A firestorm broke out yesterday between cable giant Comcast and Seattle's Reel Grrls , a nonprofit that provides summer camps and workshops to girls interested>"/>
A firestorm broke out yesterday between cable giant Comcast and Seattle's Reel Grrls, a nonprofit that provides summer camps and workshops to girls interested in media production.
It started last week when Reel Grrls questioned the company's hiring of Meredith Attwell Baker, a member of the Federal Communications Commission who voted to approve the Comcast/NBC Universal merger. In a tweet, @reelgrrls said "OMG! @FCC Commissioner Baker voted 2 approve Comcast/NBC merger & is now lving FCC for A JOB AT COMCAST?!?" A regional Comcast VP who read the message told Reel Grrls yesterday it was going to revoke its funding of the nonprofit's summer programs--which has amounted to $18,000 a year for four years.
(For more details, you may want to check out an overview from the Daily Weekly here.)
Reel Grrls cried foul, and attracted the attention of the likes of The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. The nonprofit enlisted a pair of its students to create a video in which they provided their "side of the story." In the video, the teens respond to Baker's hiring by saying "I was all OMG! That's not right, so I tweeted about it," and to the loss of funding by saying "I thought you wanted me to speak my mind?"
Comcast apologized, and promised not to revoke its funding. Reel Grrls executive director Malory Graham says the parties are meeting on June 1. In the meantime, @reelgrrls has sent out more than 20 tweets thanking tweeters for "bringing attention to the Comcast Story!"
But it wasn't a student who sent out a tweet, it was a Reel Grrls staffer. As much as Reel Grrls wants to spin this as a story about a media conglomerate smacking down a pack of kids, it's really about adults taking money from Comcast with one hand while the other criticizes the methods through which their benefactor obtained the funds. Of course Reel Grrls has the right to say whatever they like about Comcast. But if they believe their money's dirty, why is Reel Grrls taking it?
In an interview, Graham expressed concern not just with Comcast's hiring of Baker, but with the kind of media consolidation that the NBC/Comcast deal represents: "Media consolidation is definitely an issue that we feel threatens media in a democracy."
Yet even though Comcast has been, in Graham's words, "a great philanthropic partner for us," she's never invited anyone from the company to Reel Grrls to discuss media ownership with the students. But she things "that would be a fantastic thing for us to do right now."
In 2008, Brooke Noel and Sami Muilenburg, two students in the Reel Grrls Thesis Program, created an anti-consolidation documentary called Generation of Consolidation (below) that was released the following year, 2009. Graham said the staff watched the documentary in the Reel Grrls office this morning.
"Isn't it amazing that piece was made three years ago. It's so relevant. Nothing's really changed. The issue is still really prominent. Again, it's just important that we keep bringing it up in the media."
When asked if Reel Grrls would take Comcast's donations in the future, Malory said that would depend on what kind of a partnership Comcast would offer them. She also wants to "make sure that our organizational values are in alignment before we enter that partnership again."
Just don't expect Comcast to give back NBC for the privilege of donating money to Reel Grrls.