Interview
"The Real News" Junkies Get a Fix

by Alan F.
26 July 2007

Al Franken Withdrawal symptoms are brutal, especially when they last for decades. And we've been enduring withdrawal from journalism on the evening news for a long, long time.

There's a network bursting onto the scene that promises to present real journalism untainted by corporate or governmental money. It's staffed with "unbought and unbossed" journalists from around the world -- Pakistan, Brazil, Canada, India, as well as the United States. Had it been around it would have reported that Colin Powell was making things up before a war broke out.

Independent World Television Network!

In January, I wrote a five-part interview with Paul Jay, the founder of Independent World Television network and its flagship daily news show, The Real News. After speaking with Paul Jay, I was convinced that this network knew what it was doing. This month, I've finally had the satisfaction of seeing an explosion of people who are suddenly finding out for the first time what The Real News is all about.

And I do mean explosion. I've watched the The Real News group on Facebook grow by literally hundreds of members from one day to the next -- and it's still going. I've seen the number of viewings of their video "The Promise" on YouTube go from 1590 yesterday to 2560 today -

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-xZFRohIu0

Last week, I interviewed Paul again. He had already given us all so much to chew on in the first interview that I didn't need to ask him about the whys and wherefores of the network. Instead, I wanted to focus on what's going on now and what we can expect for the rest of the year.

Alan: It looks like there's a lot happening at "The Real News" right now. Would you say that you've entered a new stage?

Paul: Yes. For one thing we really just started our public membership campaign. We emailed our list and we got 140 donations in the first four days. Before this, the site was not changing much, so we would only get two or three a day. But more importantly, we're starting to produce content that will lead to a regular daily news in September. That's when we think the membership campaign will take off. There are three things we'll be doing regularly by then.

One will be to start the day with five or six minutes of news headlines. We want people to get into the habit of going to us to find out what are the big stories today in the world.

And we're going to do a show called "The Real Story," where we take one, maybe two of the major stories of the day. We'll take a look at how other television news is covering it, both in the US and other parts of the world. Then we'll go to journalists that are on the front lines and see what they have to say.

The third thing we're doing is something we're calling "The Real Raw News.. We have a feed we bought from Associated Press Television News. It's really quite interesting coverage of breaking stories. You're lucky to see eight seconds of a four-minute APTN story on a normal newscast. And when you do, the reporters who cover the story never stop talking. You don't get a chance to actually just see and feel what's happening. We're going to give written context for these clips, but then we're going to let them play the way we get them over the wires. People can come to their own conclusions about what they're seeing.

We'll add to that some of the specific segments, coverage of climate change through "Global Warning," political corruption through "Skewer!" and "Follow the Money," questions of global corruption. Then the other segment we'll be working on in the fall will be "Organize This!," about working people and unions. If people watch our promos on the website, they'll get a pretty good idea of what's going on.

A: I see that you have a big focus on Ning.com, which is a social network site. Looks like there's a huge amount of content, and a lot of people posting messages. It seems as though it's a real place to hang out.

P: The news will be on the main Real News site, which is our home base. But we have a Ning community and a Facebook site. We already have a lot of our content on the Real News YouTube channel. And every day, we're going to be putting up everything new we have. YouTube actually contacted us to propose that we become a content partner. That means they give us extra functionality on our web channel on YouTube, and they also promote us. For instance, our promo next week will be one of their director's choices. When we start doing daily material, they'll be promoting us every day. All these platforms, from YouTube to Ning, to Facebook, to MySpace, are important to us. In fact, we've hired some staff who are solely focused on developing them. But people will wind up coming to the main site to watch the programming. However, we don't care about where you see it, as long as you see it.

A: Do you think that the political climate has changed in a way that's either better or worse for "The Real News" since last year, when we last spoke?

P: There's a funny thing that's going on in the U.S. right now. People are more engaged politically because the presidential campaign has started so early, but on the other hand, people are almost already getting tired of it. But the main thing for us is that we want to connect with people's real concerns, not just at the level of following the horse race of political partisanship. The real question facing us is finding our voice. Finding a way to speak to ordinary people, and take complex issues, make them understandable, and make them connect with people's sense of their own interest.

The desperation on the part of viewers who saw the media were shielding Bush regardless of what he did -- that's lessened. But most of the people who are likely to support us early on, such as your readers, understand that the media offering any critique is a temporary phenomenon. The way the media rally around the flag and can support a war based on lies -- that's a structural problem that won't change. And it will happen again. So most people will see the necessity for us. And then when they get a taste of our programming, they will find they're getting insights and a picture of the world they won't get anywhere else.

A: What I saw of that AP feed really brought home to me how filtered the news is. It was just showing a funeral in Bosnia, but you heard the people speaking in their original language, you saw the people grieving for more than just a quarter of a second at a time. It was pretty remarkable.

P: We got a lovely comment from somebody on the website who said that for the first time she got to feel the emotion of the story. She hadn't realized what this constant talking of the journalists does to remove you from the emotionality of the moment. They actually dehumanize the experience because they don't shut up.

A: That's right.

P: And that funeral was an experiment for us that really proved something for us. Just settling into that footage was like a minidocumentary. This experiment with the Bosnian piece was like a foot in both worlds. You get that emotional connection you would do in a documentary, but it's short, it was produced the day the thing happened, within the news cycle.

A: Are you finding that there are people who are becoming "Real News groupies," even outside of your Toronto office? People who have really latched onto it and communicate with you all the time?

P: Yes. People all over the world. We have hundreds of people who are e-mailing all the time. A majority are and will be Americans, but it gives Americans a chance to connect, not just with Canadians, but with people from all over the world, who are already starting to come into the social network.

A: Have you started to see defensive moves from more traditional media, or do you think that will happen once you're a bigger presence?

P: We're not really on their radar yet. What's interesting is that they're doing reports with a bit of critique in them, a bit of oppositional feel. I must stress "a bit." But clearly they know people want it. These are the same networks that were parroting the pro-war arguments for so long. Now that the majority of Americans want that war to end, the networks follow public opinion. But public opinion says "We don't want to be lied to anymore." And I don't think the CNNs and ABCs, because of what they are structurally and economically, can really answer that desire for truth. So if we do it right, the situation's very good for us.

The other thing that's very good for us, which has changed since we last talked, is the maturing of YouTube and Facebook and these other social content platforms. Because now it's not just a question of trying somehow to get people to our website. It's now relatively easy for us to go where people already are. And we can do it in a way conventional news sources can't. If CNN or NBC starts regularly putting their stuff on YouTube, how do they make money on it? The advertising goes to YouTube, not to them. They want to bring people back to their site or TV network to watch the advertising that they make money on. But because our model is not based on advertising, we don't need you to come see our advertising. All we need you to do is to see our content and like it.

We think only about 2-3% of the people who watch us will actually need to give money. We need the more advanced people, like your readers, to give money in much higher percentages. But when we get to the more general population, we just need a lot of people to watch, and then the more conscious people will understand the necessity of supporting it. Our nonprofit, non-advertising model is perfect for the exploding social content on the net.

A: That's great. Is there anything you want to say before we conclude?

P: I would just say that now is the time we really need people who think this is necessary and see the importance of it to donate and get engaged. Tell their friends, spread the word. Go watch us on our site, watch us on YouTube, join the Facebook site, come to our Ning site. Donate. If possible, sign up for automatic monthly donations. We really need a kick-start now. In the early stage, we need big donor funding to get to the next level. But we can't trigger that money if we can't show that there are ordinary people who are willing to make regular contributions, whether it's ten bucks a month or more. Now's the moment that will make a difference.

A: Okay. Let's see whether people rise to the challenge. It's been a pleasure speaking with you, as always.

P: You too, Alan.

And here are some links to send to your friends:

Now let's make sure the world can get The Real News!

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