Most discussions of citizen journalism assume that the Internet is the best medium for people who want to come together to produce news stories. But a new media company has a vision that’s more, well, visual: it hopes to bring the concept of citizen journalism to television.
On June 15, Toronto-based Independent World Television (IWT) announced plans to launch a television channel by late 2007 that will incorporate citizens’ voices into its programming mix. The group also launched a website and began soliciting donations to fund its effort.
Unlike most television networks – including Current, a commercial citizen journalism network with similarly styled programming being put together by former Vice President Al Gore – IWT will not run commercials. What’s more, unlike the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), the group says it will not accept government funding. Instead, IWT is asking individuals to donate $50, preferably via the Web. According to the group’s prospectus, if 500,000 people donate $50 apiece, IWT will be able to be sustain its first year of production.
IWT has recruited an impressive array of advisors, consultants, and staffers, who have been highly successful in the past at using the Internet for fundraising tool – and as a vehicle for social change. Its Internet fundraising efforts are being led by Nicco Mele, former webmaster for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. Stephanie Schriock, Dean’s national finance director, is handling IWT’s large-donor fundraising campaign.
The group’s money-raising efforts are off to a promising start. Contacted eight hours after the site’s launched, Paul Jay, IWT’s founding chairman, said the site had raised more than $10,000.
“This was supposed to be a soft launch, but because of the attention we’ve received already from blogs, this whole thing is exploding,” Jay said.
Of course it’s a long way from $10,000 to the $25 million the group estimates it will need to fund its first year of broadcasting; but Jay is optimistic about the potential that the Internet offers. Jay also says the Web will be the springboard – the community-building tool that will heighten interest in IWT, and, he hopes, pave the way for a successful launch in 2007.
So far, though, IWT has taken seed money from foundations and the Canadian Auto Workers Union. But it says this funding is a temporary solution, and it will move away from these sources when the citizen fundraising effort ramps up.
IWT plans to offer stories that today’s mainstream media doesn’t cover, such as the “Downing Street Memo,” which alleged that the Bush administration made the facts fit its policy in the runup to the Iraq War. In most cases, according to IWT staffers, such stories aren’t covered because of corporate and government pressures, direct or indirect. Even PBS, the group claims, is tainted by commercial and government interests through its corporate underwriting and government grants – more today than ever before.
In fact, lending credence to IWT’s claims, the day after their launch, the New York Times reported that investigations have begun into alleged improper disclosure of lobbying contributions by the government-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which also helps fund PBS) to Republican lobbyists.
As an example of the kind of fare IWT plans to offer, the program J-Pop will feature video footage shot by citizens, uploaded to the site via a BitTorrent application, vetted by IWT editors, and aired.