With the rash of newspaper closings and the gobbling up of news outlets by corporate interests, it might appear to be a good time for graduating college students to select "corrupt politician" as their career choice.
It's enough to make one wonder who will be minding the store if the papers that make it their business to poke into the dark corners of government and commerce find themselves turning out the lights.
But according to an Ithaca-based expert on alternative media, the much advertised decline in print publications is being offset by the rise of a robust muckraking alternative. Jeff Cohen, a longtime media watchdog and director of Ithaca College's Park Center for Independent Media, believes that the alternative media has grown up to the point when it needs to officially recognize its leaders and champions.
The newly founded Park Center has announced the winners of its first annual Izzy Award, named for the iconoclastic muckraking journalist I.F. Stone, who died in 1989 after six decades of afflicting the comfortable with his prescient questioning and vivid prose. This year's winners are Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, and Glenn Greenwald, an independent blogger whose work appears at Salon.com.
The Park Center studies media outlets "that create and distribute content outside traditional corporate systems and news organizations." According to Cohen, the center's founding director, "Our purpose is to bring attention to the growing sector of independent media. Independent media is breaking stories, and bringing down corrupt officials around the country. We needed an award and we couldn't think of anyone better to name it after than a guy who, in the depth of the anti-communist frenzy of the 1950s, started his own weekly newsletter."
The award is named for Isidor Feinstein "Izzy" Stone, who belonged to the era before the term "media" was canned and learned the craft without the benefit of journalism school. He called himself a newspaperman and relished the role of outside critic of the powers that be. His credo was simple: "All governments are run by liars" and his list of subscribers (the weekly accepted no ads) grew to 22,000, including the likes of Albert Einstein.
"The center's mission," according to Cohen, "is to engage media makers and students in conversation about career paths in independent media, and financially viable ways to create news and information for various kinds of geographic or issue-based communities. We examine the impact of independent media institutions on journalism, democracy and a participatory culture."
Cohen added that one of the inaugural prizewinners exemplifies the potential of alternative media. The prolific Glenn Greenwald was a constitutional lawyer working in New York when he began blogging in 2005. An early supporter of the war in Afghanistan who had taken no position on the invasion of Iraq, Greenwald became alarmed as he saw the George W. Bush administration disregarding civil liberties provisions to govern in the post-9/11 period. "Nobody knows civil liberties like Glenn," said Cohen.
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Greenwald wrote and self-published the books How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok (May 2006) followed by A Tragic Legacy (June 2007), which examines the fallout of the Bush presidency. Both books rode a groundswell of Web enthusiasts to a place on The New York Times bestseller lists. His latest book, Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics (Random House/Crown, 2008), examines manipulative electoral tactics used by the GOP and accepted by the mainstream press. Greenwald's blog "Unclaimed Territory" can now be seen on Salon.com, although he contends that he maintains full editorial control.
Amy Goodman has been a pioneer in alternative media since the early 1980s. In its release announcing her as the co-recipient of this year's award, the Park Center called her radio program Democracy Now! the largest public media collaboration in the country.
Democracy Now! offers a cutting-edge broadcast featuring issues, experts and debates rarely heard in corporate media, including the voices of both policymakers and those affected by policy. It remains independent of any party or sponsor, in the I.F. Stone tradition."
Goodman will be remembered by many as the reporter arrested by St. Paul, Minn., police outside last August's Republican National Convention when she went to the aid of two of her producers as they were being hauled away by local police outside the convention center.
Democracy Now! can be found online at www.democracynow.org, and heard locally (if you're lucky) on Syracuse Community Radio's WXXE-FM 90.5, weekdays at 5 p.m. The TV series airs Saturdays, 9 to 11 a.m., on Time Warner Cable's Channel 98.
Amid the gloom in the newspaper business, Cohen finds hope. "No doubt the Internet has caused upheaval and hardship in journalism," he said, "but it has helped independents to bring their work to a broader audience. The good news is that we had a tough decision because there is so much exciting work going on in alternative journalism."
The award ceremony, featuring Goodman and Greenwald, will take place at Ithaca's State Theatre, 107 W. State St., on Tuesday, March 31, 7 p.m. Admission is free. For more information on the award, call (607) 274-1330 or visit www.ithaca.edu/indy.