Independent media on the rise


Lesley Van Damme

Goodbye Newspaper (CC By 2.0)

Bridget Turner, Reporter

The ever-growing expansion of online activity is shaking up the way we consume news. The spread of journalism through social media can benefit news organisations, by driving traffic back to their websites, or harm them by taking their content and using it to drive attention to advertising that lines the pockets of Facebook/Insta etc, but not the news companies that produced the news.

Over the past two decades, hard copy newspapers and TV have taken crippling readership, ratings and revenue hits, and the companies involved are scrambling to find new business models that will work. This begs the question: Will new media emerge to fill the void and provide good journalism if the old media can’t do it?

Is a new age of independent media dawning?

You may be asking what exactly does independent media mean, well, according to it is any form of media that is not the mainstream, and more broadly it can include any small media outlet that is not controlled by a large corporation or government.

The Independents is a newly launched independent media portal promoting the strength and diversity of independent media in Australia, it’s FAQ section says independent media is about “government transparency and fairness” and media that offers a “platform for open and inclusive news and commentary”. The site operates as an aggregator, curating and promoting news published by independents and driving traffic back to their sites. In terms of its selection of outlets to feature, it states it is “strictly non-aligned and non-partisan”.

According to stats compiled by the founder of The Independents, Kim Wingerei, from November 2018 to February 2019 independent media traffic has grown by 9.76% on average, with some sites doing much better than that. grew its audience 208% (measured by visits not visitors) from 500 to 15,435 between November 2018 and February 2019; while grew 152% from 17,000 to 42,865 and grew 120% from 5550 to 12,235.

So, yes it seems like there are some new kids on the block. But they aren’t alone in the fight for eyeballs online. According to a Roy Morgan survey, released in May 2018, 78% of Australians aged 14+ are accessing online news sites.

The Roy Morgan team assembled a Top 20 list of most visited news websites and reported that has the largest audience with 5.9 million visits per month, with Sydney Morning Herald (5.3m) and ABC news (5m) coming in next. It is also interesting to note that this poll charted Australia’s 20 top news sites, and featured on there in 13th position was Buzzfeed with 2.2 million visits per month, maybe this is Gen Z showing their preferences here. The Daily Mail came in at fourth position with 3.9 million.

While these figures show that some publications have more readers than others, they don’t provide a measure of how good, unique or valuable the contributions of those news publications are.

Indy media organisations often pride themselves on covering news that the mainstream ignores. For example the site bio of the Indymedia, segment on RTRFM, presented by Alex Whisson and Ray Grenfell says the show: “Offers news and views from the progressive grassroots activist network” and “brings a truly independent voice to a media landscape influenced by mediocrity and corporate interests.”

It even echoes a call made by journalist Dan Gillmor, author of the 2006 book We the Media, to tackle the deficiencies of old dying media by becoming the new media – with the help of the online and social media tools we now know and love.

New Matilda expresses a similar sentiment declaring in its mission statement: “We believe that robust media is fundamental to a healthy democracy — and there’s never been a more important time for independent media in Australia. With shrinking media diversity, and huge changes underway in delivery, there are fewer and fewer outlets publishing independent-minded journalism like ours.

“New Matilda publishes compelling commentary on current events as well as breaking news and investigative journalism. We bring you fresh ideas and new information. We don’t duplicate the stories and perspectives available in other outlets.”

New Matilda is entirely funded by its readers, many of whom pay subscriptions. While the site is free to read and free to subscribe to, enough readers understand that it couldn’t exist without funding and decide to pay up.

Private Media is the small media company that publishes Crikey, a subscriber funded online publication that sends out email bulletins and runs a website. Crikey launched in 2000 and is one of the older new media companies. In February Crikey has announced an expansion involving the recruitment of a ten to 12 person investigative journalism “inquiry” team.

Eric Beecher, publisher of Crikey and chairman of Private Media  said issues such as the environment “politics, business, social issues and justice” as well as “corruption in all its forms” will be focused on.

He said the growth in interest in a range of online journalism sites indicated a willingness among Australians to pay for in depth journalism.

Our impression is that while young people may not have a lot of money, they want to be informed about the world around them, as this can be seen through their responses to the #MeToo movement and their reaction to climate change.

So while mainstream media continues to hold its place in society, you have to wonder how much longer will it continue with independent media steadily growing influence and audience.