Paul Jay has a plan to change the face of television news and save democracy. All he has to do now is raise the cash.
A former executive producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Jay is founder of International World Television (IWT), a global digital-TV and Web news network that, for now, exists only on the drawing board (www.iwtnews.com). Jay is bitterly dissatisfied with commercial and public television news, and he and a long list of supporters hope IWT will be an independent alternative funded entirely by a global audience of individual donors.
The idea is to apply to journalism the online economics of MoveOn.org, the Howard Dean presidential campaign, even the 2004 tsunami relief effort. IWT would operate without corporate donations, government subsidies, or advertising revenues, rejecting the influence of big money. Rollout is planned for 2007.
It's a big gamble, Jay admits, but he thinks people around the world are hungry for honest, independent TV journalism, public affairs documentaries, and political satire. And he thinks they will pony up.
'We need half a million people between North America, India, the U.K., and Australia,' he says. 'If we get into the right positioning so that we can make the right amount of noise, I cannot believe that half a million people wouldn't give us $10 a month.'
James Fallows, media critic and national correspondent for the Atlantic magazine, frequently argues that politically bankrupt news coverage may be an intractable problem, thanks to the economics of corporate journalism. Regarding Jay's project, Fallows is hopeful -- if skeptical. 'People resent the idea of ever paying for anything they find online,' he points out. 'Blog readers go crazy if a link points them to a site requiring registration, let alone one like the Wall Street Journal's or now, the Atlantic's, that charges a subscription fee.' Still, he thinks it's worth a try. 'Sooner or later, the subscription model will extend to the Internet,' Fallows says. 'And maybe this will be the time.'
For his part, Jay has hopes that range well beyond adding an independent new voice to the TV-news mix. He's bent on busting the political logjam that has all but paralyzed American democracy. 'Building this network is not just about being informed,' he declares. 'It's about political transformation.'