The Village Voice is running a story called "For a Few Dollars More" on the struggles facing non-profits supporting independent media. The article blames a combination of forces for the decline of these independent media groups, including drying up of foundational support (particularly the MacArthur Foundation) and the growth of new electronic media. So young filmmakers no longer need the support of groups like the Association for Independent Video and Filmmakers as much as they need a Mac with Final Cut Pro.
The great irony, the article notes, is that there is a greater need for independent groups to work on media issues more than ever:
As the major studios shut down new
technologies that could help independent artists distribute their films
(e.g., Grokster), as government institutions intermix with private
companies to limit the availability of public information (e.g., the
Smithsonian’s recent deal with Showtime to privatize its archives), and
as the Senate guts "net neutrality" provisions from a
telecommunications bill, "there needs to be an organization that is
lobbying Congress," says [Jim] McKay, "that is dealing with broadband issues,
that is shining a spotlight on grassroots organizations."
Beyond the funding questions, it seems to me that there are lots of strategic changes that could help groups working on independent and public media.
Many of these groups operate fairly narrowly, focusing on a particular kind of media (public access cable, independent documentary film, ham radio, etc.) Looking beyond their narrow concerns to a wider coalition of independent media activists seems like a necessity in this age of media consolidation. If Time Warner and AT&T are doing it, the media activists should be doing the same. Otherwise, we’re fighting individual battles to preserve on our own front yards while acres of public land are being bought, clear cut, and mined by multinationals.
Efforts like Hearusnow.org and the Media and Democracy Coalition are rays of light, but lots more can be done to pull together what are effectively disparate activists laboring in a thousand small niche markets.