The Value of Community for a Start-Up Independent Media Outlet
The value of independent media outlets is that they fill a void that mainstream outlets overlook and oftentimes meet the needs of a more liberal, marginalized audience that traditional media doesn’t cater to.
Given the fact that print media is dying down, mainstream dailies have folded, and the cutting of paid staff positions, there seems to be more of a need for journalists to create their own positions, incomes, or even outlets.
Adam Westbrook writes in “Thinking of a Journalism Start-Up?” that if journalists can create a product that fills a need and would be willing to buy, then that is the role journalists must fill—they must also become entrepreneurs.
It is also important to note that this article was written in 2009, when there were potential platforms for becoming an independent outlet like an individual blog or YouTube channel. There are more competition on these mediums and platforms now because of how popular they’ve become and the potential monetary benefits.
That being said, it is still possible. According to the “1,000 True Fans,” it is also possible to monetize and have a successful business as long as you have a solid following who would be willing to follow your every move and purchase the different things you create. Furthermore, the article “YouTube Videos Pull in Real Money,” speaks to the ways in which creators use their passion and personal hobbies to build an audience and following. From there, monetization can happen and oftentimes these YouTube gain a following and become “internet famous” unintentionally. This shows that becoming successful requires real work but it’s also not possible without a community and if the content isn’t made with an audience in mind.
Because of this, the first step is if the idea is original or innovative. Then, this is what will attract your audience. A good way to do so is to think about what’s missing from the media and our culture. From there, your new cultivated audience will want to want to support the creation of this new idea. The audience and community is the most important aspect because that will likely be at least part of your source of income.
This is why almost all independent media outlets have a donate button or most YouTube in addition to selling products and have a page where people can donate or support them on a monthly basis through services like Patreon. Others looking to fundraise for large projects will use services like Kickstarter or GoFundMe. Therefore, audience participation in the most important when it comes to even getting your outlet off the ground.
Once you know who your audience is, you can figure out the kind of content that appeals to them, then you can charge for that content, and then spread that content on multiple platforms and mediums.
What a Trump Presidency Could Mean for Independent Media
Following the recent election results on November 8, independent media is in trouble. The Freedom of the Press Foundation has already released a statement which describes the recent President elect as “an enemy of press freedom unlike any we have seen in modern presidential history.”
The statement goes on to describe how even before his presidency, in the past 18 months, he’s threatened to sue newspapers and journalists on several occasions. He also said he will “attempt to “open up libel laws” as president to make it easier to take newspapers to court.”
And it seems he will keep his word. In fact, he’s already threatened to sue newspapers and individual journalists.
Columbia Journalism Review writes in the article “Trump’s Many, Many Threats to Sue the Press Since Launching His Campaign:” “Trump threatened to sue The New York Times, his staff had a Vice reporter arrested outside a campaign event, and he blamed the New York terrorist bombings on “freedom of the press.”
Trump has actually threatened to sue the Times over eleven times during his campaign for president. Now that he’s in office, this is only going to get worse. Trump has sued and threatened to sue an astronomical amount in his lifetime over correct allegations, his failure to pay taxes, and even a joke Bill Mahar made on his show.
Furthermore, “he actually sued a newspaper as early as 1984: the Chicago Tribune, for calling building plans of his “aesthetically lousy.”
But that’s what journalism is for. Its function is to tell the truth, challenge, share opinions, and expose corruption (even if journalists haven’t been doing the best job at this).
Journalists should not be scared or threatened into silence. The president-elect should not scare writers and journalists into silence when it’s their function to hold those in power accountable.
An article in the New York Times states: “[journalists] now know they underestimate him again at their own peril. Yet they also know that the need to continue with probing, unflinching reporting that promotes the truth in the face of whatever comes at them will be great.”
This is critical given that in February 2016, Trump said he’s “going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace, or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”
And he’s continued to threaten to sue despite the protections of the First Amendment.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation writes: “We may be in for the biggest press freedom fight of our lives for the next 4 years. The fight may be hard, and it may be long, but we want you to know: Every threat, every lawsuit, every subpoena, every prosecution, we will be there holding Trump accountable and upholding the First Amendment.”
This means that there’s going to be work to do if we’re going to keep journalism—especially independent journalism—free and protected. In light of this new administration, journalists need the option to be open and honest and critical in the years ahead without threat. If we want to prevent even more corruption, we have to protect our (independent) media.
Trump’s Election and Journalism’s Moment of Reckoning
After months of free media coverage and normalizing of Trump’s racist and hateful rhetoric from the mainstream many journalists were unprepared for Donald Trump’s victory last week. Now more than ever, journalists need to step up against this new administration as a serious threat to the press.
Kyle Pope’s article “Here’s to the Return of the Journalist as Malcontent” on Columbia Journalism Review writes the morning after the election that “Journalism’s moment of reckoning has arrived.”
After journalists failed to grasp how Trump managed to be successful this past year that led to his eventual victory, we’ve reached a time where we need to reconsider the function and current state of the media and journalism.
Journalism needs to get back to its initial focus and journalists need to take on their original role as investigators, exposers of the truth, who are willing to ask tough questions and challenge the status quo. We’ve moved away from that. We’ve moved towards filming rides in Trump’s private jet, writing about what will get clicks and likes over critical news, and this allowed journalists to fall into the trap of seeing Trump’s campaign as something to mock rather than a tangible threat.
Pope writes: “As much of the country—indeed, apparently, a majority of the country—was roiling in anger and resentment and racism, too few reporters took the time to seek out people outside major cities on the coasts and listen to them. In this election, as in every election, the voters ultimately were the story that mattered, much more so than the campaign managers or the think-tank talkers or the reporter-cum-commentators with massive Twitter followings.”
Instead, journalists focused on the wrong things, focused on nitpicking Trump and Clinton rather than talking to the voters who ultimately determine who our next president is. Despite the rampant sexist and racist rhetoric in the media, journalists failed to fully consider the underlying culture and factors and opposing views to see a Trump administration as a possibility.
Too often, Trump’s supporters were written off as white racists, and journalists failed to look an deeper than that. With Trump in office now following this journalistic breach, “a new era needs to begin, a period in which reporting takes precedent over opinion, when journalists are willing to seek out and understand people with whom they may have profound personal and philosophical differences.”
This is critical because journalists have more work to do now than ever. With Trump being an enemy of freedom of the press and journalism, journalists need to embrace their old identity as troublemakers. Journalists aren’t supposed to be a voice for the mainstream, they aren’t supposed to work with the mainstream. They need to challenge it.
Furthermore, we need diversity in our newsrooms, diversity in the opinions shared, diversity of the identities we see and hear from in our media and writers to be more representative of the people who make up our country.
An important step is “breaking out of the reporting silos of official agencies and spokespeople; and de-emphasizing social media so people can pursue stories that are important and true, but may not result in a flurry of retweets over a 15-minute span.”
With the threat Trump poses on our country, to our rights, to journalism, to equality—we need to get to work. This is our time to do the work.
Report from the Border at Ithaca College
A few nights ago I attended a presentation put on my politics and Park school students who went to the Border at Nogalas, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico on Oct. 7-10 and attended the School of Americas Watch Conference. Two faculty members and for students went and they all shared their stories of the protests they went to and conversations they had with locals. Students also presented on individual research they’ve been working on in preparation for the trip.
One woman presented on the ignored topic of the sexual violence and rape women crossing the border endure or have to trade sex in order to be brought across the border. The likelihood of violence against women is often overlooked, even in conversations about migration. Next, another student looked at the way women are portrayed in the media and the role of mainstream and independent media in the movement. She focused on the rhetoric of 2016 election around undocumented immigrants. For example, Donald Trump using the phrase “Bad Hombre” during the last debate.
The student wondered: why is it we only talk about men? At the rally, she walked around asking if anyone had recently seen portrayals of migrant women in the media. None of her respondents could think of any. This lack of representation in media, even amongst all the negative rhetoric, speaks to the ways we erase certain identities and narratives.
Furthermore, she went on to ask participants at the border what kind of media outlets. It is important to note that only a small amount of activists followed mainstream media and that the majority followed independent media outlets only.
As shown in All Governments Lie, people and activists have turned to independent media to cover their issues. The documentary stated that 60 minutes had already done their one piece on the border and they weren’t interested in doing another. Because of this, people have been turning to independent media to report on happenings at the border.
However, according to her presentation, even in alternative outlets women migrants are excluded from the conversation. It is important to remember that we need to critique even the media we love and challenge it to be better.
When it comes to border issues and migration movements, we need to make sure more marginalized voices are included.
Citizen Journalism, Politics, and Independent Media
Mayhill Fowler of the Huffington Post, worked as a citizen journalist on a project called “Off the Bus,” which enabled every day writers to interact with politicians, not just journalists. She received backlash for criticizing Obama at an even that was closed to the press. Tom Purden was then verbally attacked by Bill Clinton, calling him “sleazy” and a “scumbag.” A bartender filmed Mitt Romney at a fundraising event making insensitive comments about working class people. This is important because it shows the role that everyday people and independent media can have an impact in politics.
Fowler writes of how people in Pennsylvania have grown bitter at the loss of jobs. Everyone at Huffington Post was sympathetic to Obama but they decided that they couldn’t remain faithful to just one candidate. Because newspapers are supposed to be critical. Even if they are more liberal or conservative, real journalists still call out missteps of their own party.
The LA Times recounts the event and Obama saying: “And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Fowler then described the comment as “condescending, even elitist” in a blog. In response to this critique of Obama and spreading of what was said at a private event, Fowler was attacked with 200 harassing messages from followers because of her disclosure. This shows that there are consequences to turning against the party your publication supports and that people will question you’re validity even if you’re asking the questions and doing the work mainstream journalists aren’t.
Furthermore, “Off the Bus project director Amanda Michel told her: “If you are going to be a journalist, you can’t favor one candidate over another.”
She clearly does this and sticks to the purpose of journalism because she even states that she likes Obama. But regardless of this, she makes this important critique anyway. That is the point of independent and citizen journalism.
Furthermore, there is no longer such a thing as a private event because of the rise of technology. Anyone can be a citizen journalist or Tweet commentary on political happening. This is evidenced by the fact that a citizen filmed Romney calling working class people entitled for wanting health care and housing. This changed the momentum of the race in 2012, proving that citizen journalists can have impact and anyone can weigh in now.
Transparency vs. Objectivity
“Transparency is the New Objectivity” looks at how transparency is replacing objectivity in terms of knowledge. Although a basic commandment of journalism is to “remain objective,” more people and publications are acknowledging that even if objectivity is strived for, it doesn’t mean it actually happens. Many publications have clear biases, angles, and goals. For example, Fox News is biased and on the right and so is The Nation on the left. The function of independent media is also to take a stance and offer a different perspective than the mainstream—which means it picks a side.
The blog states: “The problem with objectivity is that it tries to show what the world looks like from no particular point of view, which is like wondering what something looks like in the dark. Nevertheless, objectivity — even as an unattainable goal — served an important role in how we came to trust information, and in the economics of newspapers in the modern age.”
This means that being objective seems to take away from a piece rather than make it more trustworthy to readers. Furthermore, trying to disguise a piece as objective is more likely to mean that the writer is trying to hide their biases rather than being up from about their opinion. On top of that, how can one fully analyze an event or news item if their trying not to take particular stance on it.
However, newspapers are pushing back on this and taking it out on bloggers by claiming that they’re pushing their ideas and false information onto readers. But how do we know that being objectivity makes something inherently objective?
The author goes onto write that “during a bloggers press conference at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I asked Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Walter Mears whom he was supporting for president. He replied (paraphrasing!), “If I tell you, how can you trust what I write?,” to which I replied that if he doesn’t tell us, how can we trust what he blogs?” Meaning that if bloggers and journalists are actually more transparent about their thoughts and opinions in their writing, they’re actually more trustworthy. Instead, we can see the research, ideas, values, and other supporting information that brought the writer to that conclusion.
Most importantly, writers can now think to the source that brought them to any particular conclusion. This way we can show that we have proof and have done research on our topic. Objectivity was much more important when we couldn’t provide links and other resources. Now that we can provide transparency and show our thought process,
Transparency, the blogger writes, “often gives us more reason to believe a report than the claim of objectivity did.”
YouTubers and independent creators
Making videos on YouTube can actually become a career. As an avid follower of YouTuber since I was thirteen in 2007, I’ve watched YouTube transform from a site full of videos shot in with a webcam in one’s bedroom and then edited with iMovie into a professional, competitive platform that people can make a living off of. There is a part of me that is still nostalgic for the old days where a sixteen-year-old with a camera had as much access to an audience as a television show. But I recognized that YouTube had to change to be monetized and sponsored to survive and make money.
However, there are now more barriers to entering and making content on the site. For example, since people have corporate sponsorships and professional endeavors online, computer webcams no longer cut it and many need things like expensive cameras and editing in order to compete with professionals and receive monetary benefits and advertising.
It is also important to note that many of the most successful YouTubers were self-taught and independent at first, experimenting with their content and cultivating an audience simply because they loved making videos. I think this is really powerful and shows that you can be successful by simply working on something you’re passionate about. If you start there and build an audience, then you can find a way to monetize it through your audience. Many of the YouTubers I follow have used YouTube to either get another position making videos, selling t-shirts or crafts they made, recommending products, and having accounts like Patreon where people can donate to support your work. I personally donate to the YouTubers I watch frequently for their time and energy that they put into their content. Furthermore, many of those who became successful on YouTube did not expect to become “YouTube famous.”
As stated in the “1,000 True Fans” article, if you can build an audience who will follow you to the end, you will be able to find success provided you put in the work.
The article “YouTube Videos Pull in Real Money,” Granted, building an audience online takes time. “I was spending 40 hours a week on YouTube for over a year before I made a dime,” Mr. Buckley said — but, at least in some cases, it is paying off.”
Furthermore, “YouTube’s partner program, which now includes thousands of participants, from basement video makers to big media companies. YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, places advertisements within and around the partner videos and splits the revenues with the creators.”
“We wanted to turn these hobbies into businesses,” said Hunter Walk, a director of product management for the site, who called popular users like Mr. Buckley “unintentional media companies.”
This is important because it shows the necessary work that’s needed to build an audience and be seen as an internet personality, but there are rewards for creating your own content independently.
The Rise of Independent Media, Josh Marshall, and True Fans
The essay “1,000 True Fans” on The Technium highlights the fact that to be a successful as a creator, you don’t need a million fans. You only need a decent amount of devoted followers. This is important because it means you can make a living doing independent media related passions.
You just have to work to create a community and relationships with your fans. Once they trust you and become “super fans,” they will pay for your art, products, writing, etc. This is important when thinking about independent media because they very name implies that you’ll be working independently, without corporate funding, support, and sponsorship. This makes creating fans and long-term followers all the more critical because that is where your income and support will come from.
The benefit of this is, especially if you use the internet, you get to keep all the profit you make instead of splitting it with publishers, manufactures, and labels. This article makes me think of the way YouTubers makes more money if they rely on donations from followers who care about supporting their content than YouTube’s advertisers.
From there, communities can be built and the people can decide what and who they want to support instead of just buying into what corporations are promoting. Independent media and creators survive because “the enthusiasm of true fans can increase the patronage of regular fans. True fans not only are the direct source of your income, but also your chief marketing force for the ordinary fans.”
Therefore, it is completely possible to survive provided that creators have manageable expectations for audience sizes and likely income. The author writes: there is a home for creatives in between poverty and stardom. Somewhere lower than stratospheric bestsellerdom, but higher than the obscurity of the long tail. I don’t know the actual true number, but I think a dedicated artist could cultivate 1,000 True Fans, and by their direct support using new technology, make an honest living.”
This success is exemplified by Josh Marshall who was once a lawyer turned blogger who covered firings of U.S. Attorneys by the White House. The coverage led to Congressional hearings and the resignation of the Attorney General.
Independent media like blogs can make a change and gain a following if they produce regular content that the mainstream is missing. From there, they can create an audience to sustain themselves.
All Governments Lie: Corruption, Injustice and the Media
I recently had the privilege to attend a private screening of a new documentary All Governments Lie at Ithaca College. The first thing I noticed about the film is that it touched on a multitude of social issues—not just the flaws in the mainstream media.
The media has incredible power and when that power becomes corporatized, it stops advocating for the people and standing up for those who are marginalized and becomes more about making money and getting clicks and views over accuracy and exposing injustices.
In order to keep up views and adhere to corporate sponsorship, the media is being dumbed down, reporting on celebrity gossip and Panda births at zoos over war and violence in other countries, U.S. drone strikes, and government corruption. It is sad that comedy shows like The Daily Show are becoming a better source for news than traditional media—which shows how much it is failing.
Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone said, “What makes money in this country happens to be avoiding difficult truths about our society.”
A key example in the film is the lack of coverage of undocumented immigrants who died crossing the border through Texas. First, we see lost jewelry and clothes of those who came through with their best accessories and articles of clothing to find work strewn across the ground. Then we see unearthing of mass graves that reveal improperly discarded bodies. To make matters worse, the bodies were also improperly documented. One woman in the film stated that even her students could have filled out better reports; some of which said things along the lines of: “three bones, looks good.” This makes it impossible for the families of those who died to be notified and reveals just how little Border Patrol cared about these lost lives. Furthermore, given how few bones were found in most cases, these bodies were left to decay for a long time before they were discovered.
An important aspect of this situation is that people are no longer turning to the mainstream media to report injustices like this one. When one reporter wanted to do a story on this for 60 Minutes, they said that they had already done a story on the border last year so another one wasn’t necessary. In the mainstream media’s eyes, a topic like the border that could be deemed as less “interesting” or something that doesn’t appeal to the masses, gets one story—that’s it. This allows for big problems to go unnoticed, for human rights to be violated, and it creates a culture that is Eurocentric, focusing on white American lives.
Journalism needs to be a platform that gives voice to the voiceless. When the media is in the pocket of corporations and the government, it increases unethical behavior and limits what mainstream journalism is even allowed to write about because of sponsorship. As a result, less corruption is exposed, fewer journalists investigate government failings, and independent media journalists have to step in to fill in the gaps.
If exposing truth is the goal of journalism, independent media is all the more necessary today. And like I.F. Stone, it must uplift the voices and identities that have silence and criticize when necessary—even seemingly progressive spaces.
The Reproductive Rights Movement Must Acknowledge It’s Racist History
Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood in 1916, is often hailed as a reproductive rights campion, pushing forward the notion that women have the right to control their own bodies. Because of Sanger, women also have more control over their lives. Because of access to contraceptives, women can choose when to have kids—enabling them to have an education and career in the meantime.
In Voices of Revolution Margaret Sanger began publishing her work in a magazine called Woman Rebel—using alternative press to voice her unconventional opinion and advocate for access to birth control. She did so even at the risk of being seen as a threat to society. Sanger was able to fuel the reproductive rights movement through writing and publishing magazines. She was even jailed but she kept writing.
This shows how magazines and independent media can ignite a social movement and provide information that was often swept under the rug.
But at what cost?
During a training I attended at Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes, I learned that the birth control pill even came to be by doing medical tests and experiments on women of color, especially Puerto Rican women colonized under the United States.
The article, “Sanger’s Legacy Is Reproductive Freedom and Racism” states: “For all her positive influence, I see Sanger as a tarnished heroine whose embrace of the eugenics movement showed racial insensitivity, at best […] and she never rebuked eugenicists who believed in improving the hereditary qualities of a race or breed by controlling mating in order to eliminate “undesirable” characteristics and promote “desirable” traits.”
Sanger wrote in a 1921 article in the Birth Control Review: “The most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.” Sanger was also complicit in the forced sterilization of black women.
Her racism and ableism need to be addressed in the history of reproductive rights. Marginalized women is who the reproductive justice movement should work for—because these women have the most to lose. This is why commentaries like, from alternative media sources, are needed.
The article continues to state: “In many ways, Sanger is no different from contemporary feminists who, after making the customary acknowledgment of issues dealing with race and class, return to analysis that focuses exclusively on gender. These are the feminists who feel that women should come together around “women’s issues” and battle out our differences later”
The racist overtone of the history of reproductive rights often slips through the cracks or is simply erased. As the article states, even Planned Parenthood Federation of America tried to gloss over it. Independent Media can bring us back to reality and hold activists accountable for addressing our past in new movements.
Oftentimes, even writing about and acknowledging reproductive rights and feminism in the media is already seen as so “progressive” that it’s seen as good enough. Similar to how progressive political outlets often refuse to critique democrats, feminism in the media is not critiqued enough for not being inclusive of marginalized women.
BlogGing: A Means for Social Change
With the decline of daily and weekly papers, journalism is changing transforming into new platforms. At the same time, new voices are emerging and the public is starting to turn towards internet bloggers for news and opinions.
The question is, as Christopher Daly writes in “Are Bloggers Journalists? Let’s Ask Thomas Jefferson,” “Who is a journalist?” Some say that bloggers shouldn’t be taken seriously—they have no editors, no credibility, and no one to answer to. That being said, bloggers can build credibility by providing honest, accurate, thought-provoking content—just like a journalist would. If a blogger consistently made errors, readers would correct them and react in comments and they would lose readership in the same way a journalistic publication would. If anything, bloggers can cultivate more trust by linking to their claims and evidence that readers can click and see for themselves.
I believe blogs are even more effective because they allow for more dialogue, critique, and participation than traditional media. They allow for a diversity of voices—not just those who can afford or have the capacity to get a degree and formal training in journalism. Bloggers can showcase and refine their skills with less barriers. It allows young people—like Tavi Genvinson—to showcase their talent and have a reach comparable to mainstream media outlets. Genvinson saw a fashion outlet for young girls to also interact with each other and discuss the trails of being a teenager was missing from the mainstream so she created it. There is a lot of power in that. Everyday people and have a voice and say in what’s popular and what the public is concerned about.
According to Daly, blogs started appearing in the 2004 election when writers critiqued the mainstream media for either missing things or reporting incorrectly. Blogs allow the public to have an open dialogue with and alongside traditional journalists and publications. It’s happening again in 2016—many take to Twitter and blogs to react and respond to the candidates and media coverage. This is not new either, way back in 1760, the colonists organized the rebellion against Britain and passed out pamphlets covering current political turmoil. Like blogs, they were written by everyday people—lawyers, farmers, ministers and merchants.
Today, blogs and new media are working together to shed light on social issues that were previously swept under the rug. Because the web is global—social problems are no longer isolated. I can be in New York and read about what’s happening elsewhere. One can no longer argue that issues like police brutality are isolated problems—these issues are systemic and happening everywhere.
In the article “New Voices, New Technology” by Patrick Butler, “videos of police brutality in Egypt were never shown on any television station,” instead they were posted by a blogger. Because of this, the police were exposed and punished. In other countries like Iran and China, they are using the new technology to communicate, organize demonstrations, and have a voice online—even if that poses a great risk.
This shows that blogs have great power and create change. There should be less debate over whether or not bloggers are “real journalists,” and more conversation about the content. What is the blogger saying? Is it accurate and supported? Do they bring an alternative perspective?
For dedicated blogger, the answer is usually yes. And beyond these questions, these writers also expose injustice and create change.