The last decade has seen a flourishing of various sorts of independent media, even as the mainstream corporate media continue to consolidate, lock out diverse voices, and place a growing emphasis on “infotainment” and celebrity at the expense of an informed and engaged citizenry. Here’s a snapshot of where various independent media projects stand in the United States.
• PACIFICA RADIO (pacifica.org): The largest leftist radio network in the United States, Pacifica controls radio signals in five major media markets (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston and Washington, D.C.) that can potentially reach 20 percent of the U.S. population. Although various stations continue to suffer from seemingly endless internecine feuding, the network as a whole appears healthy.
• DEMOCRACY NOW! (democracynow.org): The left’s only national daily broadcast. Launched by Pacifica in 1996, it has grown spectacularly during the Bush years, becoming an independent operation that is carried on more than 450 TV and radio stations around the United States.
• “LOW-POWER FM”: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) legalized low-power “pirate radio” in 2000 and has since issued hundreds of licenses for stations of 100 watts or less. While community-based activists have been able to launch stations in places like Woodburn, Oregon; Urbana, Illinois; Immokalee, Florida; Deale, Maryland and Opelousas, Louisiana, LP-FM is still not permitted in large urban areas.
• COMMUNITY ACCESS TV & THE MANHATTAN NEIGHBORHOOD NETWORK (MNN): These are difficult times indeed for community TV stations. Just before Christmas, the FCC voted to adjust cable franchising laws, stripping local communities of the power to gather revenues from pay-television providers. According to Anthony Riddle, executive director at the Alliance for Community Media, “Several large companies [are in the process of] taking over the entire communications system.”
• LARGER, WELL-FUNDED LEFT-LEANING MAGAZINES – The Nation, The Progressive, Mother Jones – have thrived in the Bush years. The Nation’s subscriber base has grown from 96,000 in 2000 to more than 170,00 in 2006. There have been similar (though less dramatic) increases for Mother Jones and The Progressive.
• LEFTY BLOGOSPHERE: The 2006 “Yearly Kos” convention in Las Vegas, coupled with Democratic victories in the midterm elections, consolidated the position of a few major blogs – the Daily Kos, Eschaton, Talkingpointsmemo.com, Think Progress– as dominant players in the online media world. However, these blogs have been criticized for their closeness to the Democratic Party and their lack of true grassroots participation. Additionally, struggles in 2007 over “net-neutrality” will do much to determine the future of small media on the Internet.
• INDYMEDIA (indymedia.org, nyc.indymedia.org): Now entering its eighth year since it emerged out of the 1999 Seattle WTO protests, Indymedia is a global, decentralized network of grassroots mediamakers located in more than 150 cities on six continents. Primarily based on the Internet, it is best known for its galvanizing coverage of political protest and its participatory ethos, but finds itself challenged by the rise of new technologies that no longer make it a unique place to self-publish and “be the media.” There is currently much discussion of developing “Indymedia 2.0,” making the network a more interactive and effective tool for grassroots political organizing.
• THE INDYPENDENT: The largest, longest-running newspaper published within the Indymedia network. Launched in 2000, The Indy has won more “Ippies” (annual community journalism awards given by IPA-NY) than any other paper in New York City each of the past three years. Now approaching its 100th issue, it is also widely read online at http://www.indypendent.org.