News & Politics

MediaChannel.org Fights Fire with Fire

In an age of mammoth media mergers and the quest for global 'mind share,' a new breed of media organization has thankfully surfaced -- the independent, online media conglomerate. MediaChannel.org, which launched on February 3, is following the lead of its corporate competitors by creating "synergy" through partnerships with 300 media-oriented sites.
With the announcement of every new media merger -- Viacom's summer buyout of CBS, Sprint's winter stab at MCI WorldCom and the most recent $184 billion acquisition of Time Warner by American Online -- the reaction of people in the media watchdog world becomes a little more wary, a little more concerned. You can almost hear the media columnists and journalism professors cry, "What will the spring bring? The purchase of USA Today by Yahoo? The merger of Disney with McDonalds?"Hand wringing is certainly in order. Never has it been more obvious that major media companies are in a feeding frenzy. And never have the results of this frenzy seemed more daunting. First, there is the inevitable decrease in the number of media outlets and with it a decrease in the range of stories being reported. (For instance, if General Electric's NBC doesn't report much on the war in Eritrea, it is likely that CNBC and MSNBC, which NBC manages, will also not cover it.)Then there is the problem of conflict of interests created by all the newfangled "vertical integration," in which those who own the content also control the distribution channels. (Will the ABC Entertainment Group, which is owned by Walt Disney, really refrain from plugging the films of Miramax or the books of Hyperion when Disney also owns those companies?)Yes, yes, media watchers are nodding their heads, with a crinkle in the brow that indicates equal measures of outrage and exhaustion. The question they all ask is how can independent media -- particularly independent new media, such as Web sites devoted to campaign finance reform -- have any impact in a world overwhelmed by nine or ten media giants? How can one compete against multibillion-dollar corporations who are out to dominate the last cheap information carrier?Two media veterans in New York have considered these questions and are looking the wooly media conglomerate straight in the eye. The plan of Danny Schechter and Rory O'Connor, both award-winning journalists and makers of documentary television programs, is to borrow some of the business tactics of their corporate competitors and create an online "supersite" that culls content from independent media organizations from the U.S. and around the globe. Their newly launched site, MediaChannel.org, will post stories and reports from 300 partners sites, such as Corporate Watch (www.corpwatch.org/), Africa News Service (www.africanews.org/) and the Index on Censorship (www.oneworld.org/index_oc) -- with the objective of becoming the largest media watchdog site in the world and giving these online publications the wider audience and higher visibility that synergy ensures."For a long time now independent media in America has been fighting a battle to sustain itself economically and maintain its journalistic independence in the presence of media consolidation," said Danny Schechter, co-founder and vice president of Globalvision New Media, which is the MediaChannel's parent organization. "The result of the consolidation has a global echo. Multinational media groups talk about getting 'mind share.' What we're doing is linking the mainstream and independent sectors to try to resist that and broaden debate."MediaChannel.org may already be off to a good start in achieving this goal, as it is being produced by Oneworld Online (www.oneworld.net), an international news site that reports in five languages and has half a million monthly users. Walter Cronkite has also given his benediction, urging readers to "make the MediaChannel your media 'bookmark' and your portal for the Internet." The site, which is a nonprofit for now, has received funding from George Soros' Open Society Institute, Reebok and the Rockefeller and Puffin foundations.Visibility and sustainability have proved to be the thorniest of problems for new, and particularly nonprofit, Web sites, which is why the MediaChannel plans to market and seek advertisers jointly with its partners. "Just as AOL and Time Warner are getting bigger by associating, nonprofit and independent media have to do the same without giving up what's special and unique to them," said Rory O'Connor, co-founder of Globalvision.O'Connor plans to approach DoubleClick, the leading advertising agency for the Net, and have them present the MediaChannel's partner sites as a package to advertisers who otherwise may be reluctant to take on sites with small readerships. He and Schechter also have plans to create revenue for the MediaChannel through e-commerce deals, fee services for tailored information and annual memberships.A media-oriented supersite is just the first of several Web conglomerates that Globalvision New Media plans to create. Also on the drawing board are online channels devoted to global labor issues, news that doesn't get covered and interfaith religion. Like the MediaChannel, these proposed sites will be based on partnerships with like-minded, independent organizations that are on the Web but off many people's radar screens."We're reacting to our advisers in the nonprofit world who say: You guys have got to grow up in the 21st century and start acting a little bit more like the private/for-profit world, which has been getting together, aggregating and becoming bigger and more visible," said O'Connor.The MediaChannel is doing that. Not only because it wants to, but also, it seems, because it has little choice.AlterNet.org will also be partnering with the MediaChannel. Details will follow; stay tuned.
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