Thursday, April 02, 2009

Democracy Now! -- Via the Internet

April 2, 2009, 1:45 p.m.

(brought to you by*)

Ready for a quiz question?

Name this program:

"[T]he largest public media collaboration in the U.S., [this program] is broadcast on Pacifica, NPR, community, and college radio stations; on public access, PBS, satellite television (DISH network: Free Speech TV ch. 9415 and Link TV ch. 9410; DIRECTV: Link TV ch. 375); and on the internet. [Its] podcast is one of the most popular on the web." [Source.]

If you know the answer, "good on you," as the Aussies would say.

If you don't, shame on your local mainstream newspapers, radio and television stations for neither offering the program nor mentioning it sufficiently that you would know.

It's Democracy Now!

And now that we're being robbed blind to the tune of trillions of dollars by the former "masters of the universe" and their Washington friends, with the help of the dominant political party controlling Congress, the Wall Street Party, our thoughts are turning back to "democracy." To inform ourselves about true democracy and the alternative future it might offer, Americans are turning their TVs and radios back to Democracy Now!

What Democracy Now! reveals, for starters, is that there are enormous numbers of well educated, articulate present and former politicians, academics, journalists, and experts in many fields who are, for all practical purposes, simply shut out of the mainstream media. Little is contributed by trying to label them "left" or "right," "conservative" or "liberal." Nor will you find most of them to be engaged in the rants and raves we've grown accustomed to hearing from the chattering classes on cable channels. They are simply providing current and historic facts (and opinions) that don't support the world view held, and propagated, by mainstream media and its corporate sponsors.

As the bumper sticker puts it: "The corporate media are as liberal as their conservative owners permit them to be." (See, e.g., "Examining the 'Liberal Media' Claim; Journalists' Views on Politics, Economic Policy and Media Coverage," FAIR, June 1, 1998.)

For a confirmation, watch these revelations from Jeff Cohen regarding his years inside CNN and MSNBC:

Amy Goodman, "Jeff Cohen Interview," Democracy Now!, October 12, 2006

And then check the Democracy Now! site and watch, or listen, to one of host Amy Goodman's recent hour-long news programs.

The Internet

As an FCC commissioner forty years ago I thought TV left a lot to be desired. Sometimes I shared John Prine's suggestion we should all simply "blow up your TV."

[Blow up your T.V. throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an find Jesus on your own
-- John Prine, "Spanish Pipedream", original release date, November 30, 1970.]

It was distressing when CBS abruptly canceled the award-winning, very popular "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" -- 40 years ago this coming Saturday, April 4, 1969.

At the time I wrote a couple of books offering alternative solutions as well as concerns: How to Talk Back to Your Television Set and Test Pattern for Living (both now available for free as links from my main Web site). (The newest book on the subject, Your Second Priority, 2008, is also linked from there.)

For an adult to die, having spent a full 13 years of their life merely "watching TV," struck me as a bit of a waste.

But over the years I, too, became a TV watcher -- albeit more like seven hours a week than the seven hours a day the TV is running in the average home -- but nonetheless sucked into TV's effort to schedule its audience members' lives: ABC Evening News, 5:30-6:00, Jim Lehrer, 6:00-6:30, and so forth.

Years ago, to free myself from its grip, I used a VCR to videotape the shows in which I had an interest -- often playing them back at 10 times normal speed and slowing the tape only when something looked compelling.

More recently, everyone from Norman Lear to my son, Sherman, has been insisting I subscribe to the TiVo service.

We've come up with a different solution: the Internet.

The media have always been subject to the influence of new technology from the time the monks had to surrender some of their power over hand written books, literacy and libraries to the printing press.

The telegraph impacted newspapers' reach and timeliness. Radio news supplanted, to some degree, the "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" marketing of updates to the morning newspaper.

Television offered the kinds of moving pictures of the news, delivered daily to the home, formerly available only in the dated "Fox Movietone News" film clips accompanying local theaters' feature films -- yet the newspapers and radio news survived.

Today, with the newspapers giving away for free on the Internet what they are also trying to sell to subscribers in hard copy, they may have, to some degree, met their technological match. See, Nicholas Johnson, "Whither Newspapers?" January 18, 2009; Tom Price, "Future of Journalism," CQ Researcher 19.12 (2009): 273-296. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. University of Iowa Libraries. March 30, 2009; "Rescuing Investigative Journalism," International Leadership Forum, February 28, 2009-.

Now it's not that I haven't been aware that there is video material on the Internet as well -- everything from individuals' productions on YouTube to programs from the old line conventional networks, ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS. And I've known that many radio stations also have their Internet, streaming presence.

But it was only a month or so ago that this knowledge affected our daily behavior as well as our intellect.

With a cable bill running over $100 a month, the economy getting worse by the day, and being of the penny-pinching persuasion, some savings on that monthly cable bill looked attractive. So as a week long experiment my wife and I began watching "TV" on our laptops rather than the TV set. Much to our surprise, it seemed an improvement. Most of the shows we cared to watch were not only available in timely fashion, they were archived as well; we could watch Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" opening anytime we wished. The Internet was fast becoming our free TiVo -- with vastly greater range of choice and storage capability.

(It turned out that it's actually cheaper to subscribe to "basic" cable than to eliminate all cable programming. Wall Street evaluates a cable company's worth on the basis of the number of subscribers.) So we cut back to "basic," and since the greater speed being promised by the higher priced broadband Internet service wasn't delivering on the promise, we cut that back as well. All told, it was nearly an $800 a year savings.

Always interested in the community radio (and public access channels) I supported as an FCC commissioner, I took a special interest in KBRP-TV on a recent trip to Bisbee. I had purchased a cheap ($300) 8.9" Acer AspireOne traveling computer for that trip. Upon my return, initially wondering how it could be used at home, I realized I could listen to that Bisbee station on my Acer -- my new "bedside radio." Now I have clicks to WBAI-FM, New York, KPFA-FM, Berkeley, and a number of other stations as well -- including Amy Goodman's Democracy Now!

A big laptop is my "TV;" the little netbook is my "radio." And this very significant shift in my access to "broadcasting" -- after a lifetime of fascination with "radio" (commercial and amateur) -- all happened in less than a month.

Democracy Now!, like orange juice, is no longer "just for breakfast." But the two do go well together: weekday mornings, 7:00-8:00 central time, on an Internet near you (as well as a local cable access channel). Try it; you'll like it.

* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson

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