Documentary filmaker Tia Lessin has made independent films most of her career. As the director and producer of Citizen Koch, she fully understands how money and billionaire backers can change the political environment. In a discussion she had with Jeff Cohen’s Independent Media class, she said that “money and power is corrupting.”
So if money and power corrupts corporations, politics and people, it must surely also corrupt the media. However idealistic media corporations believe themselves to be, they are not exempt from this idea. More and more frequently, corporate media publish stories that will not make their investors angry, which leads to watered-down articles that do not showcase risky or overly-critical perspectives. Unfortunately, self-censorship is not limited to corporate media. Independent media outlets are also held prisoner by high-dollar investors.
Jack Shafer wrote in “Nonprofit Journalism Comes at a Cost” that nonprofit news organizations are controlled by money and donors. He said “both nonprofit news and commercial news often find themselves constrained by the hidden agendas of their masters.” Therefore, independent media can be heavily but subtly influenced by the donors, thus changing the editorial direction of the publication.
However, independent media outlets have recognized this critical flaw in relying on big donors. Robert Greenwald, co-founder of Brave New Films, understands that democratizing the money process is a good way to decrease the editorial influence big donors have over independent and nonprofit media. The Washington Post wrote about Greenwald’s idea to activate his base in order to get money for his projects. He did this by asking his audience, or true fans, for money. Greenwald gained $267,892 in 10 days proving that democratizing the money-making process is a valid way for independent media to decrease their dependence on big donors. By building a community with its audience, independent media will have more success and freedom in their publications. The audience is a vital asset to the success of independent media.
The press is controlled by money but by altering the way in which independent media gets its monetary support completely changes what can be published. And in an era where the freedom of the press is constantly attempted to be suppressed (by corporate investors, government, philanthropists), democratizing the money-gathering process is a win for everyone. Independent media can publish critical information and the audience feels more connected to them because of their economic participation.