Buzzflash interviews TRN’s Paul Jay

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Jay (seated) and his crew. At last a true strategic weapon against the system.

BuzzFlash interview conducted by Mark Karlin.
Paul Jay and The Real News To Bring Us Video-Based News Without the Government and Corporate Spin

Submitted by BuzzFlash on Tue, 07/24/2007 – Interviews
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW (Buzzflash is a progressive, fraternal site, to whom we are grateful for this story.)

The fundamental goal is to create uncompromising, viewer-funded world news — video-based world news. We think the big gap in the media landscape is for independent, video-based, daily news service. And by independent, we mean no government funding, no corporate funding, and no advertising.—Paul Jay, filmmaker and founder of “The Real News”

For a few years, Paul Jay has been doing something that progressives keep yearning for, but don’t have the resources to do, because the big money Democrats aren’t into financing alternative television news coverage. So, with only a vision in his head that drives him relentlessly, Paul Jay is creating “The Real News” television network, headquarted in Toronto, Canada.

Jay is a man after our own fashion (BuzzFlash serves on the Advisory Board of “The Real News”). He will accept no advertising, corporate funding or government funding. Like BuzzFlash, he knows that some day, if you go the route of dependency on the corporate world or governments, you are going to have to start pulling your punches. So, Jay is going to rely, as BuzzFlash does, on the generosity of supporters to fund “The Real News.”

It’s worked for BuzzFlash (although we just get by every month through fund drives, but we’ve been around for more than seven years and expanded to an Internet Network of nine websites through the generosity and purchases of our readers). We hope it continues to work for the “The Real News,” as it enters a crucial period in its development.

Lord knows, we need “The Real News” real badly. Don’t we?

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BuzzFlash: Paul, we’ve been keeping abreast of the ambitious project of The Real News since you began it sometime back. Could you explain what the goal of The Real News is and explain where the project is right now?

Paul Jay: The fundamental goal is to create uncompromising, viewer-funded world news — video-based world news. We think the big gap in the media landscape is for independent, video-based, daily news service. And by independent, we mean no government funding, no corporate funding, and no advertising.

You can find text and print journalism that I would say represents what we’re trying to do. You see it in documentaries, and to some extent, in current affairs television programming. But there’s nothing that does breaking daily news. That’s what we want to take up, because we’ve all seen the tremendous failure of daily television news over the last four or five years.

BuzzFlash: Where is the project at this point?

Paul Jay: We started in 2003 in all seriousness, and we now have a 7,000 square-foot studio space. We have a full HDTV studio. We’re hiring a newsroom and other people. We’re up now to about eighteen full-time people.

We just completed a short video that gives the vision of what the news service will look like when it’s funded. As part of doing the video, we’ve created alliances and working relationships with journalists across the United States and around the world, and we’re still building that team. Over the summer, we’re going to be doing prototypes of what the daily news show will look like. Then in the fall, we plan to start a regular daily service — a modest, not yet full-blown version, but enough for people to get a taste of what we’re going to be doing.

BuzzFlash: How will this be disseminated? Of course, you have a website that people can go to, which is therealnews.com. Is the website going to play a role in terms of posting breaking news?

Paul Jay: Yes, we’re beginning with an Internet platform, which includes more than just our website, and in 2008, we’ll be adding a conventional television platform. But we look at the Internet as a complex of platforms, with our website being just one component of it.

We’re spending a lot of time and resources building our You-Tube channel, our Facebook space, MySpace. We’ve isolated about twenty of these social-content platforms where there’s already millions of people going there. We’re going to create almost replicas of our website on many of these platforms. That way we don’t have to wait for people to come to us. We can go where people already are.

We’d analyzed that there’s a specific marketing niche for us. For most of the television news networks that produce daily news, there’s really no way for them to monetize being on these social-content platforms, partly, because there are copyright issues, and partly because they have advertising-driven models. If they put their news up on YouTube, how do they get any money out of that?

With our model, the more people that see us, the better. Our working hypothesis is that one or two percent of everybody that comes will donate money, and we think the potential market is such that one or two percent is enough to drive us. So when we look at the Internet, it’s about all the possible platforms in the Internet — of course, our website being a key one.

Then when we’re ready, we add conventional TV to that. And some important technology is developing with perfect timing for us. As you know, we’re placed for doing regular daily content. Not only have all these YouTube and other social-content sites exploded, but the next piece technology-wise has already developed, which is Apple TV. It takes the web content and sends it to your television set in your living room. There’s a whole new line of technology coming in that vein that will allow you to move your web to your living room, essentially bypassing cable TV.

The other piece of technology that’s hitting right now — the best known representative of it is joost.tv. And there are other similar operations which are making use of bit-tolerant technology — essentially this collective creation of bandwidth, like Napster did for music. That’s going to bring full resolution, full-screen video to your computer monitor. If you put that together with the kind of technology Apple TV has, you now have full HD res quality going from a computer to the TV set in your living room. The Internet’s presenting many ways to get on that TV in the living room.

The other piece that’s very important is that Google made a deal with Apple so that on the new iPhone — and this is going to happen with other cell phones, we believe, as well — with one button, you’re going to be able to watch video from YouTube on your cell phone, which means our YouTube channel now shows up on everybody’s cell phones.

So content distribution is exploding. And we’re pursuing conventional TV with a lot of vigor. We have a deal with Link TV to be on both satellites. We have a deal with our regional news network in New York to be on cable in New York. And we’re working on other markets in a more conventional way. We’ve also talked to ComCast and Time-Warner about putting us on Video on Demand, which means anybody with a digital set-top box would be able to see us as free content. And we would give it to Time-Warner and ComCast for free. They get to use it as a way to get people to their Video on Demand spectrum, where they try to sell them a movie once our people get up there. And we use the Internet to create the buzz to get people to go to the digital Video on Demand.

So we’re resourcing — we’re hiring people and we have a team to do nothing but work the YouTube social-content type of area. We have a team for our website, and then we’ll be adding conventional television.

BuzzFlash: Are you going to be putting video journalism on YouTube before you begin broadcasting on television?

Paul Jay: Yes, in fact, we’ve already got a YouTube channel called The Real News, and it will be getting much more active over the summer. Then in the fall, we’ll be doing regular daily breaking stories all day long on our website, and putting them up on YouTube and in these other areas. If you were to come to our website three times in a day, you would get fresh breaking stories every time you come.

We have a deal with APTN — Associated Press Television Network — so we have an AP satellite on our roof, as well as three other satellites. We’re pulling in channels from all over the world. We’re going to use the AP pictures, combined with interviewing and talking to local journalists, where we’re really going to get our journalism from. We’ll be getting breaking video footage as fast as CNN gets it.

BuzzFlash: You mentioned your television programming was going to be on Link TV and perhaps on some of the commercial cables .

Paul Jay: We’re not expecting the conventional TV thing to happen until ’08. This fall will be all Internet, with maybe a little bit of experimentation on TV.

BuzzFlash: I know you’re located in Toronto. Eventually how will you be distributed on television in Canada?

Paul Jay: Vision Television is going to carry us in Canada. Vision’s on basic cable and satellite and is virtually in every home in Canada — it’s designated as a “must-carry.” In Canada there’s something called the CRTC, which is equivalent to the FCC in the U.S., and they can tell cable carriers that a certain channel is a must-carry.

BuzzFlash: When one looks at the website, it has a very international flavor to it, with the reporters who are actually indigenous to the countries they’re reporting on. How important do you think that is to the tone, feel and veracity of The Real News?

Paul Jay: It’s very important. We think local journalists should report on the area that they come from. If a story breaks in Africa, we want an African for a journalist. If the story is breaking in New Orleans, we’d like to get a journalist that’s in the New Orleans region.

In terms of the website, you’ll see more American journalists. Tom Morris, for example, recently did a piece for us on health care and the uninsured in America. We’re going to do a lot of work covering big American domestic issues, American foreign policy issues, and world news. Wherever we do the story, we want professional local journalists to tell us the story.

BuzzFlash: Let me ask you a philosophical question which comes to mind because of an editorial we did not long ago on BuzzFlash. We shredded to pieces The New York Times news analysis of the Bush commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence. And in doing this analysis, one of the things that strikes us is this notion of news neutrality. The mainstream media is very big on pretending that somehow they are objective, they are fair, they give both sides of the story.

Our belief is basically that news is subjective. We write from a certain perspective, and we believe The New York Times also is not objective. It has a certain subjective lens.

So at The Real News — R-E-A-L — what makes news real? How is the news you report going to be reported in a real way?

Paul Jay: It’s a very complex question, but I’ll take a go at it. First of all, let’s take as a scientific premise that the best we could ever do is approximate reality. We’re not going to have some absolute take on anything at any given time. We’re going to have the best information that we can.

Second of all, the methodology of verifiable journalism that journalists are supposed to practice comes out of a tradition of the scientific method, and the whole thought of the Enlightenment. One has a hypothesis, and one tests it, and one looks at evidence, and one reports that evidence. Even then, one’s willing to accept that what you think is right now, may be wrong tomorrow, as evidence unfolds.

So journalism should have that spirit of scientific inquiry and methodology. As much as one can, one needs to verify. One needs to separate what’s opinion from reporting a fact. When is it analysis and when is it more in the realm of what conclusions can we draw from the facts?

I think journalism should do both, but it should say when it’s doing one and when it’s doing the other. It shouldn’t be giving opinion and subjective inference.

Certainly in television journalism, the subjective spin, the inflection, the positioning of the piece, intertwines inseparably with the reporting of the facts. But we’re going to try to separate the two. There won’t be any perfect separation, because we’re humans.

One, we need an editor who says what you said regarding the Libby decision — “Hold on here. How the heck do you know Bush made the decision yesterday? That probably came from a White House press release, and you’re just repeating it.” We’re going to try to be very vigilant about letting this kind of stuff seep in.

Second of all, in terms of the methodology, we want people to get to know those of us who are doing journalism for The Real News. We’re going to be very open about what we believe and think about the world.

We’ll tell you, this is a personal view — it’s not a network view. But as time goes on, people should get to know what we think in a broader way so they can judge whether they think we’re spinning facts to suit what we think about the world.

BuzzFlash: Well, we ended our editorial with a quotation from Ken Silverstein, who had gone undercover to expose K Street lobbyists in Washington, D.C. and was criticized by Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post for practicing deception. Silverstein had pretended to be a person who was seeking representation for a country that was having an image problem. He said, basically, that’s what you’re supposed to do in investigative journalism. That’s what police do. That’s undercover work. Sometimes that’s the only way to find out the truth about a story. And he said his colleagues in Washington, D.C. too often honor politeness over honesty and believe that being “balanced” means giving the same weight to a lie as you give to the truth.

So in the case of Scooter Libby let’s just say the White House has promulgated a series of lies in relationship to the case. And you have on the other side people who say those are lies. The way that The New York Times and Washington Post treated this issue, was at best to say, even if they’re lies, that’s not our responsibility to expose that they’re lies. The White House has their perspective. And then there’s the other side, the Democrats. But we’re not going to referee this. We don’t have any responsibility for really finding out if the White House is telling the truth. Right. Is that real news?

Paul Jay: No, that’s safe positioning. The spectrum of what’s allowed on mainstream television is the spectrum of the official debate. You must stay within the official debate as defined by the leadership of the Democratic Party and the leadership of the Republican Party, and your critique can’t go further. If you want to critique the Bush Administration, they can’t go further than the leadership of the Democratic Party.

For example, a few months ago, Jay Rockefeller issued a fascinating statement saying that the rhetoric against Iran and Iran’s nuclear weapons mirrored the lies that led up to the Iraq war. And he said there is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapon. There’s actually no evidence they’re building one, and the evidence is, if there is anything, they’re more than a decade away from it. That was a powerful Democratic senator, and nobody reported on it, because the leadership of the Democratic Party as such wasn’t taking up that issue. So the media wouldn’t go further than the confines of that debate to challenge the mythology of what America is, what it wants, and where it’s going. If you want to keep your job in a mainstream newsroom, you must stay within the realm of that mythology. You can’t question its assumptions.

We’re going to question all those assumptions, and we can do it because of our financial model.

BuzzFlash: Let me give you one example and ask how would you treat this. There was a little dust-up on the Internet when the Bush Administration recently changed the war terminology. Instead of battling “insurgents” in Iraq, all of a sudden, if you read The New York Times and Washington Post stories, we are battling “al-Qaeda in Iraq.” Now, there’s always been an assumption, depending upon who you read, that maybe al-Qaeda is why we’re in Iraq. But most independent analyst indicate that al-Qaeda’s responsible for maybe five to ten percent of the insurgency in Iraq – and that’s at the higher end of estimates. But until a few weeks ago, the administration just classified the opposition as insurgents, including al-Qaeda. Now suddenly, the only insurgency in Iraq is al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda blew up a bridge. Al-Qaeda attacked American soldiers. The U.S. is launching a new attack against al-Qaeda in Iraq. It’s a propaganda shift of enormous potential impact on public opinion, and the mainstream media, in general, just swallowed the shift whole.

Overnight, The New York Times and Washington Post, without a question, without missing a beat, changed their terminology from “we’re fighting insurgents” to “we’re fighting al-Qaeda.” Why wasn’t there a story about why the Pentagon suddenly changed its terminology? Instead of that, the news media just went along with the change.

Paul Jay: Well, back up one step. Previously, they had more or less been giving the impression that the whole insurgency was al Qaeda — you know, we’ll fight them over there rather than over here. The whole insurgency was defined as terrorists — ipso facto, al Qaeda — when everybody that knew the situation over there, knew that wasn’t the case. And as far as I know, from people who report on the situation in Iraq, there were, in fact, great divisions between much of the insurgency or the resistance movement, or the anti-occupation movement — there are lots of different terms you can use — but there were lots of divisions and opposition to al Qaeda in the Sunni resistance movement. But the media had already played along with using the al-Qaeda-slash-terrorist brush to paint the entire resistance movement. Then all of a sudden, they slipped the terminology without any explanation of what they’ve been doing all along.

The whole framing of the debate in the mainstream media in the U.S. has been totally fraudulent. There’s no context about why there’s a civil war, which everybody knows has to do with the anarchy created by the destruction of Iraqi society. That’s missing now from the narrative. It’s just, “The Sunni and Shia hate each other. They’ve always hated each other. And poor us, caught in the middle of all this.” And now the debate is: “Should we stay in and try to make some sense of this chaos? Or should we get out because what could we do with these crazy people that want to kill each other?” No context, no sense even of the specific roles America played in fueling this civil war. And all the responsibility for U.S. policy is more or less absolved.

BuzzFlash: What would The Real News offer so that we would get some glimpse of the real Iraq?

Paul Jay: We’ve already started to source journalists working in Iraq. We’ll have regional and local journalists as our primary source — Iraqi journalists. We’ll have journalists who we think have an independent inquiring voice. There are many print journalists who are getting this story in its complexity. We’re going to bring them to video, whether it’s on the web or television. We’re spending a great deal of time sourcing people, and there are quite a few very courageous journalists, both Iraqi and non-Iraqi, who are willing to tell their story. They just can’t get on television. We’re going to get them on.

BuzzFlash: You’re based in Canada. You personally have dual nationality — U.S. and Canadian. Canadian news seems much more sensible to us than American news. It’s more balanced. It’s not quite as sensational or as lurid. It tends to lead a little bit more with what might be the more important story to public policy and to long-term national interests. Do you agree? Or do you think Canadian television is equally culpable as U.S. corporate media broadcast companies?

Paul Jay: I think in general it’s better. I think CBC particularly is more likely to ask harder questions than American network news. It’s a little closer to what a PBS “Frontline” does sometimes, but a little more willing to critique America than Canada. Canadian news has a lot of guts when it comes to critiquing American policy. But it doesn’t show the same level of guts when critiquing Canadian policy. Canadian coverage of Afghanistan is almost as jingoistic as the American coverage of Iraq. The assumption is that you can critique on the periphery, but you can’t critique the fundamental assumptions. And that’s what we’re going to do.

BuzzFlash: Final question — your funding. You’re looking to work from donations, like BuzzFlash — to be commercial-free, free of government funding, and have support from those who make use of The Real News. How is that going?

Paul Jay: Well, we’re starting. We need seed funding to begin. We’ve had enough funding to get the studio and get started. The real membership campaign is just starting in earnest now, with our putting up the new website and the new video. A couple of thousand people have already donated money online. But the real public campaign begins this fall with the beginning of daily news. Of course, we need people to support us now, because the membership money is what triggers the bigger donor money.

In three years, we hope to be off big donor money entirely. Our plan is to get off foundation money, get off big donor money, and be totally member supported. We think it’ll take us about three years to get there.

—Mark Karlin.

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