The War on English: An Answer to the Question, What is Postmodernism?
Niall Lucy & Steve Mickler

Democratic Hospitalities: national borders and the impossibility of the other for democracy
Elaine Kelly

Democracy of the Civil Dead: The Blind Trade in Citizenship
Terry Eyssens

Judith Butler, Gender, Radical Democracy: What’s Lacking?
Julie MacKenzie

Democracy Now! Decolonising US News Media
Kevin Howley

GetUp! for what? Issues Driven Democracy in a Transforming Public Sphere
Henk Huijser & Janine Little

“Oriental Despotism” and the Democratisation of Iraq in The Australian
Benjamin Isakhan

ISSN 1444-3775

ISSN 1444-3775

Issue No. 16 2008 — Democracy Under Fire: the uses and abuses of democracy in the public sphere

Democracy Now! Decolonising US News Media
By Kevin Howley

It is a serious threat to this country not to have a media that is a check and balance on those in power. What we see now is that the media in this country has reached an all-time low having a media embedded in the power structure – Amy Goodman


This essay starts from the premise that corporate interests have colonised the US press – its dominant institutions as well as its professional assumptions, practices and routines. The colonisation of US news media is especially problematic for working journalists. That is, while economic imperatives and commercial interests have long constrained journalistic autonomy, the corporate consolidation of the news industry – with the attendant demands for cost cutting on one hand and profit maximisation on the other – has all but extinguished any semblance of a free press. In the era of corporate colonisation, the US press corps finds it increasingly difficult to maintain its independence from direct and indirect corporate control.

Of course, the field of journalism is not unique in this regard; corporate interests permeate most every facet of daily living – from family and community life, to education, leisure activities and cultural production (see Deetz, Giroux, Ikerd, Maxwell). Nevertheless, corporate colonisation of the press is especially troublesome inasmuch as this condition has enormous implications for the prospects of democratic self-governance. With this in mind, I begin with an overview of a growing body of academic and practitioner analyses that illustrate the extent to which the US news media serves corporate interests thereby degrading independent journalism and fundamentally undermining democratic values and practices.

The essay proceeds with an analysis of the journalistic philosophy and routines employed by Democracy Now! – Pacifica radio’s daily news and public affairs program. It is my contention that Democracy Now! is at the vanguard of an emerging independent media sector that is revitalising US news media at a decisive moment in American (journalism) history. Further, I maintain that it is Democracy Now!’s attentiveness to counter-hegemonic struggles that contribute to its success as the nation’s largest public media collaboration. Throughout, I suggest that Democracy Now!’s significance is best understood in terms of its relation to both corporate news organisations and grassroots media.

Corporate Colonisation of the Press

For a quarter century, former journalist Ben Bagdikian has charted the scale and scope of corporate control of the US media system. Bagdikian’s analysis reveals the detrimental effects corporate consolidation has had on the American media landscape: the erection of nearly insurmountable barriers of entry into media markets; the precipitous decline of minority owned media outlets; the homogenisation of media form and content; and the economic censorship of public expression (Bagdikian).

One of the most pronounced effects of media consolidation has been on local news and cultural production. In recent years, communities across the United States have seen locally owned and operated media outlets swallowed up by outside interests eager to maximise profits, minimise investment, and reduce overheads. Regulatory changes – most notably the Clinton-era Telecommunications Reform Act of 1996 – combined with synergies realised through new media technologies, have facilitated this latest round of media consolidation. As sociologist Eric Klinenberg notes, while market efficiencies benefit corporate media giants, local communities have lost a great deal:

The local reporters, veteran TV producers and live DJs who once provided the stories, sights and sounds that made our hometowns feel like home have become endangered species in the age of Big Media, replaced by the same wire copy, digitally voice-tracked radio programs, video news releases and other canned content that runs in every market, coast to coast. (Klinenberg 22)

When we consider the media system in relation to the broader political economy, the significance of the communication industries to corporate ascendancy comes into sharp relief. As communication scholar Stanley Deetz observes, “the institutional relations between mass-media institutions and other corporate institutions contribute to the preeminence of the corporation as a social institution” (Deetz 31). It is the structural alignments within and between various sectors of the economy that have precipitated the crisis of US journalism and which pose the greatest threat to independent journalism and a free press.

The institutional relationship between the media industries and other corporate enterprises is most fully realised through the practice of advertising. Pleasing corporate sponsors is of the utmost concern for the media industries because commercial advertising “pays the bills.” Corporate media, therefore, have little incentive to challenge the values, interests or practices associated with corporate institutions. While this logic makes perfect business sense, applying this same rationale to the practice of journalism is a recipe for disaster.

None of this is not to suggest that corporate elites exercise direct editorial control over working journalists. As media scholar Robert McChesney notes, the effects of corporate media ownership on journalism are far more subtle, but no less profound: “The corporate/commercial pressure on news often takes place indirectly, and is therefore less likely to be recognised as such by journalists or the public” (“Problem of Journalism” 311). Yet, these pressures are manifest in the day-to-day practice of US journalism.

Indeed, in the era of corporate colonisation, news organisations are expected to do more with less. Compelled to generate profits while minimising redundancies, newsrooms across the country are cutting corners with one hand and enhancing the entertainment value of their news product with the other. Typically, this strategy involves eliminating jobs for working journalists, curtailing if not completely eliminating investigative reporting, re-purposing entertainment fare as news content, and having a growing reliance on the public relations industry for “pre-packaged” news items.

In this environment, journalists are left with few good options. Anxious to avoid antagonising commercial interests or government news sources, journalists rarely challenge people in positions of power and authority for fear of losing access to “official sources.” Instead, working journalists play it safe by taking a less confrontational stance toward elites, pursuing instead the sensational, the titillating or the trivial news item. Thus, journalists create the illusion of conflict and controversy by covering relatively inconsequential “news items” like celebrity gossip, or the sexual misconduct of politicians, while studiously avoiding substantive public policy issues.

This condition has dire consequences for our politics and culture. When the public good is subordinate to the marketplace in determining news values and priorities, journalism’s role in nurturing an egalitarian public sphere is debased. Divorced from its historic role as an incubator for an active and engaged citizenry, the contemporary practice of US journalism undermines democracy by cultivating a profound sense of apathy, cynicism, and powerlessness.

Troubling as all of this is for the prospects of a self-governing society; this situation is equally problematic for the future of journalism. Journalist James Fallows laments the decline in public trust in media organisations and a general disinterest in journalism. While news workers, editors and publishers are quick to blame the American people for the breakdown of civic values and widespread indifference toward public affairs, Fallows argues that it is journalism’s acquiescence to the shortsighted, profit-driven demands of corporate media organisations that poses the greatest threat to the future of journalism.

The corporate colonisation of US news media is not limited to the structural arrangements between communication industries and other corporate institutions. Corporate ideology likewise shapes and informs the operational standards, assumptions, and practices associated with professional journalism today. In the next section, we will consider how corporate interests have penetrated journalistic culture – and explore the ways in which Democracy Now! challenges the hegemony of corporate news organisations, routines and performance.

The Cultural Politics of News

The contemporary crisis in journalism can be traced to an earlier period when commercial interests first overshadowed the democratic aspirations enshrined in the free press clause of the US constitution. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the newspaper industry came under withering attack from a broad cross-section of American society. Not unlike today, charges of fear and favor in the newsroom, crass commercialism, and salacious content were common. To deflect this criticism, newspaper publishers launched a massive public relations campaign designed to assure the public – and, significantly, would-be regulators – that journalism reform was at hand.

Describing these efforts, McChesney notes: “Savvy publishers understood that they needed to have their journalism appear neutral and unbiased . . . or their businesses would be far less profitable. They would sacrifice their explicit political power to lock in their economic position” (“Problem of Journalism” 301, emphasis added). The cornerstone of the professional code of journalism that emerged in response to the press criticism of the early twentieth century was the notion of objectivity.

Since that time, academics and practitioners alike have scrutinised the theory and practice of journalistic objectivity. At the risk of oversimplifying this debate, few would suggest that news production is a value-free activity; and most would agree that journalists routinely make choices about the stories they cover, the sources they quote, and the language they use to frame a particular news event. Still, most observers find value in journalistic objectivity inasmuch as it provides a check on a reporter’s personal biases and shields working journalists from overt interference from editors and publishers. Insofar as objectivity allows for competing perspectives to weigh in on important public issues, there is a general consensus that objective journalism has considerable potential in supporting a self-governing society.

Nevertheless, journalistic objectivity, as it is currently practiced, tends to reinforce the status quo and stifle social change. For instance, Hackett and Zhao identify a “conservatising” bias in journalistic objectivity. This tendency is most pronounced in relation to conventional understandings of “politics” as being limited to electoral contests and the strategies and tactics employed by political parties, elected representatives, and government officials. This narrow conceptualisation of politics all but ignores those actors and institutions, such as corporations, that exercise considerable, often unchecked power and authority in public decision making. Moreover, “the conflation of democracy with electoral politics” limits public perceptions of legitimate political activity and effectively marginalises individuals and groups who assume oppositional positions and take up counter-hegemonic struggles (Hackett and Zhao 6). This conservatising bias is perhaps most apparent in objective journalism’s uncritical reliance upon “official sources.” If we contrast corporate media’s use of news sources with those of Democracy Now! we can begin to appreciate the cultural politics of news in America today.

Going Where The Silence Is

Throughout the spring of 2006, the subject of immigration reform was everywhere in the news. Journalists eagerly awaited press briefings from the Bush Administration regarding its proposed overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws. Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle were quizzed regarding their positions on the upcoming debate. And the press corps examined competing bills in the US House and Senate with considerable fervor. Moreover, members of the business community – especially those from agriculture, construction, and the food services industries which rely heavily upon immigrant labor – were frequently asked for their opinion on the issue of immigration reform.
With few exceptions, however, were undocumented immigrants – “illegal aliens” in the corporate media lexicon – asked for their opinion about pending legislation that would directly affect not only their livelihoods but also their whole way of life. Only when thousands marched for immigration rights in cities and towns across the US – taking much of the corporate news media by surprise – did journalists begin to take stock of the people who would be most directly effected by changes in US immigration policy: the undocumented workers themselves.

In contrast to corporate media’s performance, Democracy Now! covered the immigration policy debate in a far more comprehensive fashion. Most notably, Democracy Now! routinely featured the voices, perspectives and experiences of undocumented workers and immigrant rights advocates in the days and weeks leading up to the Congressional debate over George W. Bush’s proposed immigration reform legislation. For instance, Democracy Now! reported on Elvira Arellano’s defiance of a deportation order that would separate her from her son, Saul, who was born in this country and is a US citizen. Arellano is president of the immigration rights group, United Latino Families, that works on behalf of undocumented workers in their struggle to keep their families together in the face of stepped up deportation proceedings. In spring 2006, Elvira Arellano took sanctuary in Chicago’s Adalberto Methodist Church and Democracy Now! followed the story for weeks.

Immigration rights are but one of the public policy arenas that Democracy Now! covers with such depth. For instance, Democracy Now! routinely updates the activities of groups like September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows – a citizens group that challenged the Bush Administration’s war policy in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. On the first anniversary of the attacks, Democracy Now! spent the hour with victims’ families who denounced the Bush Administration’s rush to war in the name of the innocents killed on September 11, 2001. In short, Democracy Now! provides a forum for the dissemination of perspectives, opinion and analysis that challenge the orthodoxy produced within and through the corporate media.

This approach to news reporting serves as a countervailing force to corporate media’s over reliance upon “official sources.” Indeed, since its inception in 1996, Democracy Now! has been steadfast in going where the silence is. According to Democracy Now! host and executive producer, Amy Goodman, “Our objective is to be accurate and objective and to give voice to those who are marginalised by the mainstream media. We act as a balance to the reality of suppressing dissent” (Goodman qtd. in Benthien). Herein lies the critical distinction between the sourcing common to corporate media and that of Democracy Now! Billing itself as a “daily, global, grassroots, unembedded news hour” Democracy Now! routinely features views and perspectives that receive scant attention in corporate media outlets. In this way, Democracy Now! provides a forum for local community groups, peace and environmental activists, civil rights workers and civil liberties attorneys, progressive academics and others directly involved in counter-hegemonic struggles to enter into public discourse.

For their part, corporate media typically ignore or trivialise dissident opinion, preferring instead to limit public deliberation and debate to “legitimate” news sources – such as politicians, government officials, business leaders, and other so-called experts. This approach to journalism is neither a fair nor accurate representation of the social world. As Goodman notes, journalism of this sort abdicates journalism’s historic role as a “watchdog” of the powerful by “trading access for truth.” In doing so, the corporate media, unwittingly perhaps, serve as “stenographers of power” rather than journalists in search of the truth. Furthermore, by failing to provide a robust and inclusive forum for popular debate, the news routines and practices of corporate media seriously compromise the capacity of a free press to serve a self-governing people.

Thus, by incorporating the views of what Goodman describes as “the silenced majority” into a daily newscast, Democracy Now! reinvigorates the practice of journalism as “the conversation of democracy” (see Carey). Rather than inhibit popular participation in the public sphere, Democracy Now! provides a forum for discussion and debate that is far more inclusive and egalitarian than the discursive spaces owned and occupied by corporate elites, government officials and other official sources.

The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere

In the era of corporate colonisation, political decision-making is reduced to a spectator sport – complete with opposing sides, play-by-play coverage, and color commentary. While this approach may arouse the emotions, it does little to promote substantive, let alone critical engagement with important issues of the day.

News media too often bombard audiences with stories of conflict, scandal, and celebrity without offering information (or an appeal to the imagination) that could encourage popular political participation. The news positions audiences as political spectators who are “done to” by politicians and special interest groups, displacing alternative ways of thinking about ourselves (as workers, and as political beings). (Hackett and Zhao 9, emphasis added)

In this climate, apathy and resignation reach epidemic proportions. The adage “You can’t fight city hall” seems as immutable as the laws of physics insofar as corporate news places its audiences outside of the realm of politics writ large and denies any sense of individual and collective agency in challenging the status quo. Democracy Now! takes a distinctive approach to an increasingly depoliticised public culture by appealing to the popular imagination – often through the lessons of history. Or, to be more precise, through the lessons of what Howard Zinn would call “the people’s history.”

Zinn’s approach to history highlights the long struggle of oppressed peoples in the United States and elsewhere to realise the unfulfilled promise of liberal democracy (Zinn). Indeed, when history is viewed in this fashion, the problems of the present come into sharp relief. Rather than promote indifference and helplessness, this perspective encourages active, engaged, and hopeful participation in public life. A comparison between corporate media’s use (or more properly, abuse) of history with that of Democracy Now! reveals the political significance of historical memory to contemporary struggles.

For instance, corporate media applied a familiar frame – the heroic individual who makes a difference – to news of the death of civil rights champion, Rosa Parks. Press reports prominently featured the iconic image of Parks defying racially segregated seating on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama and dutifully noted Ms. Parks’ courageous stand for equal treatment under the law. On the whole, however, corporate media’s coverage emphasised this seemingly spontaneous individual act of defiance with little or no reference to Park’s long-time association with civil rights issues and organisations. In contrast to this sympathetic, but decidedly limited appreciation of Rosa Park’s achievement, Democracy Now! reviewed the life and times of Rosa Parks with special attention to her role as an organiser and activist. To that end, Democracy Now! aired a revealing 1956 interview with Ms. Parks from the Pacifica radio archives. In doing so, Democracy Now! placed Rosa Parks’ historic act of nonviolent resistance within a larger context that highlighted the collective efforts and strategic planning behind the Montgomery bus boycott.

Like the corporate media, Democracy Now! affirmed the historical significance of Rosa Parks’ act of civil disobedience. However, by placing that act in the broader context of oppositional politics and community organising Democracy Now! celebrated the past while affirming the possibility for progressive political change today. All of which is to suggest that while corporate media’s use of history tends to uphold and reinforce the status quo (oftentimes in a congratulatory and self-serving manner) Democracy Now! draws on historical memory to challenge received assumptions, to highlight the contingent character of human history, and to appeal to the popular imagination.

For example, while commemorating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Democracy Now! also exposes corporate media’s penchant for historical amnesia. As it has done for the past six years, Democracy Now! reminded listeners of the historical significance of that date in other parts of the world: the September 11, 1973 US-backed coup of Salvador Allende, the democratically-elected president of Chile; the September 11, 1977 arrest, detention and fatal beating of Steven Biko, founder of the black consciousness movement in South Africa; and the September 11, 1990 murder of American anthropologist Myrna Mack by Guateleman security forces trained and supported by the United States.

In this way, Democracy Now! challenges the notion of “American exceptionalism” cultivated by the corporate media in the aftermath of 9/11 – and exploited with unnerving success by the Bush Administration to legitimate its assault on civil liberties at home and to justify its imperial ambitions abroad. Further, by placing the terrorist attacks on the United States in historical context, Democracy Now! acknowledges the cultural significance of public memory in forging national identities and shaping collective destinies: for good or ill.

With this in mind, the Bush Administration’s recent provocations toward Iran are all the more ominous. Four years and a half years on from the invasion of Iraq, corporate media grudgingly acknowledge they were “asleep at the switch” on the question of WMD. Likewise, news workers haltingly accept responsibility for parroting the administration’s specious claims of Iraqi complicity in the 9/11 attacks. And yet, remarkably similar claims surrounding Iranian weapons and Tehran’s hostile intentions toward the United States and Israel circulate in the corporate news media with nary a hint of skepticism. The lessons of history, it seems, are lost on a colonised press corps.

Decolonising US News Media

In a speech before the 2007 National Media Reform Conference veteran journalist Bill Moyers urged attendees to petition their local public broadcasters to start airing Democracy Now! A fierce critic of corporate news in his own right, Moyers has witnessed first-hand the right wing attack on US public broadcasting, the attendant corporate colonisation of public radio and television, and the subsequent dilution of journalistic independence in US public media (see Ledbetter). In no uncertain terms, Moyers described the significant role Democracy Now! is playing in the revitalisation of American journalism.

I can’t think of a single act more likely to remind people of what public broadcasting should be, or that this media reform conference really means business. We’ve got to get alternative content out there to people, or this country is going to die of too many lies. And the opening rundown of news on Amy’s daily show is like nothing else on any television, corporate or public. It’s as if you opened the window in the morning and a fresh breeze rolls over you from the ocean. (Moyers)

At first blush, the headlines Moyers celebrates are an unremarkable feature of the broadcast; after all a rundown of the day’s top stories is a staple of corporate and public news outlets alike. However, in addition to relaying news items from the wire services – the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France Press – or news stories appearing in “papers of record” such as the New York Times or the Washington Post, Democracy Now! inserts headlines or related stories that don’t make the front page, or the evening news for that matter.

For instance, Democracy Now! reported extensively on General David Petraeus’ assessment on the so-called “troop surge” before Congressional oversight committees in September 2007 – as did corporate and public media. However, few news outlets mentioned the civil disobedience that took place during the high-profile proceedings, despite the fact that television cameras captured the arrest of several activists, including Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin and anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan. Democracy Now! gave listeners an account of the incident and ran the accompanying footage as part of its telecast.

Similarly, when Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr. of the Hip Hop Caucus attempted to enter the hearing room, he was injured during an unprovoked altercation with Capitol Hill police: another incident that went largely unnoticed in the corporate press. Apparently, such blatant and, perhaps, racially motivated violations of constitutional rights are not sufficiently newsworthy for a colonised press corps. For Democracy Now! it was another story altogether.

Incorporating these events into the daily headlines, Democracy Now! reveals the degree to which corporate media marginalise dissent. Moreover, placing news items detailing the activities of anti-war activists alongside stories featuring political and military elites affirms the news value of counter-hegemonic struggles against American military, economic and political power. Thus, Democracy Now! offsets corporate media’s strategy of either ignoring or trivialising dissent through frequent and ongoing coverage of direct action campaigns, protests and other forms of civil disobedience. In doing so, Democracy Now! acknowledges and helps to legitimise collective resistance to repressive regimes of state or corporate power.

Democracy Now!’s daily headlines are certainly a refreshing alternative to similar formats in other media outlets. However, it is the long-form interviews with activists, analysts, and most especially, independent journalists that make Democracy Now! a distinctive and increasingly indispensable resource in the struggle to decolonise US news media.

Independent’s Day

Today’s media landscape is a mixed blessing for independent journalists. On one hand, corporate consolidation of the media industries represents a formidable obstacle to journalistic autonomy. As we have seen, corporate media exert considerable pressure on working journalists to yield to economic imperatives and adhere to a set of norms, routines and assumptions that all too often preclude reporters from fulfilling the basic functions of a free press: to act as a watchdog of the powerful, to discern truth from lies, and to provide a forum for diverse, competing and informed opinion on matters of common concern (McChesney, Problem of the Media).

On the other hand, the era of digital communication affords independent journalists unprecedented opportunities to produce and distribute their work with relative ease. Moreover, as audiences turn away from “traditional” news sources and embrace grassroots and alternative news content and delivery systems – podcasts, blogs, social networking sites, etc. – independent journalists can disseminate their work to audiences that have grown dissatisfied with corporate media behaviors and performance.

Over the course of the past ten years, Democracy Now! has acted as a clearinghouse for independent journalism from across the country and around the world. For established and well respected independent journalists like Robert Fiske, Naomi Klein, and John Pilger, to name but a few, Democracy Now! amplifies and extends the reach of their work considerably. Equally important Democracy Now! provides a nurturing and supportive atmosphere for up and coming investigative reporters whose subject matter is incompatible with corporate interests and the commercial imperatives of the news business. 

Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill’s work is a case in point. Scahill has been filing first-rate investigative reports on Blackwater USA – the North Carolina-based private defense contractor – with Democracy Now! for years. A secretive and politically well-connected private militia, Blackwater’s activities have, until recently, flown under the corporate media radar. Amidst allegations that Blackwater indiscriminately killed 17 innocent Iraqi civilians, the corporate media has slowly turned its attention to Blackwater.

These charges confirm much of what Scahill has been reporting about all along: that Blackwater’s mercenary armies are conducting illegal, paramilitary operations, at the behest of the United States, in Iraq, Afghanistan and, as Scahill notes with chilling detail in his book, in post-Katrina New Orleans (Scahill). In the finest traditions of investigative journalism, Democracy Now! enable reporters, like Jeremy Scahill, to practice their craft in an environment that grants journalists remarkable freedom and autonomy.

Remaking Public Media

Democracy Now! distinguishes itself from corporate and public service broadcasting in one more crucial arena: what might best be described as “communication politics.” As Robert McChesney has documented with great precision and insight, the corporate media are loath to cover debates over US communication policy (Problem of the Media). The favored tactic of corporate media on this score is the media blackout: virtual silence on closed-door meetings between Big Media and the federal and state regulatory agencies charged with promoting and defending the public interest.

In contrast, Democracy Now! “breaks the sound barrier” by providing timely reports and thoughtful analysis that supports and encourages public knowledge, awareness, and participation in communication policy debates. Similarly, Democracy Now! monitors grassroots and national media reform efforts on a substantive and on-going basis. For example, Democracy Now! provided extensive coverage of the aforementioned National Media Reform Conference. In doing so, Democracy Now! illuminates what media scholar Clemencia Rodriquez describes as “fissures in the mediascape” (Rodriguez).

That is to say, Democracy Now! highlights the way ordinary Americans are taking up the struggle for democratic communication by getting involved in policy debates, demanding greater accountability from the media industries and regulatory bodies, and making use of communication technologies – radio, public access television, community newspapers, and the internet – to reinvigorate the public sphere at a time when corporate colonisation of the communication commons has degraded public discourse and all but eviscerated public culture.

The phenomenal growth of Democracy Now! demonstrates how a more inclusive and expansive public media might be realised within and through collaborative approaches to independent journalism. Indeed, forging links between independent journalists and news outlets has been critical to Democracy Now!’s success. When it first began, as a special report during the 1996 electoral season, Democracy Now! was available over the Pacifica radio network and some affiliate stations. Today, Democracy Now! is the leading public media collaborative in the country (McConnell). Airing on over 600 community, low power FM, and NPR affiliate stations, Democracy Now! is also available on local public access and on Free Speech TV, via national satellite television services, Dish TV and Direct TV, and on Link TV.

Democracy Now! also makes its content available online, through podcasts, as well as streaming audio and video. In addition, Democracy Now! transcripts are available online, and in Spanish, for news outlets to use free of charge. Finally, Democracy Now! is available internationally, broadcasting on public service and community radio in Australia and Canada. In short, by tapping into emerging networks of citizens media and building upon existing networks of independent journalists and alternative media outlets Democracy Now! is remaking public media in the era of digital communication.


The corporate colonisation of the press has not proceeded unchecked. Across the country, and indeed around the world, efforts are underway to secure and defend a free and independent press. Democracy Now! is but one noteworthy example of this process of decolonisation. Significantly, Democracy Now! remakes public media by drawing on the talents and resources of people across the United States and elsewhere involved in counter-hegemonic struggles.

In doing so, Democracy Now! provides a model for grassroots journalism in the twenty-first century by challenging the conservatising effects of journalistic objectivity and articulating the relationship between local and global struggles for peace and justice. Equally important, because the producers, reporters and independent journalists featured on Democracy Now! excel at their craft, journalists working for corporate media are growing more accustomed to picking up stories first aired on Democracy Now!: a practice Amy Goodman refers to as “trickle-up journalism.”

The unprecedented success of Democracy Now! indicates that the American people, dissatisfied with a press corps beholden to corporate and political elites, value independent journalism that challenges the status quo. Moreover, by providing a forum for opinion and perspectives that lie outside the narrow range of debate available through the corporate media, Democracy Now! reasserts the importance of public life and promotes deliberative democracy in an otherwise fragmented, isolating and depoliticised culture. All of which is to suggest that the crisis of journalism precipitated by the corporate colonisation of the US news media is neither irresistible nor irreversible.

Kevin Howley is Associate Professor of Media Studies at DePauw University. His work has appeared in the International Journal of Cultural Studies, Social Movement Studies, Television and New Media and Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism. He is author of Community Media: People, Places, and Communication Technologies (Cambridge, 2005) and is currently working on an edited volume titled Understanding Community Media for Sage Publications.

The author wishes to thank Nishita Trisal, DePauw University class of 2007, for her research assistance on this project.

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