The Feministing Five: #Newsfail with Allison Kilkenny and Jamie Kilstein

Allison Kilkenny (c) Kevin Allen Caby and Jamie Kilstein (c) Jakub Moser

Allison Kilkenny (c) Kevin Allen Caby and Jamie Kilstein (c) Jakub Moser

Allison Kilkenny and Jamie Kilstein, founders and stars of Citizen Radio, have taken yet another step into the media ecosystem. They have recently released their newest work, #Newsfail, a book that critiques why mainstream media continues to fail citizen consumers. Allison and Jamie’s hilarious work gives example after example about why we should expect more from our media, whether it’s why rape culture apologists shouldn’t be on air or why the LGBT movement should move beyond just securing marriage equality.  #Newsfail mixes in high level analysis with every-day humor, once again proving that developing a critical lens can be great fun. Don’t take our word for it; seriously, pick up your copy soon!

We spoke to Allison and Jamie about their new book, their past work, and what’s coming up next for news media. To be sure, we also shared some great laughs throughout our conversation.

And now without further ado, the Feministing Five with Allison Kilkenney and Jamie Kilstein!

Suzanna Bobadilla: Thank you so much for speaking with us today. I was so excited to read through #Newsfail and particularly enjoyed your feminist chapter. I actually laughed out loud when I came across “You Should be Able to Tell the Difference Between Your Media and Your Uninformed, Drunk Uncle.” Can you share more about what you mean? 

Allison Kilkenny: The media is not great with talking about rape culture. Oftentimes the blame for rape is placed entirely on the victim. The example we give in the book is of CNN after the Steubenville rape case where all of the sympathy was given to the rapists, the football players. It’s hard to differentiate between your terrible relatives who are very likely to blame rape victims and the serious news pundits. And it really shouldn’t be like that.

Jamie Kilstein: It shouldn’t be that difficult to not side with a rapist. You would think when you go into your job interview at CNN they would be like, “Okay what school did you go to? Great. What beat are you going to cover? Great. Okay, when you are live on TV you’re not going to side with a rapist, right? Perfect.” There is still such institutional sexism in media, as sites like yours and Twitter point out. And not just from Fox News. Some of the most sexist hate mail we got has also been from the Left.

SB: You both founded and continue to run the independent program, “Citizen Radio.” How did you make a transition from your broadcast to this book? 

AK: We had a lot of failed pitch meetings where we met with other publishing companies and they wanted us to write about something we weren’t passionate about. They asked us, “Can you take down Glenn Beck?” We thought he’s an idiot and was on his way out anyway, so we really don’t have to do that nor do we want to.

Eventually we then went to Simon & Schuster, and we met our editor Sarah Knight who is wonderful. We were really burnt out and we did a half-ass job at pitching an idea for a book. Jamie had his suitcase because he was going somewhere and I was in my pjs.

We checked out, but we told Sarah that we have this audience of young people who feel disenfranchised by the mainstream media. We had a long conversation and by the end of it we started to come up with the idea of #Newsfail. Sarah is so wonderful because she lets us be ourselves. I kept waiting for her to email me and say, “You can’t say that about Palestine. You can’t say that rape culture.” But that never happened, she was so supportive the entire time.

JK: We also had an all female team at Simon & Schuster, women who had to put up with a lot. Anytime they had press for us, they would say, “Good news! We got Thought Catalog!” We had to say, “Can’t do it! Because they are transphobic, sorry!” We were shutting down press saying like, “That guy was racist in 1980, can’t do it!”

But Alison was right and gave you the nice version. Ali, I had my suitcase because I was training my brother for a fight–can you please include that in the interview so I look cool? We went in there saying, “Jamie has been getting hate mail for critiquing rape culture. We have gone on Conan critiquing drones. We want to write about all of these things that people get mad at us for. The bonus is we are going to take a shit over all the news shows that your authors go on to sell books.” Simon & Schuster still said yes, and they still backed us, and believed in us.

Writing the book is easy because it was doing what Alison and I do everyday whether we are recording or not, which is talking shit about assholes.

SB: Developing a critical lens is an important tool for both feminists and media creators alike. How did you cultivate your own critical media lens? 

AK: We discovered Democracy Now! when we were living out of our car. We were traveling around the country  for a couple years. That was a really eye opening experience because you hear a bunch of stuff there that you won’t hear anywhere else. It was  the first time we heard of alternative media. That’s when we first thought that we could do something of our own!

JK: For me it was Democracy Now! as well. As a cis guy, I thought that I was a feminist just because I was pro-choice. That’s the title of one of the chapters in the book, “You’re not a Feminist Just Because You’re Pro-Choice Douchebag.” Once I got on Twitter, Twitter feminism was so eye opening. I thought street harassment was just something that construction workers did, but then I learned otherwise. I learned about why things like the “friend-zone” are problematic. I did that stuff in high school, but again I was 18, 19. Twitter and different feminist outlets showed me that as a not-woman-hating-asshole there were still tons of things I didn’t know about. Now Ali and I try to amplify that as much as possible.

SB: What are you hopes for your book? 

AK: I would be really happy if people who read our book became more savvy when they watched the news, if they saw #newsfails of their own and then consider why that is a news fail, and if they supported alternative media that has less #newsfails. That would be a victory–not just for us but for everyone. We deserve better media and the only way we are going to get it is if we support alternative media.

JK: I would love the book to do well because it’s not fair that all of these bigoted, homophobic, sexist, and racist conservatives get to the top of the charts because they have their bigoted, homophobic, sexist churches buy something like 10,000 copies and we have to go on the three TV shows where we haven’t yet burned the bridge. We try to be funny, self-deprecating, and self-aware in the book and on Citizen Radio, and that’s how we got so many people to change their minds. I’m hoping that the people who do read it change their mind on something. Maybe they will be stop being so shitty towards women, or they will stop eating meat for climate change or animals.

SB: You are stranded on a desert island, you get to take with you one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick? 

AK: I would probably take peanut butter because I love it. Drink–water would be a very practical thing to bring to a desert island. My feminist, I’d bring Jamie and bell hooks!

JK: I would bring a vegan pizza! (Ali, you were thinking longevity? I was thinking last meal.) I would bring coffee, which would dehydrate me more. My feminist would be Alison and bell hooks as well!

Suzy 1 

  Suzanna Bobadilla hopes you jump in a pile of leaves this weekend. 

San Francisco, CA

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist. According to legend, she first publicly proclaimed that she was a feminist at the age of nine in her basketball teammate's mini-van. Things have obviously since escalated. After graduating from Harvard in 2013, she became a founding member of Know Your IX's ED ACT NOW. She is curious about the ways feminists continue to use technology to create social change and now lives in San Francisco. She believes that she has the sweetest gig around – asking bad-ass feminists thoughtful questions for the publication that has taught her so much. Her views, bad jokes and all, are her own. For those wondering, if she was stranded on a desert island and had to bring one food, one drink, and one feminist, she would bring chicken mole, a margarita, and her momma.

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist.

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