The Izzy’s

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Izzy Awards at Ithaca College, where Naomi Klein and David Sirota were honored for their exemplary contributions to independent journalism. Klein was honored for her most recent book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate and Sirota was honored for his series of exposes on corruption within the U.S. pension system.

The Izzy Award was named after I. F. Stone, a muckraking journalist and legendary independent journalist.

As a senior journalism student, it was really exciting to go to the Izzy’s because both Sirota and Klein made comments about journalism that made my career options look a little less bleak. Sirota said, “News is not journalism” and he made the distinction between reporting on a press release and digging for a story. He made an interesting point and I can agree with him not all news is journalism, simply restating something doesn’t make it journalism, it can be news, but that doesn’t make it journalism. He also told the audience that as a journalist you don’t have to “hit a home run every time,” that it is perfectly fine if your articles don’t always make a huge impact or create an important discussion every time. I just really appreciated how Sirota took a moment to recognize that not every story has to be a big scoop.

Klein’s speech had a number of fantastic one liners, and of course I took notes. She discussed the importance of “looking for the dirt behind the shine” and how important it is to make sure your stories are accurate. Klein discussed how journalism is more than just telling a story, its using the facts to start a conversation with the wider public. She joked about the traditional journalistic values like objectivity and how objectivity is used to quiet an argument. “Objectivity mean I object to your activity,” Klein said. I think one of the most important comments Klein made last night was about how she became an independent journalist. She said that her work involved a great deal of digging and a passion for the subject and because main stream media outlets don’t allow journalists to care about the issues, they have to become independents in order to be free to report passionately. That point really resonated with me.

It was great to hear someone speak about journalism as something other than a declining field, so thank you to both Naomi Klein and David Sirota for your dedicated journalism and your inspiring words.

Funding the News

The independent media often depends upon financial support from their audience, most independent media outlets will request their viewers to donate money to support different news ventures or they will have a prominent “donate” button on their website. Incorporating the viewers into the financial base of the news outlet not only helps to pay the bills but it also generates a sense of community between the viewer and the outlet. It creates a co-dependent relationship where the viewer depends on the outlet for news and the outlet depends on the viewer for support financially as well as in brand recognition.

Brave New Films called upon their fan base to help them fund “Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers” in 2006. Before the film had even been made they called upon their viewers telling them what they wanted to do and requested financial support to fund to project. With their viewers donations they were able to fund the film. Brave New Films then featured all of their donors names in the credits of the film. To further incorporate their supporters with the film, Brave New Film creators call upon their loyal viewers to hold mass viewings and encourage their viewers to set up phone conferences with them to discuss the content of the film in order to spread the story to others.

The problem with financially depending on donations is that if a larger group chooses to donate to the news outlet they could try to add strings to their donated funds, particularly if they act as the primary donor. When that happens the independent media can find itself in a situation that the corporate media knows all too well, that sometimes a story has to be sacrificed in the name of maintaining financial stability. As Jack Shafer argues in his Slate article the non-profit business model isn’t necessarily the best business model. “But before we get out the party hats and noise-makers to celebrate the rise of nonprofit journalism, here’s the bad news. In the current arrangement, we’re substituting one flawed business model for another. For-profit newspapers lose money accidentally. Nonprofit news operations lose money deliberately. No matter how good the nonprofit operation is, it always ends up sustaining itself with handouts, and handouts come with conditions.”

So what kind of business model should the media be using for funding?