Reporting Reality

In “A Grass-Roots Newscast Gives a Voice to Struggles,” former New York Times reporter Brian Stelter explains the significance of “Democracy Now!” in the reporting of major events during 2011 and on the media landscape in general. Just one example: “Democracy Now!” reporters were live from the first day of the Occupy Wall Street protests whereas, according to a senior “Democracy Now!” producer, “‘it took NPR more than a week to air its first story on the movement.’”


This is impressive journalism regardless, but is even more so when you recognize “Democracy Now!”’s business model. They’re a nonprofit that functions entirely on donations. One-hundred percent of what they produce is available for free on their website, as well as on radio channels and television stations across the country. They don’t run ads.


Jeremy Scahill, a famed journalist who began his career by volunteering for “Democracy Now!” in 1997, said about the newscast: “‘What drove us was telling stories we felt were being ignored, misrepresented or underreported by corporate media outlets.’”


Those stories are often those of protests and social movements: not exactly a shock. Unless only extremists are highlighted,that’s not how outlets get page hits. This has led to “Democracy Now!”’s reputation as a “progressive” news outlet, a categorization that Amy Goodman, its founder, rejects. She “prefers to call it a global newscast that has ‘people speaking for themselves.’”


I think it says a lot about our perception of the media that an outlet that speaks about underrepresented communities and misreported conflicts — that is, that broadcasts the reality of what’s happening — is, by default, deemed “progressive.” An outlet doesn’t need to have any specific ideological leanings itself to report on a movement that might be called progressive; Those are two entirely different things.


This illustrates how much we’ve fallen into the trap of corporate media’s depiction of reality. Coverage of events is drowned out by flashy images and traps of phrases — something that increasingly is motivated by economic restraints. And when that’s the case, that means that most news sources aren’t really reporting reality at all.

This is the first of many blog posts for my Independent Media class in the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College.