It's the million dollar question: can the independent media create real change? There's certainly no shortage of willing journalists and activists who want to create a powerful alternative to the corporate media's myopic view, but with limited resources and so much competition, can small, independent media outlets actually have any impact?
It's the question that was put to a panel at the National Conference of Media Reform today that included Robert Greenwald, president of Brave New Films; Jane Hamsher, founder of FireDogLake.com; Jefferson Morley, national editorial director for the Center for Independent Media; and Daisy Hernandez, managing editor of ColorLines magazine.
While the task may seem daunting, each member of the panel was able to give specific examples of how they were involved in a story or campaign that had an immediate impact in shaping the news and changing the debate in the mainstream media.
Perhaps the biggest example was Brave New Film and Mother Jones' campaign to expose the controversial relationship of Republican presidential candidate John McCain and Reverend Rod Parsley. When campaigning in Ohio last February, McCain called Parsley "one of the truly great leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide." But after posting a video on YouTube of some of Parsley's sermons, in which he says Islam is "an anti-Christ religion that intends, through violence, to conquer the world," McCain quickly had to reject Parsley's endorsement.
While the video didn't have the same impact as the Wright-Obama controversy, it showed how McCain has been shamelessly courting the fundamentalist Christian vote in order to become the next president and forced McCain to make a clear stand against the Islamic racism that is rampant in many parts of America.
Jane Hamsher talked about how one solitary blogger can also influence the national debate. As the founder of FireDogLake.com, a liberal blog site that became famous for its coverage of the Scotter Libby trail, Hamsher did a video report about John McCain's shady campaign finance structure, which was then picked up by CNN. The story helped dispel the myth that has been circulating in the media that McCain is some kind of maverick for campaign reform.
But you don't have to be an activist to create change. Jefferson Morley gave an example of how good old-fashioned journalism can still expose lies and corruption. A former staff member with the Washington Post, Morley changed sides and is now the national editorial director of the Center for Independent Media – which runs a number of independent news web sites across the country. His reporters have stuck to the basics of reporting and helped expose a private contractor who had worked in Iraq as nothing more than a fraud.
The one thing the panel didn't necessarily show is whether independent media is having a deeper impact on the way people think about the issues and the power they are giving up. However, the examples from this group of panellists do show that the independent media is laying down the groundwork for a new type of media and is beginning to make some major dents in the amour of the corporate press.
You can follow the updates from the conference at twitter.com/adbuster