How Do You Make It Pay?

Memphis (Jan. 12) – During Friday’s “Building and Sustaining Independent Media” breakout session, the presenters overviewed their individual independent outlets and suggested how the independent media landscape could be strengthened, yet they could only suggest diversifying when trying to answer the most-asked question of the afternoon: how can independent media make money?

Kim Spencer, executive director of Link TV, said the key to profitability rests in a variety of funding sources. While that may seem obvious, Bonnie Boswell of The Real News took it a step further, noting that the proposed international independent news network would rely on individuals as the primary source of funding, in essence creating a publicly driven media source.

“We intend to have no government financing or advertising,” Boswell said. “We’ve raised $5 million and intend to raise $15 million more. If we can get 250,000 people to give $10 a month then you can be independent.”

Moderator Tracy Van Slyke, publisher of the 30-year-old independent national award-winning news magazine In These Times, noted while independent media may be poor in capital, it boasts rich content. In hopes of increasing the reach of that content, many of the organizations joined – a network of 35 progressive media organizations filling a void created by the loss of organizations like the Independent Press Association, which folded over a week ago.

“Many funders don’t understand the need for funding of the progressive media landscape,” Vans Slyke said.

Diversifying applies to more than just funding. Van Slyke claimed independent media must be willing to use multiple platforms for the message if they expect to not only survive, but thrive. Andre Banks, publisher of ColorLines, noted that while it’s hard to raise money for media ventures, his publication went through many incarnations over its 10 years of existence reporting on communities of color. To help reach a larger variety of consumers, Banks said the publication often repackages information from one story to use in another story or as a query to invite reader response and build community.

“We’ve tried reshaping our Website and opening a blog,” Banks said. “In terms of our theory of social networking online, we want to use social networking online to move to offline action.”

Not only are consumers taking notice, but apparently, corporate media also keeps an eye on his site. Banks said larger publications like the New York Times used the same angle and the same actual sources on articles originally appearing in ColorLines.

Cenk Uygur described how The Young Turks benefited from forging ahead rather than thinking about how to use different media. The creators of The Young Turks went to Sirius Radio and asked to start a show. After making a demo, they became the first talk radio show on satellite.

“We’re not thinking about doing it,” he said. “The minute we think about doing it, we’re doing it. The worst that can happen, you try it, it doesn’t work out. Who cares?”

Although they initially claimed 423 subscribers, Uygur said the 5-year-old program benefited from archiving old shows. Now the program also boasts an Internet site where people can watch the show 24 hours a day.

Spencer said LinkTV also benefited from the expansion of other media, noting his company provided video to Google when that company launched. The company boasts Web archives of 1,200 episodes of news from the Middle East since 2001.

“Having the impact on the mainstream media is very important to us,” he said. “We know the White House and the state department monitor what’s happening in Mosaic everyday.”

Spencer said LinkTV uses surveys to determine not only who its viewers are, but also if they actually get involved after watching a program. According to surveys, he said 50 percent said they got involved in a dialogue, 27 percent said they’ve got involved politically, and others contributed to a group after watching a LinkTV program.

Banks said ColorLines invites consumers to talk across cultures about the way race has a part in politics. Though some may claim the outlet produces biased journalism, Banks disagrees.

“The only reason the kind of journalism we do can be considered advocacy journalism is the shift to the right of regular journalism,” he said. “We’re helping people to see is what they need is information. This is about reeducating our population about what journalism is all about.”

Boswell took the idea a step further.

“The truth is being defined by people at any given time,” she said. “We want to give people facts and let them decide at any time of their life.”