Air America, a progressive radio network that was home to the likes of Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and Rachel Maddow, announced that it was closing up shop and setting up to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy late Thursday afternoon. The station is running “best of” shows on its affiliates through Monday, and then that’s it. One of the largest progressive media institutions in the country is signing off, another casualty of a harsh economy and dwindling ad revenue.
The station helped launch Rachel Maddow’s career and intensified the reach of people like Randi Rhodes. While controversial at times, Air America added a much needed perspective to contemporary talk radio, and the airways will be a little duller without it.
Peter Rothberg of The Nation and Richard Corliss of Time have penned fitting memorials for Air America. Both note the devilish glee with which many right wing blogs and media soapboxes are commenting on Air America’s passing.
Rothberg writes: “See the aptly-named HotAir, which argues that the network’s failure demonstrated the lack of interest in liberal talk radio or the Newsbusters blog which contends that the network was redundant because of the blatant leftwing bias of National Public Radio.”
Here’s the thing: There is an audience for insightful, incisive progressive radio—Rothberg cites Democracy Now! as a prime example. The problem is not in the content or the audience, but in the infrastructure. And Air America was not alone in its struggle for sustainability.
This is a deadly difficult time for media, especially independent outlets that seek to impact pubic conversations. In my work with The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets (of which Air America was a member), we’re trying to address those issues of audience and sustainability to help build a better future for independent media as a whole. The problem is, a better future means massive (and I mean massive) changes in infrastructure, content delivery and audience interaction. We talk a lot about the “future of media” in our recently released report, The Big Thaw.
Need an example? Almost any media organization must now be multi-platform. You can’t just have a radio show, you have to have a solid website and audience engagement strategy that backs it up. Air America was starting to do this work with their October relaunch of AirAmerica.com. But being multi-platform requires a great deal of capital and an enormous cultural shift for many organizations.
The short take: Independent media simply cannot survive alone. We, as listeners, watchers, and readers, must be involved and contribute to the journalism that we find valuable. But media organizations also have to work together to share best practices and support each other as innovators and communicators. It’s only through collaboration and connections that we can see it through.
flickr photo courtest of Loopzilla
By Erin Polgreen, Senior Program Associate, The Media Consortium