Gene Hyde’s “Breaking Through the Information Blockade,” serves as a reminder of how indomitable the mainstream media still appears, even as its business model has been rocked over the last decade and a half. The naive optimism which is apparent in Hyde’s writing is certainly understandable circa 2001, but in hindsight it is also predictably just that––naive. While the internet and the rise of indy media probably helped to destabilize the media establishment more rapidly than any other technological change or social movement has to date, it still should be counted as one of many struggles which pitted emerging ideas and technology against establishment ideas in possession of the same technological devices.
Yes, the media establishment today is more concentrated than ever before.
However, journalism is no longer profitable in the way it once was––as evidenced by Jeff Bezos’ $250 million purchase of the Washington Post, an outlet that would’ve been worth far more ten years ago.
“What makes the concept of Indymedias different than many online alternative news sources is their focus on grassroots reporting and online publication. While other online alternative news sources often fill their webpages with editorials, commentaries, and news analysis, Indymedia’s primary emphasis is providing an outlet for filing original, first-hand coverage online through print, photos, audio, and video.”
This, among other things raised by Hyde, is unfortunately quite untrue. While the most notable moments of Indymedia influence in recent years have involved first-hand coverage––Obama’s statement that people in rural areas “cling to guns and religion,” debacle; the “secret video” which arguably was the nail in the Romney presidential campaign’s coffin; even Greenwald’s use of NSA documents (although he should be viewed as an anti-establishment journalist who has gained such a following and such prominence as to be able to choose to work within the establishment)––many indy outlets don’t do their own reporting at all, but merely aggregate different aspects of mainstream coverage, often in a more opinionated way.
Hyde does point out at the end of his article that, “While Indymedia won’t replace the mainstream press any time soon, they are growing at an impressive rate. They will continue to research their stories, cover issues aggressively, and take time to report on issues shunned by the mainstream press.”
In a sense, Hyde is right, as these outlets have continued to do just that. Yet the distinction that he sees between the mainstream press and Indy is no longer so obvious as it was in 2001. The number of “Indy” outlets is far greater than in 2001, but that “Indy” label has been extended to many types of outlets which aren’t discussed in Hyde’s piece. Outlets like Talking Points Memo or Upworthy, are technically “Indy,” but are absent of the decentralized decision-making structures and viewer-supported revenue streams that Hyde highlights, and that, at least in the case of early Indy outlets and the WTO protests, were the defining aspects that elevated its coverage of certain events over that of the mainstream.
Rather than seeing Indy media as the developing model that could overtake the establishment model, it should always be seen as the miniscule David taking on the––usually––indomitable Goliath. The establishment has been challenged, but it hasn’t crumbled. In many cases, where mainstream outlets have failed, indy has moved in, sometimes forgetting the ethical backbone that initiated their success in a clamor to gain a wider audience. When there is no establishment narrative to challenge, a new establishment is quickly formed.