“The model will be a network that’s a marriage of professional and citizen journalism,” says Matt Thompson, Internet director of IWT. “The time is right to apply [citizen journalism] to television.”
The rest of IWT’s proposed programming will feature professional content in the areas of news programs, talk shows, and documentary features.
Raising money to launch the network and cultivating a group of citizen journalists is only part of the challenge, though. As daunting will be gaining access (called “carriage”) on cable and satellite networks.
“Carriage for a new network is almost impossible to get today,” says Anthony Crupi, a senior editor at MediaWeek.
But Jay’s team believes they have a solution. Already IWT has formed a partnership with LinkTV, a fellow progressive network that is disseminated on the two major satellite carriers, DirecTV and EchoStar. That partnership will gain the IWT station access to an estimated 25 million households in the United States, according to Kim Spencer, president of LinkTV.
“If what IWT is proposing comes together, this will be a great partnership,” says Spencer.
Jay says he has met with the head of government relations for both Comcast and Time Warner, and presented a plan that would give IWT carriage as a free video-on-demand option – essentially costing the carriers nothing to run and giving them the opportunity to possibly sell paid content around the IWT fare. Jay characterized the meetings as “positive.” The arrangement would give IWT exposure and fundraising possibilities in exchange for its giving away its programming for free.
“There’s not a lot of real estate left on the linear [traditional] cable networks,” acknowledges Jenni Moyer, a Comcast spokeswoman. She wouldn’t comment on IWT, confirm the meeting, or discuss any programming negotiations, but said that “for unique or niche content, or for a more targeted audience, video on demand is more viable.”
Finally, there’s the philosophical challenge facing IWT: its model upends entrenched perceptions and habits about mass media news. And doing so can be a risky business. In 2000, for example, Chicago television station WBBM abandoned the popular “if it bleeds, it leads” approach dominating local newscasts, in favor of a more sober approach that spent time examining the nuances of a story. After nine months, though, the experiment failed, with the station’s ratings plummeting to an eight-percent share, according to a report in Columbia Journalism Review.
Indeed, one could argue that, given the success of networks such as Fox News and programs such as Lou Dobbs on CNN, people want spin in their news.
Nonetheless, Jay sticks to his argument: people are fed up with most newscasts, and the Internet’s capabilities has given people the desire to participate in change. As proof, he cites the global anti-Iraq war protests in February 2003, organized largely via the Internet, and studies showing increased disdain for the news media.
“It’s not just a TV network or a website,” says Jay of IWT. “This isn’t something to consume. It’s a movement for democracy. It’s something people can contribute to and build.”
Eric Hellweg is an award-winning writer and editor who has covered business and technology for over 10 years.