hit, we started doing shows online via Zoom, but I’m an investigative journalist, and after only a few weeks, I got very curious about how COVID was affecting Sullivan County and this community.
I reached out to Sabrina Artel from WJFF’s “Trailer Talk.” Sabrina and I had been friends for years, but had never worked together, so we went out into the community as a team. I think ours was the first COVID-19 coverage on public television and radio that was outside of a major urban area.
Jonathan Charles Fox: What did you learn about the county that you were unaware of until that cultural shift?
Laura Flanders: I learned so much. I didn’t know there was a foie gras factory up in the hills. I didn’t know what life was like for factory workers in South Fallsburg, or dairy workers in Liberty; I didn’t know any of that. Like so many people, I’d been a weekender.
Our show is all about “How do you have impact?” and that was part of the reason [for] getting more local. It enabled me to see how policy gets made—how “the pudding gets mixed,” as they say—at the local level. I felt it was important for the work that I do. You can see it more closely in a community like this and in these times, where our media is reflecting back to us such a divided country. Living in a place with such a mix of people, people who have their problems, but somehow have to figure out how to deal with each other—I thought was important… to me and my audience.
Jonathan Charles Fox: And how has your audience responded to that?
Laura Flanders: We’re in our third season, broadcast on 300 public television stations, and that’s all over the country, in red states and blue states. I think that has something to do with the fact that we’re reporting locally and not from an urban center. Our reporting has less of a New York City feel.
I also think that my consciousness has changed. I’ve learned more about how change happens locally by living here than I did in the city.
Our show is not about local government business, but it is about how change is made in the worlds of arts, politics and economics and local, we believe, is the most accessible to the most people; the least-well covered. And if we’re trying to communicate to people that change can be made where we live, I’m finding it particularly rich to be living in a place where people are involved with that. You want to have a say? You get to have a say.
Jonathan Charles Fox: I too, have learned that we have to participate; we can’t just sit back and wait for the change to magically happen.
Laura Flanders: I think that’s where our independent media come in. For better or worse, and I would say worse—corporate media, where the most money is, spend their time directing our attention to the folks in the White House who, let’s face it, are not responsible for all of the ills and negative things in our lives. Most change in this country happens from the bottom up. Government learns from the people, not the other way around.
Jonathan Charles Fox: Why does the Laura Flanders show need a fundraiser?
Laura Flanders: Good question. Public television is a fantastic venue. It is non-corporate media, brought to you on local stations that were written into law in the ‘30s and again in the ‘60s. What wasn’t written into law at those times was the funding for the programming. It’s all privately funded, with the exception of a few programs. Everything else is funded by viewers and donors. Ours is totally viewer-funded. If you see programming you like, you must support that programming. If you think your local station is doing a great job, support it. PBS is a not-for-profit corporation, so any contribution one makes is tax deductible.
The Laura Flanders Show fundraiser takes place Sunday, October 16 from 4 p.m. to 7 pm. Sponsored by Catskill Provisions and Catskill Mountainkeeper, along with WJFF and the Hurleyville Performing Arts Centre, the fundraiser will feature a live taping and book signing with Bill McKibben of 350.org and a performance by Taína Asili. For tickets and information, visit www.lauraflanders.org.
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