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Amy Goodman's 'Empire' | The Nation

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Amy Goodman's 'Empire'

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Still, for all the kinks and knots, Democracy Now!'s early TV adventures hinted at a larger possibility: a collaborative, independent news program that used all the available public forms of media distribution to break through the static of the mainstream noise machine. "What Democracy Now! understood was this need for a multi-platform strategy--and by that I mean distributing your program on television, cable, analogue radio, satellite radio, Internet, MP3s, etc.," says Dan Coughlin, executive director of Pacifica and Goodman's first Democracy Now! producer. "At a time when the old media are dying, this is something that most independent progressive media are going to have to move toward."

Lizzy Ratner worked at Democracy Now! from September 2001 to July 2002.

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Lizzy Ratner
Lizzy Ratner is a contributing editor at The Nation, where she oversees the Cities Rising series. She is also the...

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For Democracy Now! this strategy has consisted largely of building alliances, knitting a motley jumble of independent broadcasters and public-access stations into a smooth, cross-media collaboration. The first of these alliances--with the progressive cable network Free Speech TV and the public access collective Deep Dish TV--grew quite naturally out of previous projects; both organizations had worked with Democracy Now! to produce a daily telecast during the Democratic and Republican national conventions in 2000, and both had been looking to air a daily news program ever since. When Goodman reached out to them in September 2001, they readily agreed to distribute the show.

But Democracy Now! has also done its share of wooing stations, and it's done this in a rather unconventional way: by hiring organizers who work with local activists to lobby their public broadcasters to air Democracy Now! This tactic reflects perhaps as much about Democracy Now!'s movement-style credo as it does about the rocky public-access terrain, but it also seems to be savvy strategy. Since hiring its first organizer two years ago, Democracy Now! has recruited more than 200 radio and television stations.

Still, despite the focus on cultivating new stations, Democracy Now!'s most significant relationship remains that with Pacifica--though this, too, has changed over the years. In January 2002, following the court-ordered settlement of the Pacifica crisis, Democracy Now! returned to its old slot in the network's schedule. Then in June 2002 Goodman reached an agreement with Pacifica to turn Democracy Now! into a separate nonprofit organization that would continue to broadcast on the network but would also be free to build up its TV program. The deal generated some grumbling at the time from those who felt that Democracy Now! was abandoning Pacifica, but Goodman and Coughlin maintain that the move has been "tremendously successful" for both the network and the program: Pacifica continues to provide the show with $500,000 in operating support, while Democracy Now! continues to raise some $2 million for the network through quarterly fund drives. (Democracy Now! raises the rest of its $1.8 million budget through contributions from its TV broadcasters, Link TV and Free Speech TV, as well as through foundation grants, individual donations and sales from its online store. It does not accept commercial or corporate sponsorship.)

Meanwhile, as all this was unfolding, the television program was making its slow journey out of the technical Stone Age into modernity. In January 2002 Goodman hired a director to begin whipping the program into visual shape, and eventually she added three TV producers. The resulting changes have been gradual but unmistakable, as five-minute phone shots have given way to in-studio guests, Reuters video feeds and, yes, a TelePrompTer. "It's been a process, because I'm all about the packaging, and they are all about the content," says the program's director, Uri Gal-Ed. "From the beginning there were elements in place, but we basically created a TV show from scratch."

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