Why is Independent Media successful?

Half way into the semester, I’ve been thinking about the broad concepts we have discussed in my Independent Media class and I have noticed one question has come up in some capacity almost every class meeting so far: what makes indy media successful? No matter the outlet, the journalist, the issue, the country, we are discussing, this has been a strong common thread.

Among the many reasons I could offer, I think this is the strongest: Independent media does what mainstream media does not. It covers the issues the MSM does not see as valuable. It goes to the places the MSM does not visit. It gives voice to the people the MSM does not listen to.

That’s not too outlandish of an answer. It’s pretty solid and backed up by weeks of discussion, as I said. But what I really want to talk about is what that answer has made me think about: Would independent media be as strong or as important if mainstream media did not fail?

I believe that it can be argued that the strength and value of independent media is in fact fed by the failings of MSM.

Take a look at this article from The Chronicle of Philanthropy, headlined “How a Misguided War Led to a Powerful Nonprofit Partnership.” An excerpt:

The misguided war in Iraq was first and foremost a folly of American policy makers. But it was also a failure of American journalism. The sad fact is that most major news organizations reported the buildup toward war without adequate skepticism or scrutiny.

But the nonprofit press wasn’t taken in by the Bush administration’s marketing and manipulations. 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.

In class, we have discussed how independent media flourished during the Iraq War, how it gained so much more respect from readers (new and old) during this time period. I would argue that indy media flourished not only because they got the story right, but also because the MSM got the story oh-so-wrong.

And since then, independent media has built on that momentum, taken hold of that trust, and produced excellent journalism with it. Just look at the example used in that Philanthropy article: the citizen who recorded the 47% video came to Mother Jones reporter David Corn — not a mainstream reporter. Because of large MSM blunders, that citizen trusted independent media more.

Somehow, tragically bad (mainstream) journalism has fueled an era of insightful, engaging and important (independent) journalism. Like the chicken or the egg question, I wonder, which comes first? Bad mainstream journalism or good independent journalism?

While I think that mainstream mistakes have fueled a renaissance for indy media, the real reason independent media succeeded is because they were ready to catch the MSM when they fell — thanks to years of hard work before the Iraq War moment arrived.

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