A New Standard for Independent Media

by Brian Dominick and Jessica Azulay
Brian and Jessica are Syracuse-based organizers and journalists.

Have you ever wondered why there is no such thing as a daily, progressive publication that delivers hard news – one that covers world events, public policy and social movements from a fresh, critical perspective?
Have you ever wondered why there is no independent counterpart to the major newspapers – why there is no outlet that foregoes the fluff and spectacle of corporate media, and instead chooses to focus its coverage on the events and policies relevant to people’s everyday lives?
Have you ever wondered why no one has stepped up to provide viable alternatives for professional journalists who are stuck in the commercial machinery of the major media, self-censoring and softening their coverage of important events?
Or have you wondered why alternative media organizations do not have the funding to adequately support grassroots journalists struggling to bring unreported and underreported news to a public deprived of relevant information?
Have you ever wondered why, given that corporate media outlets funded by advertisements and stockholders are inherently corrupted by the profit motive, no one has constructed a nonprofit, anti-commercial alternative?
You probably have.
If you’ve wondered long enough, you’ve probably realized that the obstacles to creating a progressive, daily news source are immense. Without advertisements, it’s hard to generate significant revenue. And without money coming in, it’s impossible to fairly compensate editors, journalists, photographers and others for quality news coverage.
You’ve probably also concluded that if it could be done, it would have already been done. So, if you’re like us, daunted by the obstacles, you may have put the idea to rest.
But for us, the idea never sat well at rest. It was too compelling. So we’re doing it.
We started with a set of values – principles we thought any news organization with real integrity should be founded upon. The ideals we came up with include relevance, diversity, participation, empowerment and accessibility.
Everyone knows ideals don’t fare well in the harsh world of media. Advertisers and ideologues maul them. We decided to uphold them.
In order to insulate our values from greed and dogma, we formed a new kind of media institution: collectively structured, participatory, anti-commercial, not-for-profit – independent even from big foundations and their attached strings. The organization is called PeoplesNetWorks. Its first major undertaking, The NewStandard, a subscription-funded online newspaper, is set to launch in early January.
Once we knew what we wanted, we had to get help. And we needed a lot of help. No god-fearing capitalist in his right mind would start a full-featured news website with a budget under $2 million. We sketched out a shoestring budget of $100,000, hoping potential funders wouldn’t laugh at such a meager projection of expenditures. After no insignificant effort, we raised $12,000, which, along with our own contributions, we have managed to stretch decidedly far.
Then, we hired two more collective members who have joined us here in Syracuse. We originally thought it would be difficult to find two people willing to share the hard work and substantial risk of this uncertain endeavor. Instead, we had an overwhelming response, and the challenge became selecting the two people most qualified and compatible out of a pool of tremendous talent and experience. We’re happy to introduce to Central New York Shawn Gaynor, who left behind the award-winning news weekly Asheville Global Report, and accomplished researcher/activist Simone Baribeau, of Washington, DC, who previously worked for the Center for Economic Policy Research.
In addition to the collective applicants, we were contacted by over 3,500 journalists from around the world. Each is eager to write for an outlet that is both dedicated to keeping commercial and governmental interests out of the newsroom and committed to fairly remunerating contributors for their work. From these original applicants, we solicited hundreds of writing samples and started forming relationships with a small number of them, building an international base of reporters.
We also started developing our own website software, as well as unique web-based methods for gathering, organizing and editing news content. If our endeavor is to be authentic, everything about it has to be tailored to the unique approach we’re taking. So we created, and will continue to build upon, software that not only streamlines all aspects of The NewStandard’s newsroom process but also increases the technological capability of others interested in producing news.
PeoplesNetWorks will do more than just deliver news to passive consumers. It will place news in a valuable context, elicit and inspire diverse responses, and otherwise facilitate critical thought, lively discussion, informed dissent and responsible social action. Objectives as ambitious as these require diverse approaches. Innovation and a willingness to experiment with entirely new methods of creating and delivering information have expanded PeoplesNetWorks’ potential in exciting ways.
We are building an online presence that facilitates a variety of ways to produce, consume and act on news. Not only is The NewStandard itself to be a major tool in the hands of the public, but PeoplesNetWorks will also provide dynamic publishing capabilities to individuals, grassroots organizations and other alternative media outlets. Rather than compete with existing progressive media, we intend to cooperate with it.
In the early phases, subscribers to The NewStandard will be able to participate in forums and chatrooms with journalists, editors and other readers. Readers and journalists alike will be encouraged and enabled to set up their own weblogs where they can publish their own news, links and commentary. These features combine the open publishing phenomenon represented by sites like Indymedia with the polish and coordination of professionally written/edited news.
We have often been asked how The NewStandard’s content will differ from writing featured on progressive sites such as Alternet, ZNet, and Common Dreams. The answer is simple: while those websites feature commentary and analysis, our primary focus will be first-hand, on-the-ground reporting of current events. Our content will be published on an ongoing news cycle. As a result of our straight-forward approach to news, and our focus on providing primary coverage of events, we expect to have a much broader readership than secondary source, opinion-centric alternative media. And as a result of our independent perspective, we expect to reach people disaffected by corporate media.
Indeed, nothing like this has ever been done before. And, yes, this is all taking place right here in Syracuse.
Our weekly pre-release publication is scheduled to launch in December and the full-blown project will be up and running in January. Having worked on building PeoplesNetWorks almost every single day since May of this year, it is both exhilarating and anxiety-inducing to be so close to releasing the earliest fruits of all that effort. As grueling as an 80-hour work week sounds, we have encountered its superiors: the second, third and fourth consecutive such week. Significant funding is still needed, but non-monetary rewards have already begun to trickle in: enthusiastic and committed support from scores of talented writers, two fresh-faced co-editors/organizers, and the public.
We have received tremendous support from the local community. A couple of local activists have made generous donations, and the Syracuse Cultural Workers has granted us temporary use of its vacant building at 1419 East Fayette St, where we’ve already established an office. We look forward to ties with other community groups and projects.
Now you can stop wondering why no one has ever established a new standard for independent news and start participating in the process. Please visit us on-line at <www.NewStandardNews. net> or email us at <collective@peoples networks.net>. If you would like to donate to PeoplesNetWorks, you can write/send a check to: PeoplesNetWorks, 203 Bassett St., Syracuse, NY 13210.