consortiumnews.com

More Bang for the Penny: Media's Hope

By Robert Parry
December 6, 2004

Over the past year, our Web logs show that Consortiumnews.com has attracted about 1.3 million readers, while operating on an annual budget of about $10,000, or a ratio of less than 1 cent per reader. Since our stories also are reposted at scores of Web sites around the Internet and are published in some print magazines, the actual ratio of readers to costs can be calculated at only a fraction of a penny per reader.

Our content, too, is not frivolous. We address important questions of war and peace, democratic values, and the sorry state of the national news media. With investigative reports on issues such as the Bush family’s hardball politics and the truth behind Colin Powell’s legend, we also have helped empower tens of thousands of Americans by giving them reliable information to help make sense of today’s perplexing world.

I say all this not to toot our own horn, but to point out a tragedy in modern American politics. While wealthy liberals have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Democratic Party political ads and other short-term projects, they have largely starved media outlets that offer far more hope for America’s political future – and can deliver far more bang for the penny.

This tragedy of under-funded independent journalism has been compounded by the contrary strategy pursued by conservatives to invest billions of dollars over the past quarter century to build their own powerhouse media infrastructure. Conservatives now have a vast media that rivals the mainstream or corporate media, which increasingly tilts to the right in a frantic bid to hold onto conservative viewers and readers.

Profound Impact

The consequence of these conflicting strategies – heavy conservative investment in media and relative neglect by well-to-do liberals – has been profound.

Many Middle Americans now get a steady dose of conservative propaganda about how twisted and immoral liberals are, while virtually no liberal voices are out there to contest this negative message. It should be no surprise, therefore, that tens of millions of Americans, especially in the heartland where conservative media is even more dominant, hate liberals and will vote for conservatives, even when that makes no sense for the voter’s self-interest.

Another consequence is that rank-and-file liberals feel increasingly isolated and marginalized because they find few options on the mass-media dial. Liberals can either tune in mouthy conservative commentators on the attack or listen to mealy-mouthed centrist “journalists” who mostly just want to keep their jobs.

Despite the enduring myth of the “liberal media,” articulate liberals are the group least represented on American news shows. One of the results of this center-right imbalance was the U.S. press corps’ shortage of skepticism about George W. Bush’s Iraq War rationales, including false claims that Iraq possessed dangerous stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

As conservative columnist Paul Craig Roberts wrote in a post-election column, “There was a time when I could rant about the ‘liberal media’ with the best of them. But in recent years, I have puzzled over the precise location of the ‘liberal media.’

“Not so long ago, I would have identified the liberal media as the New York Times and Washington Post, CNN and the three TV networks, and National Public Radio. But both the Times and the Post fell for the Bush administration’s lies about WMD and supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq. On balance, CNN, the networks, and NPR have not made an issue of the Bush administration’s changing explanations for the invasion.” [See Paul Craig Roberts’s “What Became of Conservatives,” Nov. 26, 2004.]

Looking Elsewhere

But there has been an encouraging backlash. Hundreds of thousands of skeptical Americans now scour the Internet for independent news or tune in foreign broadcasts like the BBC seeking more objective coverage of the war and other international events.

More evidence of this demographic group, which might be called the desperate liberals, can be found in the surprisingly high ratings of cash-strapped media start-ups, such as Air America Radio which has scored well in direct competition with better-funded, better-known conservative rivals. Liberals as well as many other independent-minded Americans appear hungry for media that speaks to them.

So, while today’s media landscape may appear bleak, there is a ray of hope in the existence of a large and eager market for alternative media. If smart investments are made now in honest journalism and in brave outlets to distribute the information, an audience already exists to listen, watch and read.

As for us at Consortiumnews.com, we would like to transform our part-time operation into one that permits us to conduct more expansive investigations and would give us the means to add audio and video to our Web site. All of that requires money, of course, which is why we are conducting our end-of-year fundraiser.

Our short-term goal of raising $20,000 from our readers would allow for continuation of our Web site – now nearly a decade old – and for some expansion. But our hope is that Americans with financial means will recognize the national crisis in media and begin to invest accordingly. Without a strong independent news media, there is no way out of the political swamp where America finds itself.

We also believe that if the media investments are done wisely, the cost-benefit ratio can continue to be impressive, with every penny ensuring that another American gains access to important information, which, in turn, can start the revitalization of U.S. politics.

Without doubt, many pennies will be needed to make this hope a reality. But there perhaps never was a moment when the old warning against being “penny wise and pound foolish” was so true.

 

As part of our fund-raising drive, Consortiumnews.com is offering free books with donations of $100 or $250. A $100 contribution qualifies a donor for an autographed gift copy of Robert Parry’s new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. With a contribution of $250 or more, a donor can get autographed copies of three of Parry’s books: Trick or Treason: The October Surprise Mystery; Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’; and Secrecy & Privilege.

Another way to help Consortiumnews.com reach its goals is to buy a copy of Secrecy & Privilege through the direct-sale Web site at http://www.secrecyandprivilege.com . For each book sold at the Web site, $2 will go to Consortiumnews.com That means the sale of only 5,000 books would get us halfway to our goal of $20,000.

In a new review of Secrecy & Privilege, the Web site Dogskinreport.com wrote, “if Americans read a single book about current affairs this year, Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege should be it … As Parry’s crowbar pries open the Bush family crypt, an entire cabal of deep power politicians and their subterranean backers are found within.”


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com.

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