Not the six o'clock news

There's a new player in TV journalism

No advertising. No government funding. No corporate dollars. Those are the guiding principles of Paul Jay's the Real News–what promises to be the world's first truly independent TV news and current affairs program.

Jay is founding chair, CEO and senior editor of Independent World Television (IWT), a left-leaning, non-profit news service that is set to beam its flagship program, the Real News, into 35 million North American homes by the end of the year. Jay, one-time executive producer of CBC's debate series counterSpin, is the first to admit his goal of an ad-free, subscriber-based global news network–as an alternative to corporate-owned, sponsor-driven broadcasters such as CBS and Fox–is nothing if not ambitious. “In 15 years, we want to be competing with CNN,” he says.

The budding network began in June 2005 when Jay launched “just to see if anybody was interested.” Posting only a business plan and a few interviews, he was surprised by the 80,000 unique visits the site attracted after only six weeks. More than 3,000 people have contributed money and become members on the website before a marketing campaign even got rolling.

So far, individual subscribers and groups like the Canadian Auto Workers have helped to secure $5 million in seed funding for IWT, which is a registered charity. And backing from the likes of Gore Vidal, Naomi Klein, Stephen Lewis and Janeane Garofalo (all on the founding committee) mean the Real News has been catching wind before ever going on-air.

In March, the Real News Beta begins broadcasting on the web from IWT's downtown Toronto headquarters. The daily Internet-based news show will take footage from Associated Press video wires and interview journalists from papers like the Guardian in the U.K. and India's the Hindu, covering “anything from Baghdad to New Orleans.”

Jay hopes the webcasts, totalling about 30 minutes of programming daily, will function as a prototype to promote his dream of a global independent news network. “We're a service and a cause,” he says. “We have to give people a taste of the service to facilitate the fundraising.” Indeed, another $15 million is needed before the Real News can go global in early 2008.

Because there's no true comparison in TV-based independent news, it's difficult to assess the financial viability of the Real News–especially as a subscriber-based show unconcerned with ratings and sponsorship. But its success could just lie in its format. Although TV is more expensive to produce than radio or print, the advantage is reaching a bigger audience. “The mass market is about video,” Jay asserts. “When big things happen, you want to see it, not just read about it.”

Agreements have already been forged with VisionTV in Canada and Link TV in the United States to make the Real News available through basic cable and satellite. Next year, Jay plans to reach millions more viewers with a new station in Delhi. “The long-term objective is a mass audience,” he says. As another pioneering TV journalist, Edward R. Murrow, was wont to say: Good luck.