Let’s re-imagine journalism

INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson

SINCE MY last column, in which I wrote about the decline of journalism, the bleeding of jobs and the threat of local news outlets going “black” continue. Along with a slew of recent layoffs, Canwest is attempting to sell off parts of its media empire. Journalists have now become active in reporting the slaughtering of the media industry, resulting in what The Tyee describes as a “collective auto-obituary.”

At this critical time, when the new media environment is being molded and traditional journalism is in a state of decline, creative approaches to journalism are urgently needed. If big business-financed journalism is failing, what alternatives do we have?

Public support

The Conservatives appear determined to either commercialize or cut financial support for the CBC and other public broadcasters. As a pillar of our media system, the CBC needs stability, not more cuts and uncertainty. It requires continued, and I would suggest, increased financial support from the public. 

In addition, funds such as the Canadian Magazine Fund and Telefilm could support newsgathering and reporting and add to the range of eligible projects to include online, independent journalism. This could be combined with a new Internet Broadcast Fund, supported by a telcom levy, something I called for in my February column.

In conjunction with other support mechanisms, we could also utilize the Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF). Announced last year by the CRTC, the LPIF will be supported by a percentage of cable and satellite revenues and is expected to amount to $60 million in the first year.

Regardless of the sources of financial support, it is essential that all available funds be allocated directly to media makers and media outlets for news production – not handed over to big media with no strings attached.

 

Community supported journalism?

Foundations, labour groups, NGOs and individuals can also play a role in renewing journalism through the financing of journalism public trusts or specific charitable journalism funds that could support innovative news projects. Several journalism experiments are already being supported by these sources.

The independent, non-profit online news organization, Rabble.ca, for example, combines support from individuals and revenues from advertising with funds provided by a group of “sustaining partners,” comprised of NGOs, unions and foundations. The Tyee is funded through a similar mix of sources and both This Magazine and The Walrus are published by charitable foundations. We should be challenging civil society organizations to ramp up their support for independent public service journalism.

One way that civil society organizations can help fill the current void in journalism is to support several current initiatives where journalists themselves are taking over media production. The Dominion newspaper, for example, is attempting to form a media cooperative that would produce a national newspaper. Journalists are also taking more immediate action. When the workers at the profitable Journal de Montréal were locked out this past January, they almost immediately launched their own news website called Rue Frontenac. These ground-up initiatives suggest that journalists can ditch those old big media papers in favour of new worker-run outlets.

At CHCH, the local television station in Hamilton, Ontario, employees are attempting to buy the station and run it similar to a hospital – the station would be owned by the community and governed by a board of directors made up of community leaders. The station’s owner, Canwest, plans to sell or shut down the station due to its poor financial situation. CHCH is one of many local Canwest and CTV television stations the media giants are poised to unload.

The CHCH campaign could ignite similar initiatives in cities and towns across the country. These projects need to have the financial freedom to innovate and the opportunity to thrive. The precarious state of local TV and journalism, as a whole, should be seen as an historic opportunity to re-imagine what journalism in the 21st century should look like.

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He contributed to Censored 2008 and Battleground: The Media, and has written for The TyeeToronto Star, Epoch Times and Adbusters. Reach him at: 
steve@democraticmedia.ca
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