One of my Facebook friends by the name of Corrine Harrison is Studying for her Bachelor Arts Politics/Communications at Charles Sturt University, Queensland. She recently wrote an essay about independent media. I thought it worthy of sharing on THE AIMN.
In a world where media oligarchies prevail, an increasing number of independent media outlets are flourishing. Without means of corporate investment advertising their products, nor the incentive of a political party bias, how is it that these ‘revealers of the truth’ beyond the commercial media propaganda, are continuing and maintaining their uprising? This essay discusses the past and present 4th estate model, it’s relevance to today’s society and why more people should switch to independent media for unbiased, impartial information.
Independent media comes in many forms. In recent years there has been a surge in social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and personal blogs. This has seen a rise in public interaction with journalism outside of the traditional news delivery methods such as newspapers and television. The last two decades has seen a drastic reduction in media plurality. These merged corporations have a preference towards neo-liberal political ideals and their reports invariably reflect their political bias. Readers with alternative political and social values seek out impartial news providers with views and information more aligned with their own or at least offering an alternate opinion. The main feature of independent media is its impartiality and focus on reporting the full story based on facts and research. The overall aim is to ensure full disclosure of occurring events to keep the public genuinely informed. The impartial nature of independent media is also reflected in its ownership. A mixture of self-funding by the writer, philanthropic foundations and reader subscriptions ensure the ongoing circulation of many publications. Crowd-funding campaigns raise money from everyday citizens with a vested interest in stories or projects that may otherwise be overlooked (Weiss, 2014). With no corporate associations to cloud the judgement of the writer, articles are free of agendas beyond the reported details of the story.
Whilst not commercially dominant, independent media secures its voice by providing current news in an unbiased way. It offers a sound and trustworthy platform, largely due to the reputations of individual reporters being at stake. This applies to qualified journalists as well as those individuals simply interested in disseminating and dispersing the truth in the process of seeking it for themselves. Many share their findings on Facebook pages dedicated to their specific area of news or political interest. Others are politically and socially active and simply comment on large news outlet’s posts in a bid to balance out the information disclosed in the article. They may also do this out of a personal sense of duty to have the all angles heard. In many cases, this commentary is also out of frustration at the one sided or sensationalist reporting when there is much more to the story than has been declared in a mainstream article.
This version of independent media is increasing and could play an important part in repairing the decline in community we see at the hands of mass media. Interaction with strangers to share ideas, refine values and pass on information garnered elsewhere would counteract the misleading reporting along with the overall fear instilled in readers by the commercial outlets for the sake of sales. This also means the dispersal of news can also occur indirectly. One person being affected by a report they encounter in their newsfeed could see them respond by sharing it on their timeline. Their contacts may not have seen this news had the original reader not passed it on and by doing so a certain level of peerage is attached. It is as though they have recommended that article and as such, the contents carry more weight when passed on within this medium- be it from a friend, family member or a colleague. This is a worrying concept when much of the mainstream news is one sided, sensationalist and noneducational.
The ability to share information instantaneously on these sites can see an inaccurate story spread quickly and widely. The source of the information can also become lost and with the mainstream media’s fast turnaround in news, it’s unlikely the story shall be refined or followed up further. The result is a misinformed public that spread misinformation on behalf of the media corporations.
Each click through is also advertising revenue for the publications business associates. Many articles have hard hitting headlines that are purposefully misleading and even false to entice the reader to click through to the article’s page on the provider’s advertisement ridden website. Alternatively, rather than reading the article and analysing the contents, the reader assumes the deliberately misleading headline is true and shares the message based solely on it.
The publication has its message spread and their advertiser’s messages are exposed. The fact the public is misinformed now, can be rectified in a few hours’ time with an updated story that will generate yet more click-throughs and misinformation. With the general population turning to such sites as Facebook and twitter for easy access to news, the major news sites not following suit in regards to solid reporting and transparency narrows the gap of readership competition further. Plurality shall also be restored as more people become frustrated by having wasted their time on what have become known as ‘click-bait’ articles. In addition, the rise in alternative newsreaders also sharing their findings on social media sites means the views of the independent writer are out there, re balancing the public sphere. In light of the above, it’s safe to say that independent media fills the gap of non-disclosure created by mainstream news reporting.
Printing deadlines, political biases, pressure to ensure sales of newspapers amongst others, all serve to hinder the quality of news disseminated by commercial media. Independent news readers recognise the need for impartial information to garner a realistic perception of all events- local and international.
Public confidence in commercial media is low and continuing to decline. Misrepresentation of facts and errors in reporting often go uncorrected. Grammatical and spelling errors cast a light on hurried compilation further adding to concerns of legitimate and conscientious reporting. When pressed for an explanation for the recurring mistakes and misrepresentations of facts, Journalists and Editors point to strict deadlines and staffing issues as well as simpler reasons such as careless writing, inexperience or just poor editing and reporting. (Dailysource.org, 2014)These issues point to the oligarchic nature of today’s media. The need to deliver results to commercial partners, such as advertisers and shareholders, means reporters have to cut corners and pad out stories to draw the reader in. These poorly researched articles lead to a misinformed public who, when the full details do transpire, feel betrayed and frustrated for believing the initial reports. In contrast, independent reporters gain no benefit from exaggerating the truth. Their relevance lies in their presentation of the facts and research beyond instant reporting.
Being self-regulated means a fast turnaround in publication. However, not having a big corporation to hide behind if their article turns out to be incorrect is where the pressure lies in the absence of printing deadlines. Again, this reiterates the need for absolute transparency and detailed research before publishing a story as an independent writer. In terms of genuinely informing the public, independent organisations are significantly more effective than commercial outlets. In studies conducted to gauge the educational abilities of commercial and independent news, a trend of half to two thirds of mainstream media readers had misunderstood the reported situation compared with less than a third of independently obtained information. (Daily Source, 2014)This misinformation reappears during election time. Many readers of mainstream news are bombarded with spin and party politics. The party values and policies go untold in favour of easy reporting of politician spats and the power play tug-of-war.
This leaves people misinformed and/or uninformed the day they cast their vote. With no understanding or knowledge of the policies and values relevant to particular candidates it’s little wonder the public are unhappy when the elected government do not, in fact, reflect their own personal values. The mainstream media outlets invariably have a political leaning and will aid their preferred candidate’s success to protect their own financial interests. With 80% of America’s daily newspapers belonging to the major outlets, it is easy to see how a symbiotic relationship benefits the state and that which has essentially become its mouthpiece (Daily Source, 2014).
This raises questions of action. Why do individuals use their current method? How difficult would it be to get them to change? What are the benefits of changing? Why do they continue to source their information from proven inaccurate sources when truthful, more educational options are readily available? The effects of the media can go some way to explain the difficulty in breaking free. Traditional Liberal views of the media are that: 1. Individuals can make their own choices and rationalise the quality of the news they read. In essence, “the audience is not an undifferentiated mass but is made up of complex and highly individual personalities”. (Errington and Miragliotta, 2007). 2. The readers influence the content since the outlets are privately owned and need to be relevant to their audience to ensure sales and 3. We live in a democracy where no one power dictates what is and isn’t available for readers to consume. That said, it’s worth noting that the mainstream media operates according the hypodermic model:
A concept where a single message is delivered and understood by a mass audience in such a way that once it is administered the response would be the same regardless of age, intelligence, qualifications or gender (Errington & Miragliotta, 2007). It suggests audiences have a level of disconnection to the information they are receiving which sees them unable to think critically and disseminate fact from sensationalism. This contradiction in the intent of the media’s message delivery should raise a flag and encourage the reader to seek more authentic information elsewhere since the traditional liberal theory does not hold true.
However, the hypodermic model is powerful and its power lies in the fact that its message is quickly and easily received leaving readers satisfied that what they have read has covered what they need to know. Again, alternative media outlets exist to redress the balance of truth and information lacking in commercial options. The difficulty lies in encouraging people to break free from the safety of the 4th estate model they are familiar with. They must be prepared to face the eventuality that the real news of independent media is not as easy to digest and the commercial offering, however, it is important to be informed and know the truth.
In conclusion, the evidence presented here shows a strong case for a widespread switch to independent news. This essay can be seen as a form of independent media by its research of existing knowledge of the subject, breaking down to more simple terms and collating those findings into one place as well as offering and referencing other opinions. It hopefully goes someway to causing a shift in the perception and habits of their daily news gathering for those who read it.
To involve many individual perceptions is an example of adhering to the traditional liberal values of independent media and living up to Mills’ expectations of basic human abilities (Errington & Miragliotta, 2007). Independent media providers have become the new gatekeepers guarding the public interest the media was originally intended to do. “Their work is so powerful, in fact, that such luminaries as André Schiffrin, longtime publisher of Pantheon Books and founder of the New Press, have stated outright that the independents — once dismissed and loudly reviled as marginal, leftist and naïve –“are now playing the classic role of fourth estate in our democracy.” (O’Connor, 2014).
Barnes, R. (2014). What You Think Of Us: The NM Reader Survey Results | newmatilda.com. [online] Newmatilda.com. Available at: https://newmatilda.com/2011/07/13/what-you-think-us-nm-reader-survey-results Dailysource.org, (2014).
Current Problems in the Media. [online] Available at: http://www.dailysource.org/about/problems#.VBEW8MKSzuR [Accessed 12 Sep. 2014].Errington, W. and Miragliotta, N. (2007).
Media & politics. 2nd ed. South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press, pp.41-51.O’Connor, R. (2014). Independent Media Goes Mainstream. [online]
The Huffington Post. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rory-oconnor/independent-media-goes-ma_b_3052763.html [Accessed 12 Sep. 2014].
Weiss, J. (2014). How to raise funds for your independent media startup | IJNet. [online] Ijnet.org. Available at: http://ijnet.org/stories/how-raise-funds-your-independent-media-startup [Accessed 12 Sep. 2014].