Go Big or Go Home - Part II

Author
Alan F
Original Publication Date
02/05/2007
Connections

Oh, You Mean the REAL News

In our last installment "Go big or go home", Part 1, I introduced you to the fearless Paul Jay and his network Independent World Television (IWT), with its flagship show The Real News. I recommend that you read that diary to learn how I became involved with IWT/TRN. In this section of the interview, Paul will tell you exactly how IWT/TRN plans to go big.

AF: How long will it take to get the daily show on the air?

PJ: A lot depends on how much support we get; people signing up, becoming members, contributing money. We want to raise ten or fifteen million dollars over the next six months, so when we launch the full-fledged hour news for television, you'll be able to replace your other television news and video news sources with us.

AF: Or start watching it, if you don't watch TV now at all.

PJ: Watch us on TV or watch us on the web. We're trying to balance coming out with a certain amount of production, so people get a taste of what we're about. Get into the news cycle with a weekly or maybe even twice-a-week format, but still make our main work raising enough money so we can sustain the big daily world news show. The problem is if you come out small and you don't aim at raising the money for "big", you'll never get big. You can see so many examples of that.

AF: Now how much of the funding will be by individuals, and how much by foundations?

PJ: In the final analysis, we'd like it to be all by individuals, and get off big donors and big foundations completely. We think we can do that within three years. We consider big donor money and foundation money a compromise. Our funding model really is based on individual small donor memberships (200,000 or more), but we can't get there right off the bat. To have the kind of programming that will attract that kind of membership, we need seed money, and the only way we know to get seed money that's acceptable to us is foundations and big individual donors. There is corporate money out there if we wanted it. In fact, we even turned down government money. One of the Canadian government agencies that we didn't know was an agency, we thought was a foundation, offered us $50,000, and we had to turn it down when we found out their board was appointed by the Canadian government. Foundations, even union money, and big donor money is a compromise. But we won't compromise on corporate money, and we won't compromise on government money. And sooner than later, we'd like to get off all the big donor money and be exclusively on membership.

AF: I see you've made a deal with LinkTV and I'm trying to find other people who are watching LinkTV right now. I've heard almost nothing about them, and I'm wondering if this is going to be a major part of your audience. [Note: Several weeks after the interview, I was able to watch LinkTV on DirectTV cable television in a gym in my workplace's building. I was impressed. During the course of my workout, I was able to watch Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! and original music videos from around the world.]

PJ: LinkTV is on satellite. On DirectTV and on DISH, which puts them in 20-25 million houses. They're stronger in rural areas, suburban areas, where you can't get cable. It's an important piece of carriage. 24-25 million houses is a lot of houses. LinkTV acquires a lot of documentaries from around the world that you wouldn't see anywhere else. They have a show called "Mosaic" which is a very interesting show. They take newscasts from the Middle East, and they show you how seven or eight newscasts from different countries in the Middle East covered the same story.

We also have a deal with RNN -- Regional News Network in NYC, which will give us Manhattan and the boroughs, which will be around 7-7.5 million houses. Our carriage model is to use the Internet to tell people where to go on television and then on television we tell people where to go on the Net, because on the Net people can participate. Some people create this false dichotomy, as if people on the Internet never watch the television. Maybe for some that's true, but the majority goes back and forth.

We met with Time-Warner and Comcast. I proposed to both of them that they put us on video on demand. In terms of cable TV, video on demand is expected to be one of their major profit growth centers. They've said in principle, why not? Prove to us you've got interest and support, and then why not? The only "why not" would be political. From a commercial point of view, they've said we've presented a sound commercial argument. So it will depend on what the political environment is whether or not there's an issue. In today's environment, I don't think there'd be a problem. I think they would take it. If it was just after 9/11, maybe they wouldn't, since we'd be asking tough questions. And if something like that repeats itself, we'll be asking tough questions again.

I don't know how big an audience you [Daily Kos] have in Canada, but we have a deal with VisionTV in Canada, which focuses on the hour news show on basic cable and satellite throughout the country.

AF: How attached to the name "The Real News" are you? It sounds like you're pretty invested in it by now.

PJ: After a lot of testing and tons of conversation, it was decided that the name of the network will be IWT, Independent World Television, and the name of the flagship show will be "The Real News." Right now, we're going to message and put our efforts into "The Real News." "The Real News" was tested in focus groups, and we've done some polling on it and anecdotally, and over and over again, over 80% really like it. 20% don't like it, and of them, only about a quarter of them really don't like it.

AF: They think it's cheesy?

PJ: The critique of it's been, well it sounds a bit like "Fair and Balanced" from Fox. But those people who say that go on with a second piece: "Well, if you really do it, then I guess it will be okay. If you prove you're doing the Real News, then I withdraw my objection." Some people think it sounds a little bit arrogant, like we're doing THE real news. Does that mean no one else is doing the real news? Which is not what we're saying. We're saying WE'RE doing the real news, and if anybody asked me, I'd say often enough 60 Minutes does the real news. But if there is a bit of arrogance in our title, I don't mind. It's being a bit provocative; let us prove we can do it. But 80% very much liked it and very much preferred it to just "Independent World Television.". There were no other possibilities that were even close. Where the name came from says a lot about why we finally adopted it. I'm not exaggerating to say in 40 or 50 different conversations with taxi drivers and others -- a lot of taxi drivers, 'cause I've been doing a lot of traveling -- I'd talk about what we're doing and I'd say, "no government funding, no corporate funding, no advertising, just uncompromising journalism," and the taxi driver would answer back, "Oh, you mean the REAL news!" I heard it over and over again. Whenever you listen to somebody trying to say what they want out of the news, they say they want REAL news. Which is why Jon Stewart played on it by calling what they do FAKE news. I don't know how else to describe it, especially in a way that's popular, and by being so populist, it lays down the gauntlet.