These are tough times for independent media in the USA. The financial crisis has not only meant less money for social projects and charities, but has meant that independent radio programs and community radio stations, which largely depend on contributions from listeners and from sympathetic foundations, have seen much their funding dry up.
One program which I have a personal connection with is Free Speech Radio News. FSRN is an international daily news program with an interest in peace and social justice and which is broadcast in over one hundred station around the USA. FSRN’s reports and stories come from grassroots activists and independent reporters around the world, giving its shows a distinctive angle. It’s a impressive source of original, frontline journalism, and it manages to run on a shoestring budget.
FSRN is also valuable because it is incredibly open to new reporters and radio journalists pitching and filing serious stories. In fact, my very first paid reporting assignment was for FSRN, a report on a whistle-blowers conference in Washington DC, featuring Daniel Elsberg, who leaked the Pentagon papers back in 1971. At the conference, which also hosted British whistleblower Catherine Gun, Elsberg asked for civil servants from within the US and British Government to come forward with any important information about the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War and the WMD claims which made it possible. Elsberg wanted to try to avoid another long-drawn out conflict based on a false premise.
For a rookie reporter to be able to do this kind of assignment for a radio news program is amazing. I still remember, later that day, the tingle I got when I heard the piece come on the radio in the home of the family I was staying with in Washington. Since then, I’ve done reports for them on everything from the exploitation of the Amazon rainforest in Peru, to the G8 protests in Scotland. I was also able to make a full-length program about Scottish Independence, for which I interviewed the first minister Alex Salmond.
But FSRN is facing closure in July. It’s major funder, Pacifica Radio, has also been struggling with the tough economic times, and that has led to a funding shortfall for FSRN. They’ve done an amazing job of raising the money they need to cover the shortfall – over $60,000 in under a month – but with 3 days to go, they still need to raise another $14,000.
You may not have listened to FSRN before – you may not have even heard of it. And in the UK, where we are lucky enough to have a great quality, publicly funded media source, it may be hard to understand how important small independent media outlets like this are. But, if you have the time, please have a listen to some of the special reports on their website, and if you can, make a contribution to the program.