‘Out with the old and in with the new’ seems to be the attitude our society has been developing towards traditional forms of media. Radio, newspapers and magazines seem to have been buried in, and replaced by, newer and shinier independent media, but is this for better or worse? 

Let’s start off by outlining exactly what ‘independent’ or ‘new’ media entails. Independent media came along with the swell of the digitised world, forged off the backs of private owners — as opposed to being owned by governmental organisations. It usually falls into the categories of blogs, online publications or social media accounts.

Free press contrasts traditional media with its autonomous, shape-shifting nature. According to an abstract from Festoon Media, the "emergence of new, digital technologies signals a potentially radical shift of who is in control of information, experience and resources.

Consumers now have a new medium that they can gather information from, which is freeform and nonpartisan.

The pros of independent media

In a study conducted by TNS Research surveys, 73% of South Africans agreed that independent media houses are essential for getting unbiased news. If free media has surpassed traditional media in any way, it is with its innovative and unbiased content. Whether it's a blog post, online article or a tweet, independent media has broken all the rules and changed the way we look at journalism forever. 

One of the standout features of independent media is that it advocates for free press. Here, marginalised voices are given a platform; this is crucial in a diverse country like South Africa. Giving a voice to a diverse range of people means that everyone will feel represented, growing our national pride and strengthening our democracy. 

In a political context, independent media encourages
  • pluralism
  • democracy, and
  • information flow.
These publications offer a fresh take, which is well respected among millenials. Take American online publication Vice’s reader demographic as an example, where two thirds of its readers are under 35. The millennial generation has played an integral role in the way the media is shaped today; they want it to be personalised and they want it now. This is the motivation behind why new media offers a constant flow of information and reports from an impartial angle. 

The cons of independent media

Despite what it may seem, new media isn't all sunshine and rainbows. There is a discernible grey area around just how much control these publication’s proprietors have, because, at the end of the day, we all have to pay the piper. 

To be realistic, complete financial independence as a publishing house is almost impossible. Some of your favourite ‘independent’ news outlets are still beholden to someone; for example, Vice and Buzzfeed are backed by hedge funds and venture capitalists. 

As financial independence is almost impossible to come by as a media house, people often ponder whether truly independent media actually exists. It is unlikely that any media publication can be funded independently, even if they are garnering donations from their subscribers, like The Nation, Mother Jones or South Front.

As new media is characterised by its objectivity, this makes you wonder whether what is reported on these sites is influenced by whoever is signing the cheques. This influence usually doesn't rear its head in what is published, but rather in what isn't. 

Journalists are often governed by their owners and what they see fit to be published; this can be referred to as self-censorship. According to the Ethical Journalism Network, self-censorship is “when a journalist or editor makes an editorial decision over a story and its contents that is motivated by the threat of reprisal.” This influence can come from advertisers, private owners or the state. 

Along with self-censorship, journalists may find it difficult to remain independent and individualistic in their work, leading to a demotivated, inarticulate workforce and a publication that has the sole purpose of exclusivity being fruitless. To quote Aiden White from the Ethical Journalism Network: “Independence in the newsroom is not an optional extra; it is the solid foundation of the craft of journalism.”

So, is independent media a friend or a foe? Despite the grey area around whose opinions are being published, new media still plays an integral role in the free press. By continuing to support these publications, it ensures that the public has access to the whole story and not just part of it, making balanced and high-quality journalism accessible to all. 

What are your views on independent media? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Want to know more about the new media world? Be sure to check out our article, How to successfully transition from print to digital media.
*Image courtesy of Vecteezy