Podcast / Scale / Episode 9

Is there a future for independent news media?

Head shot photo of Thomas Barlow from IMA guest on episode 8 of Scale

The answer is yes, but you need to get yourself in front of your readers. We’re joined this week by Thomas Barlow who heads Operations at the Independent Media Association, a.k.a. the IMA. In this week’s episode, Thomas opens us up to his fountain of independent media knowledge and years of experience to guide us through the history of independent media organisations, and why right now is the best time to find new readers.

About Thomas Barlow

The answer is yes, but you need to get yourself in front of your readers. We’re joined this week by Thomas Barlow who heads Operations at the Independent Media Association, a.k.a. the IMA. In this week’s episode, Thomas opens us up to his fountain of independent media knowledge and years of experience to guide us through the history of independent media organisations, and why right now is the best time to find new readers.

The best place to find the IMA and Thomas is via their website or on Twitter: @ima.press

Show Notes

  • The Independent Media Association, formerly known as The Media Fund, operates as a cooperative, dedicated to promoting the work of independent media​. They support media organisations that are run in the public interest and support financially independent and factually accurate sources of information.


[00:00:05] Stewart: Hi there and welcome to Scale a podcast for Modern Media. I am your host, Stewart Ritchie, the founder and lead developer at Powered by Coffee. Powered by Coffee is a web and software development team focusing on technology issues facing the media today. Scale is a podcast about how technology impacts the media and how the media impacts technology in return, everything from ad tech and privacy to hosting and content management.

We’re interested in what’s happening today, what’s happening tomorrow, and where we might end up in the future.

[00:00:35] Stewart: Today with our episode we have Thomas Barlow with the Independent Media Association the IMA, and you know, I don’t know a huge amount about the IMA so I’m gonna hand straight over to Thomas. And Thomas, tell us about yourself, how you got involved with the Independent Media Association and what is the IMA.

[00:00:51] Thomas: Hello. Thanks for having me. Yeah. So the ima I mean, and we are gonna refer to it as the IMA because it’s a bloody mouthful. It’s a mouthful. And I mean, and to be extraordinarily boring, it does what it says on the tin. It is an association of independent media organizations. So collectively there’s around about 70 member independent media organizations. We are going to be a hundred member organizations within three months, and we’ll probably be about 150 by the end of 2023, and our current collective reach is around about eight and a half million people, that’s about the, the reach, in the independent media members of the association have.

But we estimate the independent media reaches far more than that, probably closer to 20 million people in the UK, and these all UK based organizations. So you know, It’s what we realized. So my background is in about 2013 I got involved. I wanted to become a journalist. I started writing for an independent media organization cause there wasn’t much going on elsewhere.

And then founded my own organization in 2015. And by 2017 I realized what I was doing. Cause I’d run companies in the past and I’d done like a lot of business type stuff. But again, it was in the music industry. It was always stuff that I thought was creative. But someone has to do the accounts.

[00:02:17] Stewart: Sure.

[00:02:18] Thomas: So someone has to like work out employment policy and organize meetings and have agendas and make sure there’s outcomes and that we stay on track and all of that kind of stuff. And so I’d been doing that, obviously I’d done it. I started off as a journalist, started to do that background, founded my own thing.

Realized I’m not doing journalism any longer. I don’t make any content, only organize stuff. Why am I doing it for one organization that doesn’t really make any money and can’t pay me really to be an operations manager? For one, why don’t I raise money for the whole, for all the independent media organizations I’ve now met?

Cause I’ve now put on conferences and things like. And so about 30 organizations got together and we founded something in 2017 called The Media Fund. It was there to just raise money for independent media. We thought, well, if we all do it together, maybe we’ll have a better shot at making a bit more cash.

And we ran that for about two and a half years. And in 2019, late 2019, somone said, well, look, we’ve got more problems than just raising money. I mean, it’s a number one problem, but actually there’s a lot of other things that we can do and we’re all together. Why don’t we have an association to deal with those, those problems, those issues, and support each other and stuff like that?

Especially as anyone who works in independent media knows you can often end up by yourself, working by yourself. And so that’s what the Independent Media Association does. We are working on helping raising money, but actually that’s taken a backseat to training workshops and resources, advice feeding part of the community; we just have a big active WhatsApp group and we’ve now created a community WhatsApp community, which is a group of groups where there’s ones that are just for chat. There’s ones to talk about the national union journalists or regulation or campaigns or what else do we cover? We cover collaborative projects where we get members together to work on stuff.

So we have a series of working groups and largely led by members. We have a board of about 14 people, all from different independent media organizations, and we have two part-time workers part-time staff, and I’m one of them.

[00:04:23] Stewart: Great.

[00:04:24] Stewart: Think my initial jumping off point from there is how are we, how are you defining independent media as opposed to non-independent?

What is, what is that distinction? What is the qualifier for, you know, getting into the association?

[00:04:37] Thomas: Yeah, so, and trust me, it took a long time to work on that one. Like, you know, there was the, and even choosing the same independent media was fought. You know, like there was this sense that like, oh, maybe we should be radical media.

Others, people who like, you know, back then in 2015 or whatever, Russia today was doing quite a lot of, for instance, Anti-authoritarian kind of coverage or red fish, you know, which is backed by tesser, both of them state backed organizations. So we fell upon the the definition and again, a definition had being come up it within the US. It didn’t cover state backed organizations cause they don’t really have state media, right?

So we said independent media is any organization that not majority funded by either the state or a multinational corporation. Like, and we use multinational corporation because local, independent media often will work with local businesses. And so we define a multinational corporation it’s sort of legally instituted if more than 50% of your earnings come from there.

For instance The Canary who are controversial characters to some didn’t get to join the media fund or the IMA for about two years because the majority of their funding came from advertising from Google Ads and that which is a global corporation that promotes global multinational corporations.

And that advertising was decided by the membership and the board to make it not an independent, you know, because the way that we define independent media is essentially not beholden to vested interests. Not beholden to the invested interests is the powerful. So you don’t wanna be beholden to the state or to a nation state and acting in their interests.

And you don’t wanna be acting in the interests of the powerful global corporations. You know, we need to be able to question those organizations if we’re to tell the truth and tell stories about the world that are actually important and useful to people. That’s, you know, really the job of journalism and media generally is to tell stories that are actually universally useful, not just useful for the interests of a powerful elite.

[00:06:49] Stewart: That’s interesting.

I didn’t realize it was so that, that example of I canary with the advertisement. I haven’t heard that before. Cause I think that’s like a really interesting question. A lot of the topics on this podcast come back to media orgs are very beholden to Google, for everything. They’re a huge source of like income. They’re a huge source of traffic that they used to drive other income. So that’s a really interesting, interesting take. But your, your point is exactly right. You know, can you go out of your way to annoy and tell the truth and, you know, report honestly about something that is such a huge part of your, your income back. That’s really interesting.

[00:07:30] Thomas: Yeah. And I mean, look, it’s not, there’s not always an explicit bias where you are like always obviously working for your paymaster. I remember there’s obviously, this is a very famous interview between Noam Chomsky and Andrew Marr right back in the nineties, and he’s sitting there and Andrew Marr says, I don’t censor myself.

Like, I don’t need to censor myself. I work for the bbc, but I don’t, I don’t do that. And he says, of course you don’t, like, you don’t need to, you wouldn’t have got the job if you had to censor, like censor yourself. You wouldn’t, you wouldn’t got the job if you had to be told how to act in the interests of the British state. Right? Because, they wouldn’t, they just wouldn’t hire you. Similarly, corporate advertisers are not going to reward organizations or promote organizations that like cause problems for corporate corporations, they’re just not going to, you’re gonna get cut off. You’re gonna get, as we see, you know, when we’re talking about free speech a lot of it is weirdly directed around cultural issues. Very little protection from those people who talk about free speech is afforded for independent media organizations that are regularly de platformed by the multinational corporations, such as Twitter, such as Facebook, such as Google. You know, you can outrightly ban them or you can squash their reach and we have, for instance, very specific example. From the five years, from 2015 to 2020, it’s quite interesting organizations like The Canary, but also for instance, an organization like Milk the Cow Podcast, which is a New Castle based podcast, huge, got huge and then very big Facebook page.

And they were sent a notification a day before the 2019 election and to be clear, they’re not Labour supporting, but they were seen as sort of, and we’ve heard this from several of the organizations, so sent a notification saying, your reach you are not gonna be able to reach your, your reach on Facebook is ended until the day after the election.

And they’re just notified of that. No explanation why, you know, that’s it. Bang. So you can, and that was explicit. In many cases, your reach will just be squashed without you knowing why. And you’d be like, oh, is the algorithm changing? Do I have to do more short video? Do I need to start putting images in? Like everyone’s trying to figure out the algorithm. But often, and we know this from releases, the algorithm specifically targeted against independent media organizations that cause problems for powerful elites. So, you know, these are things that we actually need to band together to work on and have these conversations and say, hey, Google, Twitter, Facebook, you know, TikTok, maybe like, we actually represent a really large proportion of the population and we either need, you know, statutory and regulatory protections from governments and or we need to cause commercial problems for these organizations.

[00:10:26] Stewart: Absolutely. And I imagine that’s increasingly visible as a problem. You know, like it’s very easy to look at it for me to look at an organization and go like, oh yeah, that algorithmic change is gonna mess with them. But with everything kind of going on at Twitter at the moment say it’s gonna cause a lot of problems for journalists that have spent a lot of time developing personal brands and personal followings where they don’t have, you know, their own place that they own their data to generate, to own that following.

It’s kind of the same thing, people getting depressed or just, you know, bullied off the platform or they’re harassed off the platform, I should say, for their, for their views. It’s quite an interesting,

[00:11:08] Thomas: yeah, I mean, if, you know, moderating people’s activities, individuals or groups in activities on social media to chastise particular publishers, journalists, opinion commentators, is an arena that isn’t really for regulators or governments, in my opinion, because that’s the interaction of people with people. When global corporations who have essentially a monopoly on people’s access to information about the world, decide who cannot be heard that is a question for legislation, for regulation. It’s do we break these monopolies up? And obviously what’s happening with Twitter now is almost comical in some respects. I’m sure we’ve all had a good laugh. But to give you a comparative example, I’ll talk from my own organization, right?

 In 2017, during the 2017 news is popular, by the way, during elections. It’s one of the few times it’s worth paying attention to news the rest of the time you feel like, what’s the point? Like I can’t do anything about it. Like, but people pay attention during elections. We had a reach of around about 3 million.

We had one video that went one and a half million. We were very small organization, very small, like three people doing it in our spare time, unpaid. We had, you know, several million plus videos and they were on Facebook, and we were like, we can build an income on the basis this other organizations had from their reach through Facebook by 2019.

So two years later, there is no reach for any independent media organization on Facebook. And of course, within about two years after that, Facebook is a platform, is basically dead, right? Like, I mean, it’s, it’s collapsed. But prior to that, it was an active choice by the people who own Facebook to specifically withdraw the capability of reaching your own audience, reaching the people who are actually interested in your content.

 They couldn’t see it they tried, you know? So that occurred now within journalism, Twitter has been the main way for pe for journalists to build their profiles and build the capacity. Independent income streams often based around audiences supporting them through donations, right? There’s countless examples of this.

If Twitter goes as a platform where you can do that, because it either collapses because of mismanagement or because the new management, it specifically Elon Musk is very antithetical to free speech, despite what he said. He’s very antithetical to combative speech that holds power to account and that will destroy the livelihoods of numerous journalists who have built their incomes on being able to communicate with an audience through a platform they don’t own.

So, you know, when we talk about independent media, a lot of it has, in the new media, in the digital media era, built its existence through platforms that they do not own, through methods of communicating with its audience that they do not own. If you look at, say, The Big Issue, which is a good example of an independent media organization or the New Internationalist or Red Pepper, they have their own distribution networks and their own printing networks, their own you know, methods for production so they can produce stuff.

You know, now, unless you have your own website, if you use a sub or medium for instance, you don’t even own the method of production of your own content, let alone the distribution. So you’re not even, so, you know, these are significant issues, which again, we have to, as a sector start to realize. And when you’re out here by yourself, you know, you are and you’ve suddenly built yourself a following on TikTok, on Twitter, on Instagram or something like that, and you’re like, I’m gonna go, I’m gonna stick it to the man, or I’m gonna, or I’m gonna do independent genderism around football, around culture, around arts, around music. You know, like whatever it is, whatever’s your passion, whatever stories need to be told.

And then, you know, and you see us constantly with YouTube creators, you get not specifically de-platformed and banned, you just don’t appear in people’s feeds any longer. Your own audience can’t see you. it destroys the ability for people to tell the truth. And what we have to recognize is the economics of information distribution is actually the fundamental arena in which the crisis of free speech has to be addressed, has to be discussed. I think when people talk about free speech and when they talk about you know, anti-elitism and stuff like that, they’ll all have different political positions. Usually the people who are talking about it nowadays seem to have very well paid jobs very much establishment organizations and guaranteed reaches in the millions.

And they are not in fact questioning elites or, or you know, actually fighting back. They are often fighting for the elite. Regardless of my personal opinions on that, that arena is actually a distraction. That’s a cultural discussion, a social discussion, a political discussion, fine. Though those important discussions, people should have them about what you can and can’t say, what you should and shouldn’t say.

But ultimately, the access to getting information that is the arena free speech if we care about the society that is built upon, open, free and frank discuss. These are the questions we have to answer.

[00:16:31] Stewart: And obviously, the big question from that is like, what, what is that solution? I mean, from our point of view, I suppose you’ve got a website somewhere you own, but that’s no good if you don’t have any traffic, no one coming to read it. Like you, you mentioned distribution there a few times and kind of a few of the brands that kind of have, you know, developed their own distribution. What, what are we to do if we can’t rely upon the distribution channels that we believe may be suppressing content that does not align with their views, but are the popular places where eyeballs are, what is, you know, is there a, an IMA advisement or, or what is the kind of take, and I suppose that’ll vary per organization and per resource and per audience.

[00:17:17] Thomas: Well, we try to offer, obviously we try to offer bespoke advice. What I can say is to our members and we, you know, that’s something that I’m there for. As someone who’s really studied Intensely social media trends since 2005, like since Facebook occurred. I was a club night promoter. You know, no one realized what it, like no one realized its utility for politics until about 20 10, 20 11, 20 12, you know, like, but I was using it cuz I was using it as a club night promoter and again, there wasn’t like pages, you know, there wasn’t ways of paying Facebook. This was before it went public, but I realized like with the reach of this thing I can put out, if I can get people to club night, then if I wanted to get ’em to a protest, I could get ’em to a protest. Do you know what I mean?

People weren’t aware of those things. So as somebody who studied those trends yeah, my, like there’s some baseline advice. Always have your own. always have your own email list that you can manage through that website so you can can communicate with your audience directly and kind of make all of your marketing efforts focused towards funneling people towards that website and that email list.

There are then other methods that you can use to directly communicate with your audience that are technologically a little bit more difficult and or, you know, potentially prone to change as well, which is telegram and signal lists. Telegram specifically is, you know, a good arena building subreddits is a great way to get audience engagement on in an arena, which again, independent me, this independent media doesn’t usually go that route, but it’s actually. It’s actually one of the more well designed social media platforms in terms of sort of protecting the right kinds of content and your stuff. Audience will see it if you’ve built a community, but it does require taking a lot of time and effort. So largely what we see from social media trends is very much like the rise and fall of all organizations in capitalism which is that they will reach good ideas, will be good ideas for a period of time until they have to be fully capitalized through, you know, share issues and stuff like that. And then they will strive to towards watching down their products and attaining a monopoly.

So Facebook’s a classic example of this, and they will destroy their own products in. Process of doing that. So there will be a life cycle of social media platforms. You know, TikTok may not have a life cycle because it’s largely state owned or state paid for, and it may just not

-it may not fuck around with the secret sauce. The secret sauce is do what you do well, Facebook used to do one thing well, Instagram used to do one thing well, Twitter’s stuck to doing one thing well, and now it’s not going to, and it will probably die. Right. Do one thing well. Don’t do other things. Like is if I could give those multi-billionaires who everyone sort of thinks are like superheroes from a Marvel movie where they’re like geniuses. They’re not, they’re just people with an extraordinary amount of money who usually, and studies have been done on this like by business people, right idea, right time. They’ll usually be in a life cycle of any social there’ll have been 40 other companies that did pretty much the same thing at the wrong time as the one that’s successful. And will have been may probably under capitalized anyways in that arena if you’re independent media, yes use, so social media platforms, there probably might have been probably where you have built your audience. Start working immediately to get them off. Once you start to realize like, this is, this is going to be a living for me get them off there.

And then, you know, always explore those new platforms. Like there’s a lot of independent YouTube creators who’ve come together and created a platform called Nebula. Right. And it’s. Really good. There’s a new one that’s coming called Quench and that will be brilliant as well, and I can get into details about that some other point. Mastodon is the new Twitter, right? Like, and it’s already being populated by independent media in droves and its audiences, right? be aware of those trends. Don’t hide from them. I’ve been banging on about TikTok for about three years and people still haven’t transitioned there. Yet, the majority of people who are on that platform are over the age of 30. So like, you’re not even, like, it’s not even a kid’s platform any longer. People just don’t realize it. I think every time, by the way, there’s a new platform that comes around it’s a new way of telling stories and information. So here’s something that I want to tell people when they, media producers, content producers, right?

Like when they’re thinking about new social media platforms. By the way, LinkedIn has become very good, for instance. Sure. Share information and tell stories on you’re just telling stories. Like the whole of human society the only consistent thing is that we tell stories. It’s like how we understand the world.

We are not rationalists, we don’t wait for evidence to understand the world. We understand it through stories we like, and, and that’s what we’ve always done. And a lot of that in the early age of the internet of which we’ve just lived through, has been based on the written word. Right. The written word, there’s only been universal literacy for about a hundred to 150 years out of a hundred thousand years of human society, right?

Mostly. People do not interact with the written word. Maybe 20% of the population in any country are like highly educated enough to engage with written it was the main method of communication in 20th Century for communicating important news and complex ideas because it was the only way to store information.

But in a TikTok video, I can tell you a story like our ancestors used to round a campfire. I can, I can talk to you directly. I can look you in the eyes and I can tell you a story in a minute or less, something important about the world. And now, you know, and you can move on with your day, you know? So don’t be a snob about these new technologies, new platforms, you know?

And yes, I understand. When we’re all overworked and busy and our audience is already on one platform, it’s really difficult to make a transition to anotherone, but I would, what I would then suggest is that people go on to a platform and use it for themselves for like a couple of months and actually really dive into it and see what the joy is themselves, understand it intuitively as a user and then get there.

And again with say, TikTok, the IMA has set up a its own TikTok account. We haven’t posted really anything on there. But what we do have is we have about 50 or 60 accounts that we follow that you can follow. Cause if you go onto TikTok now you’re gonna get some torrid torrid grub, it’s unpleasant, right?

Yeah. Like, and you’re like, what is the point of this platform? If you go onto our profile and then you follow those 50, 60 creators and you, you watch their profiles, it’s everything from football stories, history, factoids, language factoids to politics, news, interpersonal stories, dating advice, psychology, or you realize, oh, this is a platform where people are getting millions of views talking about like how you can make the world a bit better.

Right. So, you know, anyways, I’ve gone off on what they’re,

[00:24:38] Stewart: no, but I think that’s all really interesting because I think you get the same problem in TikTok is that you’re then building a TikTok audience. It’s very hard to transition to somewhere else when, if, or when TikTok should, you know, reach the end of its life cycle, either through, you know, legal action based on who owns it or just is no longer the hot, the hot new thing.

And I know like TikTok is in particular is very o on the community guidelines of like, you know, you can’t promote your YouTube channel, you can’t promote anything off of TikTok unless it’s in one of our ads, but it’s, but your point still sounds like that’s where the audience is. We should go there and, you know, attempt to communicate in, in brand build,

[00:25:25] Thomas: Well, it’s, it’s like, you know, I mean, the term marketing comes from markets, right? Like you used to put out shop signs and then someone put out a nicer shop sign and you to make a nice one. You know what, what you’re doing is putting out a shop sign In TikTok, it doesn’t like you taking people off the platform.

It has a, it has its own, it’s basically, or at this point, like everyone’s having to use other words for particular words that you’re not allowed to do, like, And every, and if you’re on TikTok, you understand, like when someone says this, I was, when I was first on there in the comments, I was like, why is someone, what is corn?

You know? Yeah. I don’t understand. You know, and they’re like, oh, millennials. By the way, if you go on TikTok as a millennial, you will, you will get dragged. It’s just how it’s going to be. But it’s a shop window. So it’s not, that’s the other thing I think about the, all of these platforms, when I’m saying decouple from that, it’s like all of these platforms are merely shot windows. And they’re, they’re merely like a, a shopping mall that appears in your area and you’re allowed, or like, no better than that. Like in Leeds, they have council owned poster ballards, they’re big ballards that you can put posters on. Like, and it’s like those, they exist there and you can put your posters on them if you make the right thing for a while.

But after a while , they’ll say, you can’t any longer, you’re not allowed to include that cuz it’s owned by the council. Do you know what I mean? And you’re only allowed so much space and blah, blah, blah. You don’t put tons of effort into it, but you do let people know you exist. You know, it’s, it’s worthwhile that level of time and commitment.

Also, you can build content strategies around it. For instance, an an organization I’m working with, are going to make all of their content solely a short video. So their website will be short videos, and they’ll communicate with their audience directly through Telegram rather than email. So they’re not gonna use written word.

So all of the stuff will go on. TikTok can probably Instagram reels and YouTube briefs. Yeah. You know, but it’s not dependent on those platforms. Keeping them on there or like the, the video library will exist and it will encourage everyone. The social media profiles will say, follow us on TikTok telegram so you can get our videos that way, you know, and we can directly communicate with you that way until there’s a good email way to send short videos, you know, maybe they’ll build out that list as well.

So it’s to be aware of those trends and do do something that’s low effort but puts you in the shop window.

Of course.

[00:28:00] Stewart: Too, it’s with worthless things of. , you know, good or done is what is it perfect as enemy of done. You know, like when we look at TikTok content for kind of our business, I’m like, that’d be great.

But there’s a lot of steps for us to get there to make it be good. And that stops us kind of getting point of just get the phone out and talk at it for a minute about something. That’s all it needs to be, but we want it to be good so nothing happens. Which should get over ourselves a little bit.

[00:28:31] Thomas: Yes. It’s just talk, it’s telling stories. Like I said, it’s, it’s actually one of the easiest storytelling methods in the world. You get out your phone, you talk to it for a minute. How many times a week have you sent messages? At least voice notes. If, if like not many people, I send video messages to my mates, which they find disgustingly annoying.

But you sent voice notes to your mates. Catching them up.

[00:28:50] Stewart: I hate voice notes. I’m like, my wife gets a lot of voice notes from her friends and I’m like, your friends are bad people. Like, don’t make me listen to this and stop whatever else I was doing to interrupt my day. I want read a text message and I can come back to it at a time to check it.

But that’s my personal hangup. No. Yeah.

Well, I mean, I think we often have those as the hangups they become in facets of our industry or sector. Yeah. Is that we have emotional reactions to the ways that we receive information, and therefore we don’t wanna produce information in that particular way.

Like, and I just see it like, again, also if you’ve pre, you know, if you created your. If you create in a certain way for, for a certain amount of time, you’re like, this is what I do. Like why I, and, and I’m not saying transition is always the best way, but if you already create video content for YouTube, work out a way of doing it for TikTok when people were bloggers and you used RSS feeds, you know, and, and RSS collectives.

When, when Twitter came about, people were like, why would I abbreviate a blog to 140 characters? That’s a piss. Like, yeah, like, and it was so annoying. It was like, no, this is the way that you are going to get people to your blog. Like, you know, like sum, sum up your blog in 140 characters and add a link.

Yeah. You know, like, and so they create tools like Bitly to help you do that and all of this. So, you know, just be aware, like. That’s what I’d say to people. That’s one of the challenges the industry faces is because people who produce content to a level by which it’s their profession, have usually reached a certain age and new things are like new.

They’re hard. Yeah. . But they’re, they’re opportunities and we have to retain that youthful fascination because if you are a similar age to myself, like we grew up, there wasn’t internet. Like I didn’t have internet till I was 15, 16, you know, and it was squeaky dial up, like lived in a world where there was books and you called like an operator from a payphone to get a reverse charge call to your parents.

Do you know what I mean? Like, , we’ve seen some things. It’s not gonna stop. So like, let’s try and enjoy the ride because there’s only re cuz it’s occurring regardless. Like, and really you can be, in my opinion, I’m, I’m a bit of stoic insofar as like you change what you can and accept what you can’t.

Sure. But you’re not gonna change the health skeletal tumble of technology then I think we should just try and enjoy it. Great. Makes a lot of sense. I think then let’s

talk about how media performs. I think, if I recall correctly, you, when we were speaking earlier, you told us that independent media is broadly considered to be art performing traditional and kind of, Non-independent media, for lack of a better phrase, kind in terms of growth.

Is that, did I pick that up right?

[00:31:43] Thomas: Yeah. In terms of establishment media and legacy media, like they’re only seeing declining audiences. They’re only seeing declining incomes, and most importantly, for the arenas that I care about, they’re only sacking people. They’re not, they don’t employ new people if they’re employing new people.

It’s only younger people who are paid less to do the job of three senior people. Do you like they’re, it’s so, it’s a terrible industry. They’re now largely the establishment, corporate medias in the privately owned media and the empires of Murdoch, the Barley Brothers and of by Count Modern Me, which the three of them make up around about 80 to 90% of the national press.

They are now essentially state backed organizations that are purely backed by state funding in Australia. The same’s true, the Australian government did a, a deal with Murdoch and Google, whereby Google essentially pays Murdoch to produce content. Do you know what I mean? Like really, and I can go, like, I’m simplifying it and, you know, yeah.

Simplifying it for shock factor, but like it more or less that’s the case. And I can go into the details of that if you’re interested, but, The reality is, is that with, even with those massive sub subsidies and even with the massive political CL they’ve got, even with the massive brand recognition that they have, even with the entire legacy that they have, they’re just collapsing some at greater rates than others, you know, and the Guardian tried a long time ago.

Bizarrely, I was part of the focus group that helped me decide this to switch to at least partially being funded by donors.

[00:33:17] Stewart: It all the time on the site frequently. And I’m like, you’ve read 82 articles this year, maybe don’t .

[00:33:24] Thomas: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And, you know, they. Like they really shot themselves in the foot with some of the political positions they took from the editorial line, which was in, which was dissonant with their own audience.

Mm-hmm. . And I think, again, that’s something where independent media is a lot more nimble. It’s a lot, lot more clear. It serves an audience. The guardian ultimately as a liberal establishment paper ultimately served some of its benefactors and some of the political positions of. Let’s say elite vested interests that weren’t actually the interest of its readership.

And so they kind of destroyed their own funding model there. Yeah, because it’s really hard to base a donorship model. Like, I mean, it’s not that you can’t tell your audience things that they don’t wanna hear if it’s the truth, but it’s that if you’re not serving an audience, if you’re not, like if you’re consistently not there for them, if you consistently oppose what they stand for and what they believe and also don’t tell them things about the world that they want to, to hear about that they’re interested in, then you are not gonna be able to build a model around ownership.

But you know, .

[00:34:35] Stewart: Does that, does that, do you feel like then there’s a maximum kinda size that an independent media organization can be before the overheads of running the organization? Organization are so big that they kind of have to make commercial first decisions over pure audience decisions? Because I imagine the overheads at the Guardian are signif are so significant that they kind of sometimes have to make a decision that conflicts.

[00:35:02] Thomas: Mm, I think actually wasn’t commercial decisions so much as after Snowden the editor, the Guardian was put on the D notice committee, which is, it’s got another name. It’s a sort of ministry defense. You work with m i six and I five and the secret Service intelligence community to deal with like certain things.

And you saw sort of editorial positions there, not only around foreign military intelligence positions that like. Were less critical combat combative, but also around like particular political figures, you know, that meant that they were less supportive of certain ones that were critical of the establishment and more supportive, others that really remained on maybe the deal that they had with their audience.

But yes, scale is a really big discussion. And actually one of our members and the, the organization that suggested we become an association is the Media Reform Coalition. And they, they’re undertaking a really big piece of research now talking about a transition to a sort of media commons or media democracy where we have control over the media that we love.

But, you know, in their opinion and I think it’s a reasonable. You need an organization like the bbc. It’s essentially like currently the board is appointed by government or internally. What we really need is it for it to be. Appointed or elected by license fee payers. We all pay for it. We should decide who runs it.

You know, because I mean, for instance, the chairs of the board have, in recent history been the c e O of b a e weapons systems, the largest weapons company in the world. And Ron Fairhead, who went on to me Brexit secretary, but before she was B B C chair she. Had overseen the H s BBC Finance Department during the L I B O scandal and the Mexican drug cartel scandal.

So these are the kinds of caliber people we’re asking to run our public media institution. And we call it public media and not state media in the uk, but it is state media essentially. Like there’s, you know, and that’s why like a lot of independent media organizations would shy away from supporting that, but their point.

The media for important coalition’s position is that you cannot produce media at scale and, and provide, by the way, universal services like the BBC for its floors has hundreds of radio stations in, in local communities, provides educational resources for children, cooking resources, a massive news. It’s not just a news operation or even a cultural operation, and it is a cultural operation.

And in an age where we live in globalization where. If it was a private organization, we can see for instance, the basic package for Sky, which produces far, far, far less programming, has no radio stations, produces, no website, no information, no no support. None of the services the BBC does. The basic package costs twice the amount of the B bbc and it comes with advertising, right?

You need the economies to scale of your universal service is the media reform coalition’s position that we all play in. And then from that, A proportion should go to independent media producers and independent media producers should be really looking at minimum tripartite of income streams, which is from donors and members, from their audiences, essentially from grant organizations.

And that’s really something where our association can step up and fight and say like, We need grant funders who are traditionally giving money directly to frontline services, understandably not realizing that the conditions are being created for, say, poverty, environmental degradation or whatever, that they’re trying to fight.

Fight by establishment media, right? So we need, so they need to maybe tackle some of the causes of this at source, but not just grant organizations, but the government. So big organizations bringing in large amounts of money so that independent media can remain independent. The money comes to something like the Independent Media Association or impress a regulator so that there’s a Chinese wall between the funder and those who get the money.

Right, of course. . And so that’s, that’s what second methodology that we are looking for, which is, yeah, so like I say, donorship grant funding and then small scale corporation with local businesses and competitors. Maybe as decided by, like, we are gonna try and work with the ethical consumer, which is a member organization on deciding, you know, ethical.

Organizations, you know, coming up criteria with them, with experts in this field where you can get funding from ethical organizations advertised with them. And also, I would suggest the cooperative movement, the trade union movement, any movement that has significantly organized sections of the populace to protect their rights and, and therefore has a lot of resources to invest in a communication system that actually works for people rather than works for, you know, the.

[00:39:54] Stewart: Absolutely. I think the as an aside, there’s stuff around community interest companies, so are registering as like a CIC and things like that, and I think the co-op movement is like pretty interesting as far as distributed ownership around. Where this is coming from. But that’s all I, Megan,

[00:40:10] Thomas: interested.

I think it’s a really, I think it’s a really interesting discussion actually. One of the, again, we’ve done a series of talks. One of them was on TikTok, one of them was on like funding. And we, we do these workshops and we have these discussions. We had one, and we’ve been in discussions with this again, with other organizations that we are starting to form coalitions with.

Around this. And there have been people who said you should register as a charity or a kick to be an independent media organization and almost no independent media organizations are. And there’s very good reasons for that. Yeah, I don’t, yeah, I dunno if people are aware of this. In 2014 the, the government at the time signed into something that was dubbed the gag Law.

Charities and Kicks cannot undertake political activities and they are regulated quite. Tightly by government. It was a way of like, yeah, it was a way of stopping. For instance, shelter running campaigns around austerity. They say, no, you can only be a frontline services charity, provide housing. You’re not allowed to criticize the government for creating homelessness.

Right. You, you cannot act in a political fashion that Gaggle law applies to media organizations. You can’t act politically and Chris, like there are organizations out there that are doing it, but I imagine that they are treading a very fine line and it would be very easy if you became in any way significant or, or, or capable of causing problems that you would be shut down if you were charity or kick.

That’s interesting. I had no. That’s really interesting. Yeah. Really, really, really useful. Don’t become a kick, don’t become a charity. You’re storing up problems for yourself down the line. You can do this, you can, so the co a cooperative acts like a limited company. Except it’s regulated by the fca, not H M R C.

So it’s financial conduct Authority. It’s quite light touch regulation. You can do what you want and it’s co-owned. There’s lots of different models that I, I can talk about Ative all day. The IMA is a cooperative, it’s a multi-stakeholder, right? But what you can do if you’re a limited company or co-op is also set up simultaneously a charity and you can transfer money in and out of them from, from your limited company to your charity to save you paying tax.

And you’re welcome to do that. And and it could also mean that if you save, do funding drives for particular projects and things like that, you can do it through the charity. and get gift aid, get other tax breaks and incentives. There’s a lot more specifics there that I can’t go into and don’t dive into any of that without like discussing it with an accountant and making sure what you do is completely legal.

But for instance, all student unions in the country, I was an executive of one. That’s how they operate. They ha they run bars, they have a private company that runs a bar and at the end of the year, they transfer all the money that they made from the bar into the charity of the student union. and then they transit back out the next day.

So for 24 hours their, their company has no money. And then it does again, like it, yeah.

[00:43:03] Stewart: More, more egregiously. Private schools will often have a charity. Donations are made to the private school gifted disclaimed. So a hundred thousand pounds. Someone is giving me And you taxpayers are chipping in another 40 grand or so on

[00:43:17] Thomas: top of that.

Yeah. I love, I love paying. Privately educated people to all over me. We do so many ways, so many different ways for all of our lives and for all of their lives. From the cradle to the grave for them. If they can do it, why not ask? Well, I think so. Like they could. , you know, like that. That’s genuinely my feeling.

Like there is a reason, some would suggest, there’s a reason why financial literacy is not taught in school. For instance, like we don’t know how to buy houses. We dunno how to manage money in any significant way. Invest it or care about it. Utilize it to build wealth for our communities. But you know, you, you will if you, if you come from a privately educated background, it’s not that you need to learn it at school.

Your family do have solicitors, they have accountants. You will be asked to work on your family business and so forth and so on. You will be able to ask people for advice. We don’t, ordinary people don’t have those networks. And again, that’s why the association exists to create those networks of like, we’ve got expert accountants, we’ve got solicitors.

We work with the National Union journalist as a trade union. We work with impresses and regulator experts to provide you expert support. When you are just, someone usually starts off as. Creator as someone who starts putting stuff out in the world, it becomes popular. They think they can make a living out of it.

And then a lot of them will hit a barrier about 18 months to two years in, maybe a year in. Cuz you can only run at stuff with no money, no support so long. We’re trying to make sure you can exist past that original sprint. Absolutely.

[00:44:51] Stewart: Thomas, that has been an awful lot. We’ve been going for quite a while.

Sorry, I wanna respect your time. Let’s, let’s sum this all up. It’s really hard to run any kind of media business and particularly an independent one. And the IMA is there to support people with, you know, expert advice, peer groups, access to kind of the network and the community and access to yourself to kind of bounce, bounce ideas off.

Yes, lots of training, all of that kind of good stuff. Have I missed anything from

[00:45:18] Thomas: the, I. I think just being able to be connected to other people. You might, not just experts, but you might be like, I would like to do an investigation to housing. I’d like to make contacts with people who share similar interests.

How, how do I do that? And we can become that for you, you know?

[00:45:34] Stewart: Splitting the journalistic load across as many organizations as possible. Yeah,

[00:45:40] Thomas: On all types of content creation. We’ve got all cultural, you know, like, so it’s not just journalism. So yeah, I think I think the future’s bright for independent media.

It is growing. We as a sector growing in important significance in the incomes we can generate the jobs that we are generating. We are the only growing part of the N U J, the national Union journalist. Correct. There is a proper press regulator there in press. It’s available for organizations.

I’d recommend them as well. And we work with them closely. Get in touch with us if you need any support, you’ve just got an idea that you wanna take from an idea to a reality or at least see if it could be like get in touch. We’re there for that. I, how can people get in touch with, with the ima? Well, you can find our website, ima.press.

That’s the key thing. That’s the most important thing. We do have a newsletter which you can sign up for through sub or on our site which is called Media That Matters. And you can find us in all the usual social media platforms. I am a it’s a little green logo green for five. So yeah, you can get in touch with us there and keep doing the great work that you’re doing and know that there’s people in your corner and you and we are here.

Great. And what about you, Thomas?

[00:46:51] Stewart: So wants to follow you directly. Is there any way to do that that you would recommend or, or that you

[00:46:58] Thomas: No, I actually withdrew recently for more social media. Specifically like my job is to support others like I’m not , you know, my, my opinions, my personality, my positions on things, they do not matter.

And really the work that everyone else is doing is far more important than my own. So I wouldn’t like to I wouldn’t like people to feel like by working with me they were associated with one particular position or another. My job because we represent a huge diversity of political opinion of Interest of content interest and things that people wanna produce and talk about often opposing each other.

And my place in that is to support you regardless. If you are doing the work, you’re independent. I want you to succeed. And trust me, I, I don’t care about your political opinion. I will give you everything I’ve got.

[00:47:45] Stewart: Yeah, I think that’s, that’s worth reiterating. Cause I know like you’re, you lean a certain way.

I lean in a certain way. We can get a bit resonancy about kind of building up on things. But this is an organization that exists for everyone regardless of viewpoint. And they’d be happy to support you and that the goal here is a healthy public discourse, not the promotion of a single point of.

[00:48:06] Thomas: Yeah, I, I, my fundamental, if you wanna know any belief that I have, that’s important to me and that’s core and that would be useful to you, is my belief is that, As a society, we’ve got problems.

We’ve also got brilliant things, and we should celebrate those brilliant things, but we should name those problems and we cannot, as a society, create the change that we need to see in the world unless we can ha first and foremost name them. Unless we can talk about them. And that was a starting point, well over a decade ago for me to like work out how to do that.

And I thought, well, should I be a journalist? Blah, blah, blah. And it leads you down this quite technocratic path of going, actually what we need is good regulator, a good. Sector of organizations that are talking about important things unencumbered by the need to fulfill the duty to serve a vested interest.

And that for me is the most important thing because then regardless of what you’re putting out in the world, if you are regulated and you are telling the truth, and you can be held to account if you are unencumbered by the need to serve another other than your audience. I’m behind you. This will make the world better and it’s the only way that it’s going to, the, the world’s gonna get better is through this.

So great way to end.

[00:49:26] Stewart: Thank you very much for your time, Thomas. Thank you. And, and everyone go check out the ima if you think you might be a good fit for their services and their help. Feel free to get in touch and we will speak

[00:49:37] Thomas: to you soon. Brilliant. Hope so. Yes. Thanks all. Cheers. Great.

[00:49:45] Stewart: Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe. The skill is available in all the usual podcast places. Even better, if you could leave us a review that really helps us.

If you’re interested in finding out more about me or Power by coffee, you can find us on social media and again, in all the usual places, links are in the show notes. Scale is currently gonna kind of come out every two weeks and we will see you then.


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Twitter: @ima.press

A modern media podcast

hosted by Stewart Ritchie

The answer is yes, but you need to get yourself in front of your readers. We’re joined this week by Thomas Barlow who heads Operations at the Independent Media Association, a.k.a. the IMA. In this week’s episode, Thomas opens us up to his fountain of independent media knowledge and years of experience to guide us through the history of independent media organisations, and why right now is the best time to find new readers.

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