Just a few days ago, Seattle non-profit Reel Grrls released a video thanking supporters for stepping up and donating to the local youth media production house during their current dust-up with former sponsor, Comcast. Ever since the firestorm broke out two weeks ago in which Comcast threatened to yank $18,000 in summer funding from the tiny non-profit, Reel Grrls has since raised over $23,000 in private donations after the story garnered nationwide attention including write-ups in the Washington Post.
It’s clearly being perceived as media justice victory for the ages, as a local group focused on teaching media literacy to youth dukes it out with a media giant and gets the upper hand. For those that weren’t following the story, on May 12, Lila Kitaeff, technical director at Reel Grrls, sent out a tweet criticizing Comcast’s hiring of FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker.
“OMG! @FCC Commissioner Baker voted 2 approve Comcast/NBC merger & is now lving FCC for A JOB AT COMCAST?!?”
The tweet in question was by no means offensive — just about everybody was criticizing the hiring move — but it apparently irked those at Comcast. The rest of the story has been thoroughly covered as Steve Kipp, a Comcast spokesman threatened to ax Reel Grrls funding, and once it became a national story, Comcast backtracked and pledged to support Reel Grrls after all. Mallory Graham, executive director at Reel Grrls decided they’d be better off severing ties with Comcast and searching for other funding options. It was a bold move, but they’ve now exceeded the amount of money they turned down from Comcast by a whopping $5,000. Several phone calls to Steve Kipp and other Comcast representatives for comment went unreturned.
Some people have questioned if Reel Girls should have kept the Comcast money, accepted their apology, and essentially continued doing good things with corporate money. They still would have notched a media justice victory and maintained a sponsor with a steady stream of cash. Despite the national media storm which clearly made things worse, even Kitaeff admits that up until recently, Comcast actually wasn’t a bad partner.
“We did have a really positive relationship being funded by Comcast for the last three years. The issue for us came when we felt like we weren’t able to express our own values and they decided to take punitive measures against us.”
Two of the actual reel grrls who appear in the 41 second YouTube video which went out May 19th and subsequently caught the attention of the national media seem to feel the same way when they recently chatted with Flip The Media about their feelings on the dust-up in general.
“They had been a good partner for us in the past, they really had,” says 18-year-old volunteer Julia Levy. “This kind of stuff hadn’t happened before. They’d come to our screenings at the end of the summer program. They’d gotten us in touch with other organizations as well and made sure we were connected. Sometimes I sort of rolled my eyes that we had a corporate sponsor but we’re a small nonprofit. We take what we get in order to run our programs.”
Levy laughed as she admitted that this experience has taught her a lot about the darker side of corporate media. She said she still doesn’t understand how things shifted so fast. “It’s shocking, after all that goodwill and good faith they showed us, that they turned nasty. It didn’t seem like the people we knew from Comcast.”
Naomi Nelson, 20, of Seattle who also volunteers with Reel Grrls echoed Levy’s point.
“That actually made it an easy way to break up. It’s one of those relationships that isn’t the best and you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. It was an easy scape goat. I’m not disappointed they’re not a part of our lives anymore. I am thankful of the money they gave us.”
Both girls will be attending Reel Grrls’ summer apprenticeship program which runs from July 5 – August 18. In a related note, Kitaeff says now that the staff and volunteers of Reel Grrls have experienced what amounted to a corporate bullying job over a tweet, they’ve decided shift this year’s summer program focus to studying issues related to free speech.