Yesterday I received an e-mail from mediachannel.org announcing that they’re going on hiatus due to funding problems:
“We’ve had to make some difficult choices to insure our survival. We
are sad to report that we are going on a temporary hiatus to cut our
costs and give us some time to reorganize with some new sustainability
strategies. We expect to return soon with more of the diverse content,
hardhitting features, and useful resources that we are known for. “
Mediachannel has provided a valuable “news tracker” of press reports on the FCC’s media ownership review, along with a daily roundup of global media news headlines. Mediachannel will continue the daily weblog from executive editor and “News Dissector” Danny Schechter.
This hiatus unfortunately demonstrates how hard it can be to run a non-profit media organization, especially one that has employees. Having employees makes it easier for an organization to be consitent and have very regular updates and reports. Unfortunately, employees greatly increase your monthly costs, and salaries are not the kind of costs that you want to get into arears on.
By contrast, organizations like Indymedia primarily rely on volunteers, which means IMCs can operate on much less money, but can suffer from greater inconsistency.
It’s hard to make an argument that either method is better for running a nonprofit media organization. My guess is that a hybrid model of having employees and volunteers makes for a good mix of lower costs and consistency.
The Urbana-Champaign IMC is experimenting with this model. The U-C IMC recently hired a quarter-time coordinator for its weekly radio news program, where the funding is covered by a grant. Most of the labor to produce the show, however, is volunteer. With this arrangement the coordinator helps maintain consistency week-to-week, especially by providing training and coaching to volunteers on a weekly basis. Of course, the future of this arrangement is contingent on being able to renew the grant.
Which brings me to the direct human side of this equation — it must suck to be one of Mediachannel’s employees right now. My guess is that these workers were not laid off like an auto worker — they probably had some role in making the decision. Nonetheless, hiatus probably means no pay, which likely makes it all the harder to have the time to try and get the organization jump started again.
I don’t know what Mediachannel’s funding model was, so I don’t know how it failed. But that is a key issue. Even though technology may make it easier to communicate with a larger audience cheaply, it still takes time and effort to produce content. If someone isn’t paid for her time that she spends on production, then she still has to find time to go out and earn a living. Not to mention the fact that the technology isn’t free. How to fund our non-profit and independent media is one of the biggest questions we face right now.