Rise of the Independents: Independent Media Challenges Status Quo
The first occurrence of public news in America was printed and distributed in 1690 by a man named Richard Pierce. Although it was only three pages in small 6x10 inch sheets, Mr. Pierce’s “newspaper” made a big enough impression that the authorities at the time took action. The paper and all copies were destroyed, and Mr. Pierce was arrested.
The news media has been a focal point of American culture since the days when Benjamin Franklins’ satirical Phillidelphia Gazette was published. Articles in colonial papers, rather intelligently conceived by revolutionary propagandists, were instrumental in influencing public opinion in America from reconciliation with the British Isles to political independence. These were the days before the Bill of Rights out lined the clear and necessary means by which journalism must play in a free and democratic society.
In the past our news media companies were owned by individuals that formed corporations around the production of their chosen media outlets. Those companies were separate and individual from one another. Moreover, there were smaller companies that served specific regions in which they were based. This allowed for more geographically specific news to be tailored to the interests of the people in that area. It also facilitated and maintained the ideal put forth by the framers of our Constitution, by allowing the press to be free and independent. As time moved forward, industry and technology did the same as corporations grew in their scope and power. Larger business began buying up the smaller news providers or simply moved into the market with more resources and more money while nudging out the smaller companies who couldn’t compete.
Since 1995, the number of companies owning commercial TV stations declined by 40 percent. Currently, six major companies control most of the media in the United States. The FCC could decide to relax media ownership rules, which would allow further consolidation and put decisions about what kinds of programming and news Americans receive in even fewer hands. Viacom which owns CBS, General Electric which owns NBC, Disney the parent company of ABC and News Corporation headed by Rupert Murdock which owns Fox Broadcasting Company, are four of the largest media companies in the world. On the cable networks, two media giants; Comcast and AOL Time Warner serve 40 percent of cable households.
This monopolization of the news media has created a circumstance where a select few are directly dictating the information that is being disseminated to the whole of America. Not only do these mega-corporations own the companies that provide America with its information they directly influence the politicians that are responsible for ensuring that these corporations maintain a practice and policy that is in the best interest of the American people. According to Common Cause.org (A citizens advocate group started in 1970 by John Gardner) “The nation’s largest broadcast companies]…[have given more than $13.3 million in political contributions to federal candidates and national parties since 1995. These same media giants have spent more than $68 million lobbying Washington since 1999”
Although the grip of corporations on the news media in America is still firm, there has been an explosion of independent media outlets on the internet. More and more people are beginning to acquire their information through highly effective websites such as AlterNet.org. Formed in 1998 this free independent news and information site has seen its readership grow to 2.3 million visitors per month. They provide their readers with fresh content and original articles as well as bringing news stories from other independent news sites and allowing their visitors to repost their articles all over the web, creating a “viral network” of their content.
AlterNet is one the most popular websites to feature independent news but they are by far not the only one. There are literally hundreds of independent news websites, newsletters, broadcast news sites and news forums. One of the newest forms of news and perhaps the most contentious among media critics is the “crowd powered” or “community driven” news sites such as Examiner.com. If you’re unfamiliar with Examiner they are the fastest-growing local content network in the U.S. According to the site they were “launched in April 2008 with 60 cities, Examiner.com now serves hundreds of markets across the U.S. and Canada.” They use writers and journalists from all across the country who submit articles on a regular basis. The topics cover what amounts to the entire spectrum of American culture.
The contention by critics is that ordinary citizens do not have the training or the writing skills to observe and report the news in an unbiased and accurate manner. However, most of the national reporters for Examiner are, or have been, professional journalists in the past. The local “journalists” and writers have to submit a sample of their writing to the Examiner staff. If they prove to be what the site administrators are looking for, they are given several options as to what they wish to base their subject matter on.
“Examiners” as they are called are often very knowledgeable people with a sharp writing ability. In fact, articles written by the Examiners are often picked up by other news sites and republished do to the accuracy and concise writing style.
Sites that feature ‘on the ground’ citizen reporting are fast becoming a viable and timely news source in the information age. It would seem that Examiner.com is leading the way.
There are also the huge numbers of independent news sources that are available on YouTube. This video sharing site is the single largest video site in the world. Everyday 70 million people are using YouTube to share videos, watch movies, and increasingly, to get their news. With YouTube originals like The Young Turks and video news sites that upload to YouTube like The Real News and RT tv (Russia Television) there is a solid and formidable showing of independent news sources on this site in particular. In fact the independent video news sites generate roughly 10 times the amount of traffic on YouTube as their mainstream counter parts, according to Alexa.com.
Independent/alternative news media is fast becoming America’s choice for receiving their daily news and information. Although it has not substantially affected the television news market, that market in and of itself is becoming less significant in determining the diversity of news that is available to the viewing public.
The framers of the Constitution of The United States were very clear in the prescription of a free and independent press. This was intended to keep the people of the nation informed as to provide an unfettered view of their government. With such practices as interlocking directorates in the media and business industries (which is the method of members of a corporate board of directors serving on the boards of multiple corporations) the views and political agendas of a small and often class defined few are presented falsely as an unbiased article or broadcast.
Effectively this stranglehold on the available information withers the open and free thinking of the American society to a dyeing vine. Independent media and the alternative press are making great strides. Thanks to the internet they are restoring the flow of information to its former glory as the non-agenda driven, free thinking, and open access tool of democracy that it was intended to be by the founders of our great nation.