By: Bridget Vis
Most Miami University students know Justin Jeffre from his boy band days in 98 Degrees, but with the group on a self-imposed hiatus, Jeffre has found a new voice through his alternative perspective blog, The Cincinnati Beacon.
Jeffre grew up in Cincinnati. He attended high school at the School of Creative and Performing Arts in Over-the-Rhine with his pal Nick Lachey. Around this time the two got their first gig singing at King’s Island in the group The Avenues.
Jeffre still shutters with mentions of videos of him from those days.
“Please don’t show any of those,” he begged Miami journalism professor Annie Blair, who hosted the singer turned advocacy journalist in her class last Thursday.
While he was studying Political Science and History at the University of Cincinnati, Lachey contacted Jeffre about joining him in Los Angeles to form a new band with his brother Drew and former Kent University student Jeff Timmons. That band became 98 Degrees and they skyrocketed to fame after being signed by Motown records. In their six-year run, the Grammy-nominated group sold over nine million albums.
Nevertheless, It was Jeffre’s love for Cincinnati that led him down the path of activism once his singing days were over. He became intrigued with independent media like Democracy Now he told the issues that corporate-owned media was not covering, especially those affecting the city’s everyday citizens.
“The media pretends to be objective (in their news), but it isn’t,” said Jeffre. “They all share the values of the corporate leaders on top.”
Jeffre sited that there are only six large corporations that run nearly all of America’s media outlets. He said this hurts citizens because the country has diverse voices that are not reflected in the media.
“The real evil is trading access for information,” explained Jeffre. “Often journalists will be afraid to ask government officials hard questions for fear they will lose access to them.”
He also pointed out that too many voices following the same values of their corporation leads to a diversity gap of opinion. Even between the right and left parties there is no true debate, which does not allow proper discussions of important issues according to Jeffre.
This drew Jeffre into the political arena. He ran unsuccessfully for Cincinnati City Council in 2005 and 2007 earning 7,000 votes the second time without any more campaigning than yard signs.
After the political track, Jeffre decided to take on the corporate media of the world by launching the activist blog The Cincinnati Beacon with friends Michael Patton and Jason Happ (also known as the political blogger The Dean of Cincinnati) in 2007.
“I wanted to think globally, and act locally,” said Jeffre. “Freedom is participation and power, and journalism is a way to challenge those in power.”
Jeffre stated his blog covers the issues that most mainstream media outlets do not cover. He gave the example of a renovation done on the Fountain Square parking garage in Cincinnati by the corporation 3CDC. Upon an investigation by the Beacon staff, they discovered the renovation had failed to make the garage safe for handicapped persons.
“3CDC is a private company that the city has hired to take care of its public spaces,” explained Jeffre. “So, there’s no oversight it they don’t get something right.”
The Beacon exposed the garage’s dangers, and eventually gained enough recognition that Cincinnati’s WLWT news picked it up. After two attempts, they were able to persuade 3CDC to fix the garage.
“We don’t get paid to cover 3CDC, but we do it for the community,” Jeffre said.
In fact, no one at the Cincinnati Beacon gets paid for their work. Jeffre said he normally picks up the tab out of pocket.
In 2008, Jeffre decided to work on Green Party candidate Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign. He said he supported Nader talking about issues that no other candidate wanted to talk about including environmental concerns like switching to renewable energy and tougher environmental protection legislation.
“To quote Robert F. Kennedy Jr., I think good environmental policy is good economic policy,” Jeffre said.
His main environmental concerns in Cincinnati are river pollution from Metropolitan Sewer System run-off, poor air quality caused by Duke Energy’s coal-burning power plants, and the city’s lackluster public transportation system.
Jeffre would like to see the Beacon cover more environmental issues, but said he is restrained by cash flow and man power. He would love to see the Beacon grow and be a spot Cincinnatians would go for a different version of the news. The Beacon averages around 20,000 unique readers a day with more readers around election times.
What does he advise for the emerging GreenHawks Media who looks to be an alternative news source on campus?
“Be bold, be persistent, and question authority. Also, remember that governments lie.”