The People's Press Project

As members of the People Escaping Poverty Project and a local paper called the High Plains Reader respectively, Duke and Cindy Gomez-Schempp were well known for their dedication to the Fargo-Moorhead community even before their founding of the People’s Press Project (PPP) in 2010. They realized, however, that efforts to empower the community could only go so far without media produced by and for the people. Indeed, despite being the largest metropolitan area between Spokane and Minneapolis, Fargo-Moorhead had few outlets through which the community could express its own cultural identity and insert its voice into the local political process. In fact, local government was so unaccountable that officials would often neglect attending local board meetings where their presence was required. For these reasons, Duke and Cindy knew that community members needed to look beyond normal avenues for media access: “We’ve been spoon-fed what we think of as our options.”

Then in 2006, Cindy attended a training session held by the Center for Media Justice in New York City and was inspired to bring the power of independent media to her own community. Four years later, that dream culminated in the founding of the PPP, an organization dedicated to addressing issues of media justice by providing low-cost media training and collaborating with local institutions to produce local media. Already, the PPP has brought accountability to local government by making videos of all meetings of the Fargo School Board and Fargo County Commission available online. Perhaps more importantly in the long run, the PPP is training individuals to become citizen-reporters who question the status quo. In Cindy’s words, the PPP has educated people to the fact that “We have power in the media personally.”

In its short existence, the PPP has also stressed the need for the voices of people of color to be heard by working closely with groups representing the Latino, African, Native American and LGBTQ community in Fargo-Moorhead. One of its most successful collaborations was with the group Last Real Indians, a group dedicated to reporting on stories of concern to indigenous communities both in the US and around the world. As LRI’s fiscal agent and media consultant, the PPP helped LRI increase their number of contributors from four to fifty and diversified their web content to consist not only of blog entries, but also videos, vlogs (video blogs entries), audio podcasts, and webinars. Thanks to this restructuring, which culminated in a site re-launch in January of 2013, LRI’s reach has gone from tens of thousands of readers to hundreds of thousands of readers in over thirty countries. Now, LRI original stories such as the one on North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer’s verbal assault on Melissa Merrick, the director of Spirit Lake Victim Assistance, are regularly picked up by national and even international news outlets that in the past rarely covered stories relating to indigenous communities.

Within the next year, the PPP’s radio station, KPPP, will usher in a new era of community media ownership for Fargo-Moorhead. Given its motto, “Adding local color to your airwaves”, it is no surprise that KPPP is conducting extensive outreach to involve local groups in producing programming and will be broadcasting in Spanish as well as in English. Given the PPP’s experience working with print, audiovisual, and online media, KPPP will also feature innovative multi-media features such as online video feeds of bands performing live for the station. The PPP’s vision for the station, then, is for it to be a space where members of the community can collaborate with each other to produce all kinds of media and not just radio. Like one of its inspirations, the Main Street Project’s Twin Cities Community Radio, KPPP’s ultimate mission is to establish a resource that will enrich the community for generations. If Duke and Cindy’s optimism is any indication, the community is heading in the right direction: “We’re changing the social landscape of Fargo/Moorhead.”