Last month while independent media awaited the Nunes memo, the literary graces threw us a bone; Newsweek was raided by what was alleged to be the Feds. Then reports were quickly circulated it was NYPD. Ok, weird but we moved along trying to figure out what was so special about a once respected magazine turned clickbait farm. Then Ooops, gosh folks, we are sorry about the confusion; in fact it was the FBI who came to take pictures of our computer network.
In a piece written for Atlantic Monthly, Jonathon Alter remenisced about his thirty five years at Newsweek, well worth the read for those who remember Newsweek’s stance on civil rights, Watergate and the embarrassment of the Clinton Presidency.
The long slow demise of print media and good journalism is by now, old news. The very fact this author is writing on a tablet the size of a beach novel, complete with editing cababilities only dreamed of in science fiction, back when the author struggled to learn to type on a mechanical keyboard, testifies to the changes. Gone are the days of an hour and a half of “serious news” at dinner time. So too the integrity of the process. From fact checking and reliable sourcing to “if it bleeds, it leads” to wine and dark chocolate at 10 am with Hoda Kotbe and Cathy Lee Gifford; the news industry has transformed itself.
Now we are conditioned to get our “news” in 140 character sound bites in both print and broadcast news. 50 people in our carefully curated Twitter feeds report on what was published in one of four major news networks and a handfull of surviving “print” outlets. No wonder our country is so divided; two sides shouting at each other through our voluntary promotion of their scripts.It seemed there would be a revolution begining with the coverage of Occupy Wall Street back in September, 2011. Independent journalists came out of the woodwork to cover a phenomena that seemed to spring up from a country fed up with inequality everywhere they looked. Two livestreaming videographers caught this author’s attention; Tim Pool and Luke Rutkowski.
Tim Pool armed with a cell phone only, left Chicago and literally walked us through the full 19 hours of the first protest march across the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1, 2011. It did not take 19 hours to get across the bridge; the momentum of fury at economic and political inequity drove the protesters for 19 hours and Tim Pool covered it with live broadcasting & running commentary. THIS coverage was something different, something unique and something compelling. It was a big fork-in-the-face to main stream media sound bites. There were many people doing the same thing that day but Tim Pool did it better than everyone.
Enter Luke Rutkowski; another livestreamer with a rig a little more sophisticated than Tim’s cellphone only style but still the same basic premis for reporting. Light, mobile and live for as long as it took to cover anything and everything.
Out of this grew a nation wide contingent of writers, photographers and videographers who in theory, we passionate about unedited journalism. Report what you see to millions watching and reading. Tens of millions more were not watching; jobs, family, differing ideologies all contributing reasons why they did not tune into these reporters. Some reporters clearly indicated they were “embedded” in the Occupy everything movement and had a bias. Others like Tim took the old school approach to documenting what they saw and really made an effort to keep their own opinions out of the commentary.
What happened to this contingent of writers, photographers and videographers? Admittedly the content rich environment of Occupy dissapated and eventually dried up. Some held out and reported on the erruption of the Black Lives Matter movement sparked by the shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson Missouri, summer of 2011. That is if they could scrape together the funds to travel halfway across the country and figure out the food, shelter and local contacts necessary to do boots on the ground reporting. In the interim between Occupy in 2011-12 and BLM in 2014 most slammed into the harsh reality of food, shelter and cell phone bills. Some sort of “regular” job was necessary and that meant no jaunting off to parts unknown at a moments notice.
Early on during Occupy most figured out they needed viewer funding; paypal accounts were opened and funds solicited. Then a whole sub-industry of financial tools cropped up because the market demand drives these things, right? Patreon, goFundme, et all, opened for business. But the novelty of livestreaming has waxed and waned because it is event driven. Many took to YouTube full time, hoping for regular ad income. Even that source is drying up, as the once independent vehicle for You to publish content was swallowed up by Google/Alphabet.
We still have not answered the question of where all these eager beavers and their passion has gone. Yesterday was the celebratory SuperBowl LII parade in the center-city district of Philadelphia, PA. At about 10:30 am this author’s scanner app exploded with repeated notifications from Philly law enforcement who were coordinating the complicated task of herding Eagles fans into the five mile parade route and dealing with a host of infractions on business properties and public city assets.
An article was already in the works; having no intention of covering the Super Bowl LII parade, this author struggled to maintain focus. Finally, as reports of vandalism continued to be broadcast, the article was abandoned. Full attention was focused on finding a livestreamer somewhere in a crowd estimated to be anywhere from one to three million by parade start time around 11:00 am.
None were found. Not a single one.
Neiter Luke or Tim were livestreaming; both have regular projects now. Searching for an independent/citizen journalist took an hour and a half before giving up. Today while double checking to see if either uploaded anything overnight; a former contact was discovered. This contact had re-branded but the last video was a year old. I looked a little further, the contact was out of business.
There are probably hundreds of fan videos out there from yesterdays’s Super Bowl parade but none of the folks so committed to journalism were at an event that could bring them subscribers. Most of my new contacts are writers, several have YT channels or other social media outlets. I ask myself what is happening to independent journalism?
To be sure demonitization is a huge factor as are the shadow-banning tactics on Twitter and the up front content filtering on Facebook. If independent journalists, livestreamers and reporters do not cross ideological lines and work together, there will be no one to call three states away to get coverage. It is up to individual sponsors to fund the independent media; it is up to independent media to stop being mouth pieces for single-issue politics. It seems these two things will make or break independent media in two or three years and we will no longer have the pool of independent investigators and journalists like the loose coalition who have worked on the LasVegas shootings for the last five months.
Let that sink in…