Amid the giants, it’s time for a bigger media platform for independent voices

There are many good quality, on-line media platforms that put forward a consistently progressive point of view.

There’s the The Tyee and the National Observer, both based in British Columbia. In Quebec there’s Ricochet. Rabble is a national voice.

But without a doubt, these democratic voices are a lot fainter than those of the big media empires, of which there are really only a few.

In English-language, Postmedia is the print king, owning the National Post, the five Sun papers and many local newspapers. Postmedia includes some of Canada’s best known conservative opinion-writers.

There’s TorStar, owner of the Toronto Star and many local papers, especially in Southern Ontario. The Star provides space for more liberal and occasionally social democratic voices.

What The Star and Postmedia have in common is their eroding balance sheet, as print media fades away and on-line audio, video and written content takes over.

Among the on-line media, there’s Corus’ Global.ca. Corus owns Global TV and many radio stations nation-wide – including several focused on AM talk personalities which are now being rebranded Global New Radio. Global.ca has on-line news and commentary including video and written pieces. The commentary mostly comes from in-house – and conservative – TV and radio personalities. Global.ca also publishes written reports from sources such as Canadian Press.

Rogers also owns many radio stations and Macleans magazine, an on-line and print production.

Bellmedia owns the CTV network and many AM talk stations. Backed by BellMedia’s 24/7 News Channel, CTV.ca has an on-line presence that is weaker on personality and comment, but strong on video interview.

And there’s CBC.ca, with a strong on-line presence that now includes opinion, and which can draw on a huge network of TV and radio stations, all under the CBC brand. They also have an ownership stake in Sirius XM satellite radio. While CBC.ca opinion has been mostly liberal or conservative, there may soon be a social democratic voice.

Everyone one of these outfits dwarfs even the largest of the progressive on-line content.

The big outfits are running culture factories. Independent media is running cottage industries — they are fighting the internet companies with a spinning loom. It’s time to at least upgrade to steam power.

After three years of writing a weekly column for Postmedia’s five Sun papers and doing regular pundit panels on Corus and Bellmedia TV and radio outlets, I’ve see a lot of what happens behind the curtain. And the honest answer is those guys aren’t special. Their personalities are good, but not better. Their hosts are good, but could be challenged. The writing is good, but not exceptional. The audio and video is strong, with big capital investment, but still runs on the production skill of mortal humans.

They are no slouches by any means. But it’s not skill and knowledge that has allowed them to dominate the creation of political narrative.

But they do dominate. And that’s why their voices are heard. Not so much because they’re better than anything independent media could put up. Because they have a bigger platform.

And the question is whether there could be good-quality, intelligent and down-to-earth independent media platform – a single platform that amplifies all the good work going into the currently existing small platforms. If the current array of progressive media platforms federated into a united platform, co-branded and combined their power of promotion, the total combined reach of all the video, reports, audio and commentary could grow considerably.

It’s kind of like that old idea that if we join a union and bargaining collectively, we can be stronger. Or that if we co-operate we can provide to ourselves the services we couldn’t provide on our own. Those are smart ideas. So is bringing together Canadian independent media onto one platform, with one brand and a focused marketing effort. It doesn’t mean voices get homogenized – not if done right. It just means more people hear them.

The Munk Centre has recently shown has sterile the narrative can become. They think it is meaningful to hold a debate between an imperial Republican and authoritarian Republican, asking which is preferable, war crimes or hate crimes. They span the alphabet from A to B. That imposed narrative can’t be permitted to become the default range of thought.

Without a stronger media platform that can host – and better project – voices capable of change hearts and minds, the larger democratic project will always be frail and susceptible. Without public discussion between social democrats about the steps forward, the political, labour and social movements tend to stay in separate boxes that don’t connect.

Many people have built-up lively and impressive on-line media platforms over the last decade. Let’s start the discussion about building a powerful and more impressive platform before this decade is over.

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