Independent Media

Define the word “independent” as it’s commonly used in the context of independent media. One definition in Merriam Webster is “not affiliated with a larger controlling unit” – in this case, a large corporation. As students may know, the word independent may also be used to describe stores, record labels, and other businesses that operate separately from large corporations. Also introduce students to the term “non-commercial,” as in “non-commercial” radio stations that do not sell advertising.

Have students hypothesize ways that an independent media outlet (e.g. radio station or magazine) might get its funding. How can these organizations get the money to operate if they’re not affiliated with a large (and presumably wealthy) corporation and don’t sell ads? What unique financing challenges might these organizations face?

Have students go to the following Web sites to learn more about four independent media organizations. In particular, ask them to browse the sites for information about how these organizations earn money:

KPFA Radio
Independent Media Center
Free Speech TV
High Country News

Ask each student or group to write a business plan for an independent media outlet, such as a radio station, newspaper, or Web site. Their business plans should explain how the organization will find and earn money, how it will use this money, and what it will do to retain its independent status and stave off the pressure to be “bought out” by a large media corporation.

Why do all the stations play the same songs?: Have students read The Radio Fight For America’s Soul. Then have them go to Clear Channel Radio and Fight the NAB to learn more about both sides of the issue of radio consolidation.

In a class discussion, ask students to articulate the two sides of the argument that they’ve read about at these Web sites. Then discuss the ways in which they think the consolidation of radio stations has affected their own radio-listening experiences. Have they noticed a difference in radio stations over the past few years? How has the consolidation affected them, if at all? Do they think consolidation will benefit or harm their ability to hear a variety of music and voices on the radio?

As an option, have the class conclude by imagining the ideal radio spectrum, in which a wide variety of stations and formats are available. What music would they be able to hear? Whose voices would be broadcast (e.g. teenage voices; minority voices?). Ask them to draw the series of FM radio frequencies and, next to this drawing, list hypothetical stations and their formats.

Basic Economics and Advertising

Ask students to define these terms: needs, wants, costs, benefits, opportunity cost. Have students look at magazine or newspaper ads and answer these questions: What needs are these ads addressing? What wants do they address? What strategies do the ads use to make people want the product? Do any of the ads create needs or perceived needs? What are the costs and benefits of purchasing these products? What are the costs and benefits of not purchasing these products? What are the opportunity costs of purchasing and not purchasing these products?

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