The conference has nothing to do with zoology and is all about media visionaries. I was beginning to wonder if the relentless 14-hour conference day had turned off the receptors in my brain, but apparently not: Paul Bass of local indy news site New Haven Independent kicked up a ruckus last night. Bass was the last of, count ‘em, seven speakers, a visionary on a panel of suits.
Bass has been a reporter for 25 years and was inspired to go it alone online because the souls of local, corporate newspaper businesses are dead, he said. He’s vitriolic about the state of corporate media: “Newspapers aren’t dead, but we’re doing the innovative [stuff] and you’ll be following us. The right-wing media monopolies have destroyed our cities.”
Bass laments that when he started covering New Haven there were six local radio news stations and now there is “less than one” — it reads out AP copy from a studio in another state and occasionally mispronounces the mayor’s name. Going indie and online, reporters might lose the comfortable jobs with medical benefits and paid holidays, but “you can get back to doing what you got into the business for.”
The people working on small indie news sites like VillageSoup in Maine and New Jersey’s Baristanet are tired but exhilarated because they can now do real reporting and in new ways. “Fogies like us are learning how to use digital cameras, and we’re giving up telling people what to think to instead use our skills as fact givers and filters — and that gives more power to citizens.”
New Haven Independent is funded through a combination of grants, charitable donors, sponsorship and — although with minimal success as yet — subscribers that pay by monthly direct withdrawals from their bank accounts. “You get 200 people to sign up like that and you’ve paid for a reporter.”
Bass: “Not-for-profit is not necessarily the only way to go but I do think for-profit media is largely a bad idea.”
Jemima Kiss is a freelance journalist and London contributor to PaidContent.org.