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Is It Time For Independent Crowd-Funded Media Outlets?

05/21/2014 05:32 EDT | Updated 07/21/2014 05:59 EDT

A few months ago, just before the Quebec provincial elections, I wrote an article for The Tyee bringing to light my very real concerns about media convergence and why Canada desperately needed new and diverse media outlets.

"Journalism's first and most important function is to inform and challenge the status quo", I wrote in that article.

"But how do you do that when you're owned by the status quo? It's a question being asked more and more as media sources are being gobbled up by conglomerates and profit becomes a priority over public interest."

Is it any wonder that there's such a general malaise with journalism in general these days and a lack of trust on the part of readers? It's arguably the reason why more and more independent sources of crowd-sourced information are popping up to fill the void.

Today, press releases were sent out announcing the launch of Ricochet and the beginning of its crowdfunding campaign. Billing itself as a new media outlet that is bilingual, independent and pan-Canadian, it's an ambitious independent media project, and one that is badly needed.

Media convergence and concentration of media ownership spawns media oligarchies which can compromise democracy and the dissemination of information. Commercially-driven companies focus on profit, not the public interest. It's a trend that can prove to be very dangerous.

Continuing from my previously mentioned The Tyee piece: "In an article written by Lawrence McCurry for Canadian Dimension magazine, pointing to mainstream media's failure to cover the G20 Summit fairly, he states: 'In 1990, 17.3 per cent of daily newspapers were independently owned; whereas in 2005, one per cent were."' Those are scary numbers.

"Media fare is ever more closely linked to the needs and concerns of a handful of enormous and powerful corporations, with annual revenues approaching the GDP of a small nation," Robert W. McChesney argues in his book Rich Media, Poor Democracy.

"These firms are run by wealthy managers and billionaires with clear stakes in the outcome of the most fundamental political issues, and their interests are often distinct from those of the vast majority of humanity... "By any known theory of democracy, such a concentration of economic, cultural, and political power into so few hands -- and mostly unaccountable hands at that -- is absurd and unacceptable."

Democracy depends on a vigilant and informed public. Information is currency in today's world. Without it, democracy can't function, or is -- at the very least -- severely compromised.

And that threat to democracy is happening in newsrooms everywhere.

A recent VICE article offered a glorious take-down of the traditional media model.

"Newspapers are dying, newsrooms are downsizing, and the news outlets left standing are in the hands of a few rich people, which means that if you lose your job for committing journalism at one outlet there aren't many competitors to which you can turn. What's left is a gaggle of stodgy old white men, their ranks replenished by those who can afford to be unpaid interns for months or even years, at the end of which time they will have learned to accept the narrow parameters within which their profession operates, aware that their freedom to choose a story is inversely related to their desire to have a long career."

It's a brutal piece, but anyone who has worked in a newsroom knows there's a lot of truth in it. Journalism -- if it's to be the kind that educates, inspires, and keeps power on alert and always uncomfortable -- needs new blood and it needs new independent sources of income. The minute it ceases to be reliant on and beholden to advertising, it can speak the truth more loudly and more aggressively than any traditional media models ever could.

It's why media project initiatives such as Ricochet are good news for the Canadian media landscape and will hopefully provide an outlet that will feature more progressive, alternative, multicultural and bilingual stories and angles.

"Independent and in the public interest, Ricochet will provide a space dedicated to investigative journalism and high-profile opinion. Published in two distinct editions, English and French, Ricochet will illuminate the cultural and political diversity of this country," states the press release.

Ricochet intends to cover the bulk of its operating costs through a sustainable system of micropayment crowd-funding which has never before been tried for journalism. If successful, this project will prove a new model of financing which can be copied by other media outlets.

It's an ambitious goal, and the amount they are hoping to raise through crowd-funding is $75,000 (no small amount), but Ricochet has assembled a strong team of journalists (which they intend to pay fairly) and initially only having the editors volunteer their time and expertise, thus hoping to gain people's support and financial commitment.

Not to mention, that Ricochet's bilingual and national focus will bring a unique and much-needed perspective to the stories commissioned and eventually published.

Author and activist Judy Rebick agrees: "I support Ricochet because it's way over time that we have a publication that brings together Quebec and English Canada, that has people from Quebec and English Canada working together, where they're discussing issues and letting each other know what's going on in the other place."

Time will tell whether Ricochet will prove to be a successful venture, but there is certainly no denying that this is the time for independent media projects to be attempted, and that this attempt is very badly needed.

Click for more information on Ricochet.

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