Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Indie Media 

New Independent Media. Yes, that’s what they’re calling the movement to take small media to the people. I keep hearing great things about the conference sponsored by Free Press on media reform and I’m excited to know that people are gelling around the idea of promoting and collaborating to support indie media, but I’m also concerned that we may be conceding too much of the good old media to multinational corporations and to the right.

One thing strikes me as problematic in the new media excitement and perhaps in the progressive movement generally. I keep hearing the descriptions of projects revolving around terms like “unfunded.” One description in a generally exciting synopsis of the Free Press confab in St. Louis by Peter Rothberg on the Nation site today describes a new progressive TV news network in the following way:

“Operating online and on TV, the idea is to deliver independent news and real debate--without funding from governments, corporations or commercial advertising.”

A progressive network is a great thing; don’t get me wrong. I’m glad people are doing this. Hey, I’m an unfunded blogger. But I’m concerned that in the effort to go around the big media, there’s a basic verity being missed, “Them that has, have the tools to communicate to the most.”

I hope in the effort to put together new independent media, we keep asking the question, “How can we make this self-sustaining?”

Air America, for example, is not commercial-free, but it operates (so far) on the assumption that there is an audience for progressive points of view on the radio airwaves. The bigger blogs are sustained by Blogads, which also help sell other media products to audiences of like mind. The think tanks, which sustain policy wonks, have worked on funding channels to stay alive.

The entrepreneurial thinking of funded progressives may sometimes be culturally incongruous-looking in the indie media movement, but if indie media is to succeed, we need more of it. The Right has made a long-term commitment to tithing cash out of sympathizers in industries, conservative families, direct mail supporters from the middle-class, and for their efforts, they’ve built a movement that threatens to set back American politics back into the dark ages.

Hopefully, progressives can exercise some of the same kind of long-term strategic thinking to bring us forward into the light.

The Right’s campaign to take the media over hasn’t been an overnight success and it may ultimately backfire. But the role of working from their funding channels, training new entrepreneurs to run their own media and political shops, supporting each other through cross-selling their intellectual capital, and the like is undeniably clear in the success they’re having.

All this is simply to say that I hope progressives don’t forget the work that needs to be done to sustain indie media over the long haul. All hail indie media! Let’s keep thinking about innovations that support more of it.

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