Is Independent Media Beginning to Replace the Mainstream?


As the mainstream media continues to go lamestream, have you noticed the extent to which the progressive independent media sector has been busy moving into the vacuum?

If the thousands of attendees from every state in the U.S. and dozens of other countries at the recently concluded National Conference for Media Reform  the nation's largest event devoted to issues of media, technology and democracy  didn't grab your attention, consider the following:

- Mother Jones magazine just scored its second major scoop involving a secret recording of a top political leader, which revealed that the team seeking to reelect Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who leads his party in the Senate, was preparing tough personal attacks against possible opponents, including actor Ashley Judd who perhaps as a result has since declared she won't run.

- This followed of course on the heels of Mother Jones's previous unearthing of a secret recording of Mitt Romney's now-infamous "47%" remarks, which in addition to ensuring Romney's defeat, earned the magazine and reporter David Corn well-deserved mainstream kudos such as a prestigious George Polk Award.

- Mother Jones also earned a recent National Magazine Award nomination along with such other "alternative" publications as the Nation, Orion, the Texas Observer and the Nation Institute for scrappy and sophisticated journalism that further demonstrates how the independent media is now filling the vacuum left by the decline of the prevously established Fourth Estate. In addition to the Romney story, another good example is this joint Texas Observer/Nation Investigative Fund piece about the drug war in Mexico's Juarez Valley.

- Meanwhile Colorlines, published by the Applied Research Center, recently won its three year campaign to get the Associated Press to stop using the offensive term "illegal immigrant" to describe what the AP now rightly terms "people living in a country illegally."

Unsurprisingly, this rise in the clout and importance of the independent media sector has thus far been ignored by the mainstream media it is busy supplanting. But the prestigious journal Chronicle of Philantropy recently took notice with an instructive analysis of what it called a "powerful nonprofit partnership," written by Vincent Stehle, the executive director of  an organization of grant makers called Media Impact Funders.

Stehle focused his attention on the "failure of American journalism" dating back to the beginning of the Iraq War, when as he rightly notes, "most major news organizations reported the buildup toward war without adequate skepticism or scrutiny." The independent press, however, "wasn't taken in by the Bush administration's marketing and manipulations." As a result, says Stehle, "even as most of the journalism world struggles to be heard, the nonprofits are having more influence than ever, as they collaborate to raise vital issues like war and peace and wealth and poverty in ways that reflect the public interest."

As the adage goes, it's an ill wind that blows no good, and something good has arisen out of the ashes of the Bush Administration's evil and misguided bellicosity the reinvigoration of the progressive press. This process "got its start when magazines like the Nation, the American Prospect, and Mother Jones questioned accounts of weapons inspectors that called the administration's assertions into question," notes Stehle. "And independent nonprofit broadcasters like Democracy Now, Free Speech TV, and Link TV gave voice to the widespread opposition of political leaders in most nations and millions of protesters in the streets of America and around the world."

Those independent outlets (including, full disclosure, my media firm Globalvision) are now joined as members of the Media Consortium, a network of more than 60 media organizations, most of which are nonprofit or for-profit businesses focused on a social mission. As Stehle rightly posits, in the face of the many failures, cutbacks, buyouts, and layoffs afflicting the mainstream media in the past decade, "no group of journalistic organizations has been more dedicated or effective" than the Consortium.

How did it happen? "In March 2005, reeling from an election that failed to reflect the disastrous consequences of the war abroad and the increasing problem of income inequality at home, more than two dozen leaders of nonprofit press organizations came together to explore ways they might work together," Stehle recounts. "In part, they were looking for ways to run their businesses more effectively through cooperative practices. But more far-reaching, they wanted to work together to harness public attention to the major policy debates of our time by raising issues of economic justice, human rights, and progressive perspectives in national-security debates." To do so, we agreed to form a collaborative organization that would "help increase the voice of independent journalism in broader public debates."

Less than a decade later, those same progressive and independent media organizations ("put simply, these are the people who made the terms 47% and 99% household terms," Stehle explains) are now having a growing impact on both the overall media landscape and our nation's politics. Their work is so powerful, in fact, that such luminaries as André Schiffrin, longtime publisher of Pantheon Books and founder of the New Press, have stated outright that the independents once dismissed and loudly reviled as marginal, leftist and naïve "are now playing the classic role of fourth estate in our democracy."

So why haven't you read anything about this sea-change elsewhere in the media? Draw your own conclusions and remember you read it here first!