New Center Kickoff

Indie media center hosts top practitioners at symposium. by Jessica Bachiochi ’09 with Maura Stephens

Don’t ask who produced Robert Greenwald’s documentary Iraq for Sale: the War Profiteers — unless you have a few hours to kill.

More than 3,000 people are responsible for funding the film about how large corporations have made money from the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The Internet, as a technology and as a community, is responsible for marketing it.

Greenwald, a pioneer in using new media to fund, market, and distribute his work, founded Brave New Films and Brave New Foundation (which is now headed by Jim Miller ’85) and has directed TV movies, miniseries, and documentaries including Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price and OutFoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism. He and Miller came to Ithaca for the Park Center for Independent Media’s inaugural symposium, which united two dozen independent journalists, bloggers, TV and radio producers, and filmmakers for two days of discussion.

The event served two purposes, as Park Center founding executive director Jeff Cohen explains: “for these experts to share best practices and to spread the excitement of independent media to our students.” Invited guests like Steve Rathe ’71, creator of Murray Street Productions, shared professional stories and discussed new ideas and obstacles. “It was outstanding,” Rathe says. “I met a lot of people who were inspiring and had good ideas, like Josh Marshall, who has really led the way.”

Marshall, a Polk Award winner for his investigative journalism and Talking Points Memo website, was the keynote speaker. He explained how his interactive readers help generate ideas, gather information, and fund projects — creating “collaborative journalism,” as he calls it. Ithaca-area activist Michael Dineen, who attended Marshall’s speech, has been reading Marshall’s site since it began in 2000. “I read [it] every day,” Dineen says. “It’s more adult [than mainstream media] — like a grown-up conversation.”

This conversation is one of many emerging and growing across the digital world. “The news space is like an ecosystem with a lot of different niches,” Marshall says. “By attracting a specific participatory audience, people in the field are finding places in that ecosystem to spur conversations and share ideas about the news.” It’s not possible for Marshall’s staff of 10 to compete directly with corporate media giants, so he must find loyal readers like Dineen to support him. “We are not trying to be all things to all people,” Marshall says. “When you have limited resources, you have to pick your battles.”

That resource limitation comes with the territory. To avoid the news filtering, censorship, and consolidation that have become a trademark of corporate-controlled media, independent professionals must find new ways to sustain their projects even as they’re reshaping how people get their news. In lieu of getting rich, many of these indie types are fueled by a passion for investigating, reporting, and writing about issues, from myriad points of view, that affect society locally and globally. Independent media may never replace corporate media, but it seems clear that they will continue to expand and gain followers. (See story, Making Waves.)

“A rising tide lifts small boats,” Cohen says, “especially if they are somehow tied together.” He hopes this symposium both strengthened some of these smaller boats and tied more of them together in preparation for waters that continue to rise.