Paul Jay and his IWT staff hope providing news with
greater context, analysis and depth will attract an audience
willing to financially support them.
Paul Jay shakes and rocks a vending machine inside CFRB
radio headquarters at Yonge and St. Clair in Toronto. His black
and grey chin stubble and shaved head tell the story of a man
with little time on his hands. It's nearly 11 p.m. on a Wednesday
night, and he's about to go on air to talk about his planned
television and web news network. Independent
World Television (IWT) is set to launch its online news
show, The Real News, in March.
But right now, all Jay cares about is junk food. He
hasn't eaten since lunch and his bag of onion-flavoured Sun Chips
is stuck above the flap of the vending machine. After a minute of
cursing and kicking the machine, he stops, steps back and stares
at it, calculating. Then he steps to its left and slams it
against another machine. When that doesn't work, he crouches down
and sticks his hand up the flap until it can't go any further. He
grumbles, "Of course, they don't design these machines so you can
steal from them," before putting in more change to get his
Jay, creator and executive producer of
counterSpin, the old nightly debate show on
CBC, and former chair of Hot Docs , relates to the vending
machine much like he does to mainstream media. He's frustrated
because it doesn't produce what he wants, so he gives up and
tries a new tack. In media terms, that new tack is IWT, which is
projected to be viewer funded and not rely on government or
advertising money. That's a tall order, but Jay's got an
extensive business plan. He also has the backing of a 125-member
founding committee made up of well-known intellectuals, media
critics and journalists, including Naomi
Klein, Stephen Lewis and Lewis Lapham. IWT has already raised
$5 million from several foundations, charitable trusts,
individuals and unions, including the Canadian Auto Workers
Union, the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur
Foundation . The plan now is to use the network's
website to attract 250,000 individual donors to contribute $10 a
month. Jay and company estimate they will need $30 million a year
to sustain broadcasting in the long-term, but only $4 million for
the first year.
Patrice Mousseau, host of The
Nightside on CFRB radio station, talks with Paul Jay about his
vision for an independent news station.
IWT, based out of Toronto — but with plans for
additional offices in New York, Los Angeles and New Delhi
— will rely on its own reporters, as well as interviews
with journalists from all over the globe, to provide in-depth and
contextualized news. Jay thinks enough people crave this type of
journalism to attract an audience. "There are tons of people who
have already given up on most TV news," he says. "We want to
provide context to people who feel tuned out because they don't
know enough about stories."
media that are pressured by government or corporate interests
don't adequately cover the news. These outlets miss facts, won't
cover certain stories they deem too compromising and alienate a
large section of the public by refusing to provide historical
context. He says the global warming media coverage in the United
States is a perfect example of how media bows to government
interests. "There is a very organized force coming from the White
House, Congress and Senate pressuring broadcasters to have this
so-called balanced debate on global warming, meaning those who
say there isn't global warming should get the same air time as
those who say there is."
For example, Jay
says, U.S. nightly news programs failed to adequately cover a
climate change report by
The New York Times in
2005 (and later reported on CBS 60 Minutes). In the
story, Rick Piltz of the federal Climate
Change Science Program said Philip Cooney, White House
chief of staff for Council on Environmental Quality (and a former
lobbyist with the American Petroleum Institute), inaccurately
edited his commentary on global warming, watering down his
findings before they went public. Despite the fact that Cooney
resigned two days after the Times story
broke, Jay believes major nightly news programs were scared to
expose the story. "The problem with getting one good piece on
60 Minutes, the fifth
estate or PBS is that it doesn't have the
weight that nightly news does because it's not repeated.
Clearly," he continues, "it's because of the intimidation that
goes on in newsrooms that they don't take up debates they are
worried about getting smacked on."
issue of media independence is more complicated than Jay
suggests, says David Folkenflik, media correspondent for National Public
Radio (NPR) in the U.S. "While there are stories that
are missed by the mainstream media who are sometimes cowed,
tentative or ambivalent," he says, "I'm not sure that simply by
virtue of them having advertisers or government funding they are
unable to cover the news." Folkenflik doesn't see newspapers like
the Times, the
Washington Post or the
Street Journal pulling their punches to
appease advertisers either. He himself has never felt political
pressure at NPR, a membership radio station funded by programming
fees, corporate sponsorship and foundations.
Yet IWT plans on forgoing funding from corporations and
governments, looking instead to viewers to cover its future $30
million in annual operating costs. However, one of its
Internet strategy consultants, Camilo Wilson, admits the goal is
optimistic and "probably not going to happen." He thinks IWT will
have to rely more on money from foundations to reach its
long-term goal. "There are very few organizations in the world
that get $30 million a year from memberships," he says. Wilson
cites the American Association of Retired
People (AARP), which receives $229 million a year from
memberships, but says it's had almost half a century to build a
reputation. "The only news organizations that have large
membership revenues are the Wall Street
Journal and Playboy —
if you consider Playboy journalism," he
says, though he acknowledges PBS's membership
categorically rule out the power of the web to attract donors,
but warns, "Looking at the Internet as an ATM machine is the
wrong way to go about it." He thinks IWT could attract
a sizeable number of donors only once its website is
Less tentative is Jeff
Cohen, U.S. media critic and former IWT cable
consultant. "The key to why an independent channel can succeed
now and it never could in the last 25 years," he says, "is
because people have figured out how to use the Internet for
building capital and marketing." Cohen cites the Howard Dean
campaign and MoveOn.org as examples of the
potential to raise millions of dollars through small donations.
Paul Jay, founder of IWT, says media
organizations are not adequately covering the news because they
cater to government and corporate interests.
Like Cohen, Jay is confident. He
says more than half of the people who watch TV news are critical
of it. Therefore, he reasons, "We only need a small fraction of
those people to donate money." His plan to reach such a huge
audience — and get them to put up cash for his network
— seems even more daunting given the fact that IWT
hasn't secured deals with large Canadian and U.S. cable
companies. But based on his talks with Rogers,
Warner and Comcast executives, he remains
hopeful. "They've all expressed an interest in carrying it on
Video on Demand," he says.
Cohen says it's
natural that big cable companies haven't negotiated a deal yet.
"I would wait until a channel was ready to go before I'd sign
anything or make any commitments," he says. He believes IWT will
eventually get deals with big cable companies because "it would
be a major embarrassment to them if IWT was politically censored
while they carry Fox news."
has, however, landed contracts with small cable companies such as
America's Link TV and Regional News
Network, and Canada's VisionTV, which he says collectively
would bring IWT into 34 million homes.
Perhaps the biggest challenge IWT faces is getting past the
preconceived notion that it is a liberal, left-wing channel. With
only a handful of conservatives on its 125-member founding
committee, it is in danger of developing a reputation for being
the anti-Fox even before it goes to air — and Jay knows
it. "The video on the website is a little bit too one-sided in
left advocacy," he says. "It feels like something from OutFoxed," referring to an
introductory video that features clips of network news channels
like CNN and Fox, with commentary about
IWT's vision overtop. Yet Jay is adamant IWT will not spin the
news to serve a left-wing agenda. "We're going to use the method
of verified journalism — go after facts, go where the
evidence leads us — and we don't care where the chips
fall," he says.
That vow isn't quite good
enough for Cliff Kincaid, a conservative U.S.
reporter and media critic. Kincaid says that in order for IWT to
be politically unbiased it should reach out to more conservatives
like him. "Cable news has become almost a laughing stock, with
its never-ending focus on missing-persons cases and other trash,"
he says. "There are a number of conservatives who are disgusted
by what passes as news and information, and the liberals behind
this new network would make a mistake if they ignored them."
Kincaid also thinks IWT's news coverage may be swayed by the
political leanings of its major donors, namely the Ford
Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. "I've written enough
about these foundations to know they have a very strong liberal
point of view," he says. "The idea that the only pressures come
from corporations or governments misses the point —
pressures come from big money."
Peries, director of policy and development for IWT,
insists foundations that fund the network will not have access to
its editorial content. "If there was corruption at the Ford
Foundation, we'd report on it," she says. "We make it very clear
to our funders that we are a media network, not an NGO."
There is much speculation as to whether IWT
will succeed, or even launch, and Jay seems to recognize this.
For all his optimism and drive, he maintains a sense of reality.
"If IWT doesn't get into a position of sustainability," he says,
"there is no point in producing content and six months from now
running out of money." That means it could be a while before IWT
sees the light of a TV screen. While The Real
News is now scheduled to go for March —
having been pushed back from its original fall 2006 launch date
— the projected hour-long TV version won't debut until
at least early 2008.