The Park Center for Independent Media, launched last March to study alternative and independent media outlets that disseminate information outside of traditional news organizations, will host its first symposium beginning Monday.
The three-day discussion will focus on the growth of independent media and its effects on journalism. Participants come from several different media backgrounds and universities. The event will also feature a public speech by blogger Josh Marshall at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Emerson Suites.
Contributing Writer Peter Blanchard spoke with Jeff Cohen, associate professor of journalism and director for the center, about the symposium.
Peter Blanchard: What’s going to be happening at the symposium next week?
Jeff Cohen: We have a public event keynoted by Josh Marshall, one of the big success stories in independent media. He was, you know, your typical blogger in pajamas eight years ago, and he built up an institution where he’s now hired young journalists to work with him on the Talking Points Memo network of blogs. He’s forced the resignation of the U.S. Attorney General [Alberto Gonzales]. His work contributed to the top Republican in the Senate having to give up his leadership post in 2002, so he’s a perfect example of the boom and impact in independent, entrepreneurial and maverick media. Before the public event, we will bring 25 independent media leaders, innovators, experts and media content producers who are going to be working on how independent media networks can increase revenue and public outreach. So it’s exciting to have these people all in one place.
PB: What will Josh Marshall be talking about?
JC: “The Importance of Future and Independent Media.” I’m expecting him to describe how he built an institution from nothing, and now they’re slaying dragons. I think he’s got an inspirational story, he’s a walking inspiration. He was just a freelance magazine writer until he started blogging as an individual, and now his Internet site is one of the most important destinations for journalism. Some partisans of left and right have used the Internet just to savage their opponents and mobilize their base, but Josh Marshall is breaking stories and doing investigative journalism. Decades ago you would have expected The New York Times, The Washington Post or Newsweek to have broken the story of, for example, these politically motivated firings of U.S. attorneys in the White House, but it was a blogging site that broke that story open. Talking Points Memo’s reporting caused congressional hearings, which resulted in [Gonzales] resigning. It’s a story that’s quite inspirational to young and new journalists.
PB: Who else will be appearing at the event?
JC: Another bonus is we’re going to have a presentation from the folks at Brave New Foundation, which uses the Internet to raise funds for indie media content and documentaries. These are the people who produced Outfoxed, a critique of Fox News and conglomerated news. They produced the documentary “Iraq for Sale” about war profiteers. Robert Greenwald directed these movies, and he will also be at the event. They’ve shown that the Internet has still changed all the rules of journalism even for non-Web-based media. ... We have people coming to Ithaca that have created a lot of the excitement around independent media, and we’ll be hearing war stories, sharing successes, hopefully helping each other grow.
JC: Let’s face it, the rise of the independent media is heavily a result of the moral crisis inside corporate mainstream media. Coverage in the mainstream has gone tabloid and gone soft. There’s also an economic crisis, which the Internet has contributed to. People are getting their news content elsewhere. Newspaper ad revenue has gone down because of the Internet, especially because of Craigslist. There’s no doubt that the Internet has caused havoc in the mainstream circles, and at the same time it’s opened up the gates for younger, newer, more aggressive journalists.
PB: What does independent media offer that mainstream media has failed to?
JC: Speaking for myself and others at this symposium, we are the refugees of the mainstream media. We tried it, we tried our best to work within the system, and the system was failing, and we got spat out. Many of these people have backgrounds in the mainstream. I did work inside mainstream TV but my major experience is as a media critic and as a supporter of indie media for decades. The indie media community has a big smile on its face while the mainstream now has a frown. There are still great journalists who operate in the corporate mainstream who are pleased by the independent media movement.
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